JAWS Topic: MLA Format in Word

Getting Started

This guide is based off the recommendations from the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). Please feel free to consult the Purdue OWL: MLA General Format Guide.

What is MLA?

According to Purdue OWL, Modern Language Association (MLA) is a paper writing style that, “…is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities.” So, basically MLA is just a set of formatting recommendations. To move our documents into MLA format, we’ll need to change line and paragraph spacing, edit font and font size, add page headings and page numbers, and follow a number of other style parameters.

MLA Format

Below we’ll look at all the recommendations from Purdue OWL and see how we might go about enacting them with JAWS.

Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper

Unless you’ve been printing envelopes or on legal paper recently, we can likely add this on into the complete pile.

Double-space the text of your paper

So, there are actually two settings here – space between lines and space between paragraphs. To change the line spacing, select all the text in your paper with Ctrl + A and use the command Ctrl + 2 to set the line spacing to Double. At the moment (assuming you’re using the default template in Word), the spaces between paragraphs are greater than the spaces between lines. We want to change that. Select all your text and press the context key (or Shift + F10). On the context menu, select Paragraph. Use tab to move through the Paragraph dialog. In the Spacing section, set After: to 0.

Use a legible font

Select all your text and press Ctrl + D to open the Font menu. Use the up and down arrow keys to set the font. Use tab to navigate this menu. Times New Roman is usually a good bet when working in MLA format.

The font size should be 12 pt

Select all text and use the font menu to change the font size. You can also adjust the font size with Ctrl + Left Bracket (decrease font by one point) and Ctrl + Right Bracket (increase font by one point). If you want to check the formatting of text, use Insert + F to have JAWS read formatting attributes.

Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks

This is easy enough – no change to settings or styling required.

Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides

This is another setting that shouldn’t occupy too much of our time. Using the normal template in Microsoft Word (which you are most likely using), your margins are already set to 1 inch on all sides. However, if you have a special template or you want to check your margins, follow the steps below.
Press Alt to move to the ribbon. Now, use the left and right arrow keys to move to the page layout tab – you may also do this by pressing Alt + P. Now, use tab to navigate through the ribbon controls until you find Margins (or press Alt + M) – press space bar to open the Margins dropdown. In the Margins dropdown, select the Normal template (which should have all margins set to 1 inch).

Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the left margin

Simple enough – we just need to press tab at the beginning of each new paragraph. Note that Purdue OWL states “MLA recommends that you use the Tab key as opposed to pushing the Space Bar five times”.

Create a header in the upper right-hand corner that includes your last name, followed by a space with a page number

Adding headers and page numbers will require us to go into the ribbon. Use Alt to move to the ribbon and the right and left arrow keys to go to the Insert tab (or press Alt + N). Now, use tab to navigate through ribbon controls to find Page numbers (or press Alt + N (open the Insert tab) and then Alt + NU (open the Page numbers dropdown)).

Select Top of Page and then select Plain Number 1. Now, you should be editing the header. You should discover a number in focus that corresponds to your current page. Press left arrow to move your cursor to the left of the number. Now, type your last name and press space. Use Ctrl + R to right align your name and page number. Making this change on any page should change the alignment of all headings and page numbers in the document. When you’re done, simply press escape.

Want to check your header?

Open the Insert tab on ribbon (Alt + N). Now, move to header (Alt + H) and press space bar. Select Edit Header (Alt + E). Use the Insert + F command to hear formatting of the text in your header.

Use italics throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis

Again, this one is easy enough as is doesn’t require any special settings or functions. To quickly italicize text, use Ctrl + I.

Center the title

You can use Ctrl + E to quickly center text.

If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page

So, you may or may not have any endnotes for a possible Notes section. However, if you’re including a Notes and/ or Works Cited section at the end of your paper, you’ll need to add a page break. You can do this easily using Ctrl + Enter.

Use a hanging indent in your Works Cited section

The most difficult part of adding a hanging indent will be selecting just your works cited section. You can achieve this in a couple different ways. The easiest way might be to move your focus to the beginning of your first citation and then using Shift + Page Down. You’ll need to use this keyboard combination until you’re confident you’ve selected all your citations, so try to press it for each page of citations you have (or simply do what I do and spam the key like ten times).

Now, we’re going to make changes using the same Paragraph menu we used to adjust paragraph spacing. So, open the context menu using your context key or by pressing Shift + F11. Press P for Paragraph to open the Paragraph dialog. Use tab to move to Special: in the Indentation section and use the up and down arrows to change the setting to Hanging and press enter.

Other recommendations

There are other features we’ll need to include to achieve MLA format. Fortunately, these won’t require any fancy JAWS footwork to achieve these. So, they are simply listed below:

    • Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically requested.
    • In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, your instructor’s name, the course, and the date.
    • Do not underline, italicize, or place your title in quotation marks; write the title in Title Case (standard capitalization), not in all capital letters.
    • Use quotation marks and/or italics when referring to other works in your title, just as you would in your text: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as Morality Play; Human Weariness in “After Apple Picking”
      Double space between the title and the first line of the text.


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