Monday, November 24, 2008

The Top 5 Common Mistakes in a MLA Paper

Modern Language Association, or MLA, is a style of writing that classes like English, Literature, and History use. The rules for MLA are meticulous, and it can be frustrating to get a rough draft back from a professor covered in red ink. Especially if most of the red ink is the same symbol over and over again. English Professor Cindy Wyatt sent me a list of the top 5 MLA formatting mistakes that students make. After each problem, I'll given you solutions and links to avoid making those mistakes.

Problem #1: "The first big problem students have difficulty with is the notion of having a thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Not only that, they have problems with the idea of the three supports for the thesis statement which predict the topics of the body paragraphs to follow," Wyatt said.

Solution: Check out the University of North Carolina's handout on how to write thesis statements.

Problem #2: Paragraphs Drifting Off topic

Solution: Stick to your outline.

Problem #3: A third problem is the opening paragraph, which often fails to even mention the actual subject of the essay. When a student writes “Many people have some problems at different times in their lives,” I know that the whole first paragraph is a warm-up for Getting to the Point which in fact may not happen until the second paragraph – not the way to write an effective essay.

Solution: Check out this post at It's an easy step-by-step guide on how to write a successful opening paragraph.

Problem #4: Finding ways for ending the essay with a solid conclusion

Solution: Check out this next post at

Problem #5: "The fifth problem really might be the first, but it speaks to the appearance of the essay, not the content. Students fail to format their essays MLA Style, which includes a correct heading on the left side of the first page, correct tabs, spacing, font size and margins," concluded Wyatt.

Solution: Click on this website by Purdue University's Online Writing Lab. It tells you what the basic MLA format is, and it also shows you an example of what the first page should look like. If this website doesn't help you, then ask your professors! That's what they're here for.

If you have more questions about MLA style or formatting, check out the Language Lab in
Ramer 157.

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