MLA Style: How to Format Headings and Subheadings in a Research Paper?

The MLA format (e.g., English Modern Language Association (MLA) Style) corresponds to the most commonly used style for documenting and citing sources in the humanities field. The Modern Languages Association developed it. The academic style of the MLA is used in the USA, Canada, and other countries to create written works on the English language, English literature, spelling, research of other modern languages or literature, including comparative analysis, literary criticism, media research, cultural studies, and related disciplines. 

Primary Formatting Requirements for MLA Headings and Subheadings

If you are to write your project with headings, follow the basic rules described below. You can find additional information regarding MLA formatting guidelines and examples here

An MLA format requires the included norms:

  • any readable front but preferably Times New Roman;
  • double spacing between the lines;
  • the font size is 12 points;
  • there is only one space after the mark at the end of the sentence, like after other punctuation marks;
  • each heading and subheading must have a text below with the half-inch intend;
  • no period.

The Effectiveness of Headings

Writers may sometimes use section headings for the text to be more comprehensible. It is allowed for paragraphs to consist of a single chapter or other titled parts of a book or an essay. On the one hand, dividing the text helps to interrupt reading at a graphically fixed place and allows reading the book in meaningful portions. On the other hand, they create favorable conditions for selective reading when the reader needs materials in the book only on one or several subtopics.

Headings Format

In short essays, one should avoid the use of headings. However, in a longer research paper, you may include headings to structure it better. As a result, there are different levels of the organization. Level one corresponds to the title of the paper and is the most noticeable. Generally, it should include the primary information of one’s paper and catch the reader’s eyes. The following headings referred to subheadings. Requirements:

  • Centre-aligned;
  • Written in 12pts font;
  • Double-spaced above the first line of the paper or essay.

Subheadings Format

The following headings indicate subheadings and also have diverse levels. Level two subheadings relate to the next most magnificent section of the paper. In turn, they are styled in order of importance and are differentiated by the font styling. Generally, boldface and the larger font is a feature of the relevant information. Consequently, the smaller font and lack of boldface, the less valuable message is. Standards:

  • Level 2: flushed to the left margin, italics;
  • Level 3: Boldfaced, centered, start from a new line;
  • Level 4: italics, centered;
  • Level 5: flushed to the left margin, underlined.


For each type of paper, there are different demands for formatting the subheadings. The following examples illustrate how to arrange subheadings and headings in an essay or a book.


Regularly, divided sections in a document should be numbered with an Arabic numeral system, followed by a spaced period, and only then comes a section name. For example:

  1. Healthcare
  2. Nutrition
  3. Water
  4. Food


The Association does not require an established system of a table of contents for book sections. If the headings are of the same level, i.e., Since sections do not have subsections, MLA suggests that they resemble each other grammatically. For example, if your headlines are brief, you want them all to be of the same length. Some of them must not be short phrases, and some are long sentences. If the headings are multilevel (sections have subsections), then the format is selected in consultation with the teacher or editor. For Instance (numbered):

  1. Literature review

1.1 Definition of rhythm

1.2 Types of rhyme

  1. The history of translation
  2. English versification


To conclude, MLA headings familiarize readers with content and significantly improve the accuracy of your writing. It may not be required to include section headings in your paper or essay; for this reason, prior consultation is recommended. Consequently, you will succeed in organizing your paper far better by following all the criteria mentioned above.