MLA Headings and Subheadings – MLA Format Heading


MLA format is a literature referencing style that is developed by the Modern Language Association. The writing style offers a flexible guideline for writing, referencing as well as formatting. One of these set guidelines concerns the MLA headings and subheadings.

Headings and subheadings are identifiers that are required to help organize and provide structure to MLA papers and essays. Writers who make use of MLA properly not just enhance the readability of their book, manuscript, thesis, journal, or any literary piece, they consequently enhance their credibility as writers due to this display of accountability to their source material.

MLA has a set of broad rules, however, MLA does not exactly set rules for formatting MLA headings and subheadings. It just has to be consistent with the general formatting guidelines of the MLA style.

pointing hand History of MLA Format

The Modern Language Association of America or MLA for short is the major professional conglomerate in the US to which scholars of language and literature belong.

Founded in 1883, the objective of this association lies with strengthening the teaching and study of language and literature and it has over 25,000 members in over a hundred countries. This organization lays claim to the MLA format of literature writing which has been largely adopted all over the world. It is this writing style that is largely referenced all through this article.

pointing hand Common Misconceptions about MLA Headings and Headers

Oftentimes, most students and writers mistake a heading for a header. Although both are mostly misconstrued to be the same thing, they have different purposes. For instance, an MLA heading is found on the first page and serves the purpose of identifying information while a header is an identifier that is found on every page of your literary piece.

Section Headings improve the readability of a literary work and students may not be required to include section headings in their papers or essay. This is why it is important to ask your instructor or consult the assignment guideline to be sure. Therefore, if you are required to include section headings, then it is important to follow the guidelines in this article.

Do you need help with MLA style? We can help!

MLA running head

pointing hand Basic Formatting Requirements for MLA Headings and Subheadings

  • Font: any readable font most preferably Times New Roman
  • Font size: 12 pts
  • Line spacing: all the text should have a double line spacing
  • Paragraph indentation: each new paragraph after the headings and subheadings should have a half an inch indent
  • All MLA headings and subheadings should be written in title case
  • There should be no period after the MLA headings or subheadings.

Download the MLA heading template

check markTitle

MLA format does not require a title page for essays and paper. However, the title of the paper and essay should appear on the first page according to the format of MLA heading. Plus, the title comes immediately after your information, your instructor’s information, course information and the due date.

The title should be easily noticeable as it holds the topic of the entire paper. This is why it’s designed to be the most conspicuous part of a project or literary piece. Word processors do provide the layout styles that depict how a title should be, but even with this, knowing the requirements of writing a title in MLA will come in handy. Here are some of these requirements;

The title should be

  • Center-aligned
  • Written in no more than 12pts font
  • Double spaced above the first line of the paper or essay
  • Written in sentence case (capitalizing the first letter of every word)

The title should not be italicized, bold, underlined, put in quotation marks

Let’s call this the dos of title writing in MLA style. Writing a title also comes with a bag of don’ts and here are some of them;

  • A title page should not be made unless specifically required by your instructor.
  • Quotation marks and/or italics can be used when you’re referring to other works within your title, however, do not underline, italicize or use quotation marks in your title as in “The Beginning Of Revolution In Mid Africa”, however, a simple The Beginning Of Revolution In Mid Africa would do.
  • Do not forget to apply double spacing between the title and the first line of text.

For example

“The Beginning Of Revolution In Mid Africa”

Example of MLA heading
Example of MLA heading

check markMLA Headings

Any heading succeeding the Title can be called a subheading. There are different levels of headings in MLA. The first level of headings in an MLA paper, which is usually reserved for the chapter title, is referred to as headings while the subsequent levels are referred to as subheadings.

As expected, MLA headings in a paper or an essay should be styled in descending order of prominence. This implies that if the title heading is the most prominent, what follows it should be of a reduced font size until the end of the work.

MLA Headings should be

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

For example

Literature Review

check markMLA Subheadings

The subheadings in MLA format are quite similar to those in the APA style as they both have five different levels. Just like the headings, subheadings should be styled in order of their prominence.

Because of the number of levels, identifying which subheading belongs to which level can be a hassle. This is why in MLA style, the font styling is used to differentiate the levels of subheadings. The consistency in the styling of the subheading is essential in letting the readers understand the structure of the paper or essay. Therefore, each level of subheading should appear in the same size, format, and style for easy identification.

Additionally, the subheadings in an MLA paper or essay should be flushed to the left margin to avoid confusion with block quotations. Also, no internal level should have only one level. That is, if you are going to be having a level between 1 to 5, there must be more than one instance of those. For example, if you have one level 2 heading, you will need to have a second level 2 heading.

All headings must have text underneath them.

Levels of subheadings and their formatting

Level Formatting
1 bold, flush or aligned with the left margin
2 italicized, flush or aligned with the left margin

bold, centered on the page


italicized, centered on the page

5 underlined, flush/aligned with the left margin


Research methods – subheading 1

Sampling methods- subheading 2

Sample size – subheading 3

Sampling probability – subheading 4

Instrument – subheading 5

You may also be interested in our thesis editing service!

pointing hand When to Use the Different Subheading Levels

Using the right subheading level is important because it aids with the navigation of the paper as well as knowing the information to be added in the table of contents. This is why it is important to use

  • Subheading 1 for the first subsection after the chapter title
  • Subheading 2 for the subsections that are directly under the subheading 1
  • Subheading 3 for the subsections that are directly under the subheading 2
  • Subheading 4 for the subsections that are directly under the subheading 3
  • Subheading 5 for the subsections that are directly under the subheading 4

In addition to this, certain pointers will help you understand the use of these MLA headings and subheadings, here is a handful of them.

  • Consistency

When writing headings and subheadings there needs to be consistency in the styling as it is imperative to highlight the structure of the literary piece. In essence, for every level 1 heading, H1, there should be an identical styling in font size, color, and style.

The same thing applies to all H2 headings and so forth. Also, numbers, bullets, and letters should be avoided when designating headings. This is because every heading labeled ‘1’ will require a subsequent heading labelled’2′ and every ‘a’ will imply a succeeding ‘b’.

  • Balance

When using an internal heading level there should always be more than a single instance. In essence, if there is a level 1 heading or H1, there needs to be a second H1 heading as this is what gives the structure of the literary piece balance.

The only exception to this guideline is on the chapter’s title, references, or headings for notes. Also, there should always be text under each heading.

  • Capitalization

Section 1.2 of the MLA Handbook emphasizes this. Headings should be capitalized like the titles of works. Both headings and subheadings should be written in sentence case ie, the initial letter of each word should be capitalized.

  • Length

MLA headings and Subheadings are not designed for length. In fact, shorter headings give more concise meanings and enhance readability. Hence, the shorter the MLA heading or subheading, the better for the literary piece.

  • Position

MLA headings, provided it’s a chapter title, should be centrally aligned. However, in a literary piece that is neither professional nor an advocate for publishing, headings and subheadings can align with the left side of the margin.

To Wrap It Up

MLA style stems from the Modern Language Association and it’s a referencing method in writing. From in-text citations to the bibliography, there is a structured and laid out style in MLA which is designed to upgrade the readability and conciseness of any literary piece.

In light of this, most students find headings and subheadings confusing. This is why the different formats of writing any type of heading and subheading in MLA style have been highlighted in this piece.

 You may also want to read Chicago Headings and Subheadings!


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By Andy Xavier

Andy is an avid content developer and writer. He is experienced in creating engaging articles that are entirely unique and insightful. He has written lots of articles for Scientific Editing since 2019.

30 thoughts on “MLA Headings and Subheadings – MLA Format Heading”

  1. I would appreciate your answer to my question. I write an essay in MLA format from time to time and normally have tables in my essays. Can I use MLA heading in tables when writing an essay?

  2. The article indicates “Font: any readable font most preferably Times New Roman”
    Can you please suggest some fonts?

  3. Is there a separate guideline for students writing essays in MLA format and another for scholars writing papers in MLA format? I am asking since Chicago manual of styles has two separate guidelines for essays and journal papers.

    • Unlike Chicago manual of styles, MLA does not have two separate guidelines for essays and journal papers. MLA has a unified guideline for all types of writings.

    • The answer is yes but with caution. Punctuation marks like commas, parentheses, can be used between the words if the grammar requires. but one cannot end headings with a period, comma, colons, and semicolon. For instance, the following example is correct:
      The origin of Homo sapiens, modern humans, in Africa
      But if we end this heading with a period or comma, that would be incorrect.

  4. Can I put a sub heading right after the main heading (or paper title) without any text between the two? For example, if the paper is titled Internal Assessment and I go right into my Criterion A, can I label Criterion A as a subheading?
    Internal Assessment
    Criterion A (bold)
    My text…..

    • Yes, you can cite your own work in MLA format. In general, in any format that you are writing, you can cite your own work according to the format. Keep in mind that published works are more credible for citing as some journals do not allow citing unpublished works.

  5. Hi Scientific Editing,
    What is the difference between heading/subheading and title/subtitle? Are they the same? If not, what is the difference?

    • A title leads the entire document and captures its content in one or two phrases; a heading leads only a chapter or section and captures only the content of that chapter or section; a subheading leads a section of a chapter.
      On the other hand, subtitles usually immediately follow the title and organize the information into sections. Titles and subtitles often provide the structure for an outline.

    • Punctuation marks, in general, are not allowed at the end of the headings and subheadings in MLA format.

    • There is no rule or exact number of the words and characters in the heading. However, MLA headings and Subheadings are not designed for length. Shorter headings give more concise meanings and enhance readability. Hence, the shorter the MLA heading or subheading, the clearer the message.

    • You can only format your paper according to the MLA guidelines if the journal of interest accepts the MLA format. Normally, each journal has its own guideline that you can find in a section called “Journal’s guideline” or “Journal’s instructions” or “Instructions to authors”.


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