Chapter 9-4: The MLA-format Research Essay

Writing > Expository Essays > Research Essay


A research essay examines or argues a point of view that is supported by researched material from several different sources.

Finding a Topic

The goal of a research essay is to relate the topic back to a central idea or problem. Create questions that can help narrow down the topic and make the essay more specific.


  • Is white meat healthier than red meat?

  • What are the possible side effects of eating red meat?

  • Are some meats contaminated?


  • Is the main idea or focus of the essay.

  • Use the guiding questions created about the topic to help create a thesis statement.

  • The thesis should be a full sentence, not a question.


    • Guiding question: What are the possible side effects of eating red meat?

    • Thesis: Consuming meat can have negative affects on the environment and human health.

Topic Sentence

  • The beginning sentence of each body paragraph.

  • Should be a full sentence that gives the reader an idea about what the paragraph will be about.


Sources can be from online, academic articles or journals, magazines, books or newspapers.

Complete Source Information

When citing sources, try to write down as much information as possible about the source to avoid plagiarism.

Books, Magazines, Newspapers

  • Author's full name

  • Title of Book, Article, Magazine, Newspaper, Journal

  • Publishing info (including name of publisher, date and city where it was published)

  • Page numbers used


  • Author's full name

  • Title of Article and Website

  • Full website URL

  • Publisher or sponsor of site (if not the same as the wesbite title)

  • Update or publication date

Online Sources

Always carefully evaluate an online source to make sure it's credible.

  • Is the information and website up to date?

  • Who published the information and how well-known/reliable is the site?

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert or known as a reliable source in that area? Do they offer an unbiased opinion?

  • Is there advertising on the site? Could that affect the information posted?

  • Are there multiple authors stating the same information? Information is always more reliable when the same facts come from multiple credible sources.

Citing Sources

  • Every time you use information found by someone else (text, ideas, images, quotes) you must cite that source or you will be committing plagiarism.

  • Plagiarism is using someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as your own. This is taken extremely seriously in academic settings.

  • The two most common citation styles are from the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA).

  • MLA tends be used in the humanities field and APA in the science or social sciences fields. This is an English website, so it will focus on MLA Format.

  • When summarizing, paraphrasing, or quoting, cite the source in the body of text and on a works cited page.

Sources Cited in Text: Print

- Put the author's name in the text and put the page number in parentheses.

Morris and Maisto write "Anti-Psychotic medications sometimes have dramatic effects" (470).

- Put both author's name and page number in parentheses

Anti-Psychotic medications can have dramatic effects (Morris and Maisto 470).

Sources Cited in Text: Online

- Put the author's name in the text or write a short title if there is no author mentioned.

Jane E. Brody reviews the risks of women smoking: "Today, women who smoke are more likely than men who smoke to die of lung cancer."

According to the NIH article "Bipolar Disorder," the entire body is affected: "extreme changes in energy, activity, and sleep go along with mood episodes."

- Put the name of the author or shortened title in parentheses after the sentence.

Women should consider the consequences before starting to smoke. "Today women who smoke are more likely than men who smoke to die of lung cancer" (Brody).

The entire body is affected: "Living well with bipolar disorder requires certain adjustments" ("Bipolar Disorders").

Secondary Sources

When using quotes included from other work, put qtd. in which means quoted in, with the author's name.

Dr. Lauren Streicher states that "There are a lot of profit-motivated physicians out there" (qtd. in Parikh).

MLA "Works Cited" List

  • Put the works cited list at the end of the research essay.

  • Follow the basic guidelines, below:

    • Write "Works Cited" at the top center of the page and your last name and the page number in the top right corner.

    • Sources should be listed in Alphabetical Order by the author's last name or by the title if there is no author.

    • Indent all the following lines of the entry after the first line.

    • Everything should be double spaced.

  • Information Included in works cited list:

    • Author's Full Name

      • Last name, First Name

    • Source Title

      • Quotations for short works like articles, book chapters, or newspaper editorials.

      • Italicize titles for longer works like books, magazines, websites or newspapers.

    • Container Title

      • Use this for shorter works like articles, book chapters and editorials that come from a larger source with a different title.

    • Other Contributors

      • Anyone else that contributed to the source like an editor, illustrator, narrator or adapted the work.

    • Edition, Version, Volume, Issue Number

      • List editions (4th ed., Updated Ed.)

      • Put the volume and issue number together (vol. 5, no. 2)

    • Publisher

      • Write the full name of the publisher or the sponsor website.

    • Publication Date

      • Date source was published

    • URL or Page Number

      • Specific pages used, digital object identifier (DOI) or URL

Sample MLA "Works Cited" Page Entries


Last name, First name. Title. Edition, Publisher, Year.

Scupin, Raymond. Cultural Anthropology. 9th ed, Pearson, 2016.

Two authors: Last name, First name (first author), First name Last name (second author).

Ember, Carol R., and Melvin Ember. Cultural Anthropology.

14th ed, Pearson, 2016.

Three or more authors: write the name of the first author and et al. for the remaining authors.

Manza, Jeff, et al. The Sociology project 2.0. Pearson, 2016.

Magazine Article:

Last Name, First Name. "Title of Article." Title of Magazine, volume, number, date, pages.

Thurman, Judith. "Drawn From Life." The New Yorker, 23 April

2012, p. A5.

Newspaper Article:

Last Name, First Name. "Title of Article." Title of Newspaper, volume, number, date, pages.

Freed, Curt. "Why True Marriage Equality Matters to Us."

Seattle Times, 31 Oct 2015, pp. 49-55.

*Notice that after a newspaper or magazine title there is a comma, unlike a book which has a period.

Online Sources:

*Try to find as much information as possible for online sources. Sometimes, not all the information will be listed.

Last name, First name. "Title of Article." Title of site or online publication, Publisher or Sponsor, Date, URL, DOI.

Poniewozik, James. "Stephen Colbert's Night Vision." Time, 27.

Aug. 2015,

Model Research Essay Outline

It is not necessary to make a research essay outline in MLA format, but your instructor may ask for one. It is a good way to organize your thoughts and important points before starting to write.

Thesis: Write the thesis statement as a complete sentence—even in your outline.

Energy drinks are dangerous when over consumed and have negative effects on the body.

Body Paragraphs: Write out topic sentences in full sentences like the thesis.

1: The stimulants in energy drinks can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol.

- Wake Forest University study on energy drinks and alcohol.

- New alcohol, energy drinks

- Energy drinks can hide someone's intoxication level

2: Energy drinks can increase cardiovascular issues

- Can raise blood pressure

- Associated with heart disease

3: One ingredient in energy drinks, Taurine, can have negative effects on the brain.

- More effect on young people's developing brains

- Taurine can intensify alertness levels but also causes seizures

Research Essay Format

Last Name Page #

Your Name

Instructor's Name



Title: Choose an informative title that lets the reader know what the

topic and point of view are.

Introduction: Introduce the topic and point of view of the essay. End with a thesis statement.

Body Paragraph 1: Explain the first point and cite sources used.

Body Paragraph 2: Explain the second point and cite sources used.

Body Paragraph 3: Explain the third point and cite sources used. Typically, standard ESL CEGEP papers are 3 body paragraphs long, but this is not a strict rule. Feel free to do more or less depending on the topic, information found, and most importantly your instructor’s instructions.

Feel free to do more or less depending on the topic, information, your professor's instructions.

Conclusion: Summarize the main ideas of the information given in the body paragraphs. End with a prediction, suggestion or quote.

Works Cited

- Put the works cited list on a separate, final page.

- List all sources used in alphabetical order by last name or by title if no author is given.

- Contrary to this text, avoid the use of bold font.

Sample research essay

NOTE: this is a sample essay. The number of words that you are required to write, or the number of ideas that you are required to express may be different for your own assignment. Refer to your assignment instructions for this information.

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