Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

On Submissions

Read this page whenever you are asked to type a response and submit it online.

Formatting resources

Digital submission directions

An edited argument for why you should follow the MLA formatting requirements, despite their arbitrary nature

You probably do not like being told what to do. You may rage with a teenager’s clarity against the MLA and its rules. And you’d be right, you know: There is no intrinsic benefit to how you format your paper, even if there is an obvious benefit to being tidy and using sources and crediting them when you do. This is an arbitrary system of presentation. You will face many of them in your lives, and I hope you will one day have the power to change the ones that need to be changed. To get that power, however, you have to play by certain rules.

Imagine that I ask you to submit every typed essay on blue paper2.  I tell you to format the page like this:

I specify that the paper margins are moved to 3″, that the font size is increased to 16, and that you switch the font to Comic Sans MS (which is the most hated font of all).  Then I tell you that you will fail the presentation requirements of the paper if you do not follow this template exactly.  To insure your compliance, I provide a guide to formatting your paper, and I give you access to templates and models. I even post a lot of words on a website explaining the reasoning behind the choices.

Despite this, you hand in a paper that follows the traditional MLA standards (on white paper, using Times New Roman, etc.). So you fail.

In this situation, you have a perfectly legitimate claim to make about why I’ve given you that format. Unfortunately, your perfectly legitimate claim is obscured by your refusal to do what you were asked. You ignored a clear requirement. You decided it was beneath you, or that it wasn’t worth it, or that your personal feelings about Comic Sans MS outweighed the general level of respect it would take you to comply. At that point, the issue is not the reasoning behind my formatting; the issue is your refusal to comply and the laziness, disrespect, or carelessness that implies.

Look, the ugly truth is that there are many rules and regulations out there that are unfair. Some of them are even harmful. If the requirements of Standard Written English and MLA formatting are unfair, however, they aren’t exactly disenfranchising you. And it goes even deeper than that: If you want to fight the Man (or Woman; let’s not be sexist in our language), you have to use the Man’s (or Woman’s) language. You have to learn the way powerful people communicate, and that requires you to pay respect to the little things you are asked to do. Because the non-ugly truth is that you are bright students with brighter futures. Your thinking will be noticed, and that notice brings with it a special kind of scrutiny for these little things.

And that isn’t a possibility; it’s an inevitability. During one of the end-of-year research crunches in this course, The Huffington Post published an article about it. Do you think a CEO like that author cares if you find his expectations for an error-free resume to be onerous? Do you imagine that the colleges you want to attend have any interest, as they sift through thousands of similar students’ applications, in your sense of fairness, or in your personal preference for a particular format? Do these simple, painless things, and you avoid the question entirely.


1. All you need register for Turnitin is the following:

Class Name: AP English Language & Composition

Class ID: 5508078

Enrollment Password: Sisyphus

Go to Turnitin.com to get started. If you get lost, load this document.

2. And make sure you pay attention to the imperative there. Don’t actually turn in a blue page with Comic Sans MS; your confusion about the nature of hypothetical examples will be endearing only until you fail the assignment.

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