You'll typically encounter multiple citation styles as a student or researcher. Individual subjects, or disciplines, often employ distinct styles. This post looks at the most common citation styles used by students and researchers of literature. We help you get to know each style and provide reference examples so that you can start—or finish—your paper successfully.

#1 MLA

MLA is the number one citation style used in literature

The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is the most frequently used citation style in literary studies. It uses an author-page citation system, which consists of in-text citations formed by the author's last name and the page number of the source. These point to a works cited list at the end of the paper.

Check out these MLA style resources

🌐 Official MLA style guidelines

🗂 MLA style guide

📝 MLA citation generator

MLA style examples

An in-text citation in MLA style:

In Ferrante's novels, Elena and Lila forge an ethical bond in contrast to the societal relationships to which they are exposed (Ghezzo and Teardo 173).

A works cited entry in MLA style:

Ghezzo, Flora, and Sara Teardo. "On Lila’s Traces: Bildung, Narration, and Ethics in Elena Ferrante’s L’amica Geniale." MLN, vol. 134, no. 1, 2019, pp. 172–192.

#2 Chicago

Chicago is the number two citation style used in literature

Chicago style is another popular citation style for papers and journals in literary studies. Its system offers two types of format: a notes and bibliography system, and an author-date system. The notes and bibliography system is the most common method for students and scholars of literature.

Check out these Chicago style resources

🌐 Official Chicago style guidelines

🗂 Chicago style guide

📝 Chicago citation generator

Chicago style examples

An in-text citation in Chicago style:

The Wordsworth siblings borrowed classification techniques from the natural world around them and applied those to their written work¹.

A footnote or endnote in Chicago style:

¹ Allison Turner, "Nature and Classification in Dorothy and William Wordsworth’s Writings." SEL Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 58, no. 4 (2018): 835.

A bibliography entry in Chicago style:

Turner, Allison. "Nature and Classification in Dorothy and William Wordsworth’s Writings." SEL Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 58, no. 4 (2018): 833–54.

#3 APA

The APA citation style

While literature courses rarely use APA style, the majority of students have had contact with it at some point in their academic careers. APA style is mostly used for papers that focus on linguistics, writing studies, or the teaching of literature.

APA format for in-text citations includes the author’s name and the date of publication, separated by a comma within parentheses. If a specific part of the source is being referenced, a page number can also be added.

Check out these APA style resources

🌐 Official APA style guidelines

🗂 APA style guide

📝 APA citation generator

An in-text citation in APA:

English teachers continue to struggle with implementing digital literacy into their curricula (Mirra, 2019).

A bibliography entry in APA:

Mirra, N. (2019). From Connected Learning to Connected Teaching: Reimagining Digital Literacy Pedagogy in English Teacher Education. English Education, 51(3), 261–291.

Frequently Asked Questions about citation styles used for literature

🥑 What are the top 2 citation styles used for literature papers?

The top 2 citation styles used for literature papers are MLA and Chicago styles.

🔥 What is the most simple way to make a reference list for literature papers?

The easiest way to create a reference list for literature papers is by using the BibGuru citation generator. This generator creates the fastest and most accurate citations possible, which will save you time and worry. The best part is, it's completely free!

🦋 Should you use an author-page or a notes and bibliography style for literature papers?

Literature papers use MLA style, an author-page system, or Chicago style. Papers that use Chicago style generally utilize that style's notes and bibliography system.

🎩 What are the most prominent literature journals?

Some of the most prominent literary studies journals are: PMLA, English Literary History (ELH), Modern Language Notes (MLN), Modern Language Quarterly (MLQ), among others.

🧤 Can you add footnotes in literature papers?

Footnotes can be added to literature papers in two primary cases:

  1. If you are using a citation style, like Chicago, that utilizes footnotes; or
  2. If you want to add explanatory content that does not belong in the main body of your paper.

If you have questions about adding footnotes, ask your instructor or research advisor for clarification.


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