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The ultimate guide to citing in MLA

The MLA citation style was developed by the Modern Language Association of America, an association of scholars and teachers of language and literature.

The MLA publishes several academic journals, and the MLA Handbook, a citation guide for high school and undergrad students. The MLA Handbook provides guidelines for writing and documenting research, as well as tips for the use of the English language in your writing.

MLA is a very popular citation style. However, if you are unsure which citation style to use in your paper, ask your instructor. There are many different citation styles and using the style your instructor or institution has established correctly can have a positive impact on your grade.

This guide is based on the 9th edition of the MLA Handbook and aims at helping you cite correctly in MLA. The MLA Handbook provides guidelines for a large variety of sources and uses a two-part documentation system for citing sources:

  • in-text parenthetical citations (author, page)
  • a reference list at the end of paper with all literature used in text.
TAKE NOTE

Each source that was cited in the text or notes of your paper should appear in a list at the end of the paper. MLA calls the reference list a "Works Cited" page.

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Your Works Cited page in MLA

Your Works Cited list identifies the sources you cite in the body of your research project. Works that you consult during your research, but don't use and cite in your paper, are not included. Your Works Cited list is ordered alphabetically by the part of the author's name that comes first in each entry.

Entries in the list of works cited are made up of core elements given in a specific order, and there are optional elements that may be included. The core elements in your works cited list are the following, given in the order in which they should appear, followed by the correct punctuation mark. The final element in an MLA reference should end with a period:

  1. Author.
  2. Title of source.
  3. Title of container,
  4. Contributor,
  5. Version,
  6. Number,
  7. Publisher,
  8. Publication date,
  9. Location.

To use this template of core elements, first evaluate what you are citing to see which elements apply to the source. Then list each element relevant to your source in the order given on the template. For a work containing another work (e.g. an article published in a journal and contained in a database), you can repeat the process by filling out the template again from Title of container to Location, listing all elements that apply to the container.

Step-by-step guide to create a Works Cited entry

Let's try this with a journal article. If you wanted to cite the article, “What Should We Do with a Doctor Here?”: Medical Authority in Austen’s Sanditon," from the journal, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, the process would look like this:

  1. First, you would determine the author. In this case, that's Amy Mallory-Kani. so the first part of your reference would be: Mallory-Kani, Amy.
  2. Next, you'd want to include the title of the source in quotation marks, followed by a period: “What Should We Do with a Doctor Here?”: Medical Authority in Austen’s Sanditon."
  3. After the title of the source, you need to list the container. In this case, it's the journal's name, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, italicized and followed by a comma.
  4. For journal articles, the title of the container needs to be followed by version, or the volume number of the journal, separated by a comma from the issue number: vol. 39, no. 4,
  5. Since there is not typically a publisher listed for journal articles, the next step is to include the date, followed by a comma: 2017,
  6. Finally, you'll end your reference by adding the page numbers for the article, followed by an ending period: pp. 313-26.

If we put this all together, the full reference will look like this:

EXAMPLEJournal article

Mallory-Kani, Amy. “'What Should We Do with a Doctor Here?': Medical Authority in Austen’s Sanditon”. Nineteenth-Century Contexts, vol. 39, no. 4, 2017, pp. 313-26.
TAKE NOTE:

MLA has a specific rule about how to structure page numbers in a works cited entry. Use pp. and then list the number. If the page range is within ten or one hundred digits, you don't need to repeat the first digit. For example, you would write pp. 51-8 or pp. 313-26.

The following section takes a deeper look at the core elements of an MLA works cited entry to help you get your citation right.

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A closer look at MLA's core elements

Author

When formatting the author element, make sure to follow these guidelines:

  • When a work is published without an author's name, do not list it as Anonymous. Skip the author element instead and begin with the Title of source.
  • Begin the entry with the last name of the author, so it can be alphabetized under this name. Follow the last name with a comma and the rest of the name as presented by the work.
  • When a source has two authors, include them in the order in which they are presented in the work. Reverse the first of the names as described above.
  • When a source has three or more authors, reverse the first of the names as described above and follow it with a comma and the abbreviation, et al.

EXAMPLESource with two authors

Gabrielle, Matthew, and David M. Perry. The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe. Harper, 2021.
Title of Source

In the Title of Source element, you list the title of the work you are citing:

EXAMPLETitle of Source element

Cox, Taylor. Creating the Multicultural Organization: A Strategy for Capturing the Power of Diversity. Jossey-Bass, 2001.

In general, titles in your Works Cited list are given in full exactly as they are found in the source, except that capitalization, punctuation between the main title and a subtitle, and the styling of titles that normally appear in italic typeface are standardized. The Title of Source element is followed by a period unless the title ends in a question mark or exclamation point.

Title of Container

A container in the context of the MLA template is a work that contains another work. An example of a container can be:

  • A periodical, such as a journal, magazine or newspaper is the container of an article published there.
  • A website or database can be the container of a post, a review, a song, a film, or other media.
  • An art exhibit is the container of an artwork featured in it.

In the example below, the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability is the container of the article “Vocabulary Knowledge of Deaf and Hearing Postsecondary Students”: 

EXAMPLETitle of Container

Sarchet, Thomastine, et al. “Vocabulary Knowledge of Deaf and Hearing Postsecondary Students.” Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, vol. 27, no. 2, Summer 2014, pp. 161–178.

Importantly, a website or a database is not always automatically the container of a work that can be found there. If you click on a Facebook link that takes you to a New York Times article, Facebook is not the container of the article, but the New York Times website is. Be careful to make the distinction here.

The title of Container is normally italicized and followed by a comma.

Contributor

People, groups, and organizations can be contributors to a work without being its primary creator. There can be a primary author, but a work can also be created by a group of people. Key contributors should always be listed in your entry. Other contributors can be listed on a case-by-case basis. Whenever you list a contributor, include a label describing the role. These kinds of contributors should always be listed in your entry:

  • translators
  • editors responsible for scholarly editions and anthologies
  • editors responsible for edited collections of works by various primary authors from which you cite an individual contribution

EXAMPLETranslator of a work with a primary author

Chartier, Roger. The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane, Stanford UP, 1994.

It may be necessary to include other types of contributors if they shaped the overall presentation of the work. Use labels (in lowercase) to describe the contributor's role, such as:

  • edited by
  • created by
  • adapted by
  • translated by
  • etc.

EXAMPLECreator of a television show

"Strike Up the Band." The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, season 3, episode 1, Amazon Studios, 2019.

When a source has three or more contributors in the same role, list the first contributor, followed by et al.

EXAMPLEThree or more contributors

Balibar, Étienne. Politics and the Other Scene. Translated by Christine Jones et al., Verso, 2002.
Version

If a source is a version of a work released in more than one form, you need to identify the version in your entry. For example, books are commonly issued in versions called editions.

When citing versions in your Works Cited list, write original numbers with arabic numerals and no superscript. Abbreviate revised (rev.) and edition (ed.).

EXAMPLEEdition of a work

Black, Joseph, et al., editors. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Victorian Era. 3rd ed., Broadview, 2021.
Number

The source you are documenting may be part of a sequence, like a volume, issue, or episode. Include that number in your entry:

EXAMPLEWork with a number

Warren, R., et al. “The Projected Effect on Insects, Vertebrates, and Plants of Limiting Global Warming to 1.5°C Rather than 2°C.” Science (New York, N.Y.), vol. 360, no. 6390, 2018, pp. 791–795, doi:10.1126/science.aar3646.

Always use arabic numerals in the Number element. If necessary, convert roman numerals or spelled out numerals to arabic numerals.

Publisher

The publisher is the entity primarily responsible for making the work available to the public. The publisher element may include the following:

  • book publisher
  • studio, network, company, or distributor that produced or broadcast a television show
  • institution responsible for creating website content
  • agency that produced government publication

A publisher's name may be omitted when there is none, or when it doesn't need to be given, for example in:

  • some periodicals (when publication is ongoing)
  • works published by their authors or editors (self-published)
  • websites not involved in producing the content they make available (e.g. Youtube)
Publication date

This element tells your reader when the version of the book you are citing was published. In the example below, the book was published in 2018:

EXAMPLEPublication date

Lavelle, Christophe, editor. Molecular Motors: Methods and Protocols. 2nd ed., Humana Press, 2018, doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-8556-2.

If roman numerals are used, convert them to arabic numerals. Use the day-month-year style to minimize commas in your entry and use the most specific date you can find in your source. Include day, month, and year if your source does:

EXAMPLESpecific Publication date

Merrill, Stephen. "Teaching through a Pandemic: A Mindset for This Moment." Edutopia, 19 Mar. 2020, www.edutopia.org/article/teaching-through-pandemic-mindset-moment.
TIP

When time is given and helps define and locate the work, include it.

Location

For paginated print or similar formats (e.g. PDFs), the location is the page range. In other cases, additional information may need to be included with the page numbers so that the work can be found. In this overview, you can see examples for locations:

FormatLocationExamples
Paginated print or similar fixed-format works contained in another workPage rangeEssay in a print anthology; PDF of an article in a journal
Online worksDOI, permalink, or URLArticle on a news website; essay in journal
Unique or ephemeral works viewed or heard firsthandPlace where the work was viewed or heardPerformance; lecture; artwork; manuscript in an archive
Physical media other than paginated print worksNumbering system provided by the sourceNumbered disc in a DVD set
Supplemental elements

As mentioned above, Works Cited list entries in MLA style are based on the template of core elements. In some cases, you may need or want to give additional information relevant to the work you are documenting. You can do so by adding supplements to the template. There are two sections where you can add supplements, either:

  • after the Title of Source, or
  • at the end of the entry.

A period should be placed after a supplemental element. Three pieces of information are the most likely to be placed after the Title of Source:

  • A contributor other than the author
  • The original publication date (for a work contained in another work)
  • Generically labeled sections (if any part or section of the work has a unique title as well as generic label)

For example, inserting the contributors' roles and names after the Title of Source element tells the reader that Leila El Khalidi and Christopher Tingley translated only The Singing of the Stars, not all the other works in Short Arabic Plays:

EXAMPLESupplemental elements

Fagih, Ahmed Ibrahim al-. The Singing of the Stars. Translated by Leila El Khalidi and Christopher Tingley. Short Arabic Plays: An Anthology, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Interlink Books, 2003, pp. 140-57.

If you need to clarify something about the entry as a whole, you can do it at the end of the entry, like:

  • Date of access
  • Medium of publication (when more than one version of a source is accessible on the same landing page and you are citing a version that is not the default version)
  • Dissertations and theses
  • Publication history
  • Book series
  • Columns, sections, and other recurring titled features
  • Multivolume works
  • Government documents

EXAMPLEGovernment documents

United States, Congress, House. Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act of 2016. Congress.gov, www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/6394/text. 114th Congress, 2nd session, House Resolution 6394, passed 6 Dec. 2016.

How to use Bibguru for MLA citations

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In-text citations in MLA

In-text citations aim at directing the reader to the entry in your Works Cited list for the source. while creating the least possible interruption in the text. An in-text citation usually contains the author's name (or other first element in the entry in the works cited list) and a page number. The page number usually goes in a parenthesis, placed where there is a natural pause in the text.

A parenthetical citation that directly follows a quotation is placed after the closing quotation mark. No punctuation is used between the author's name (or the title) and a page number:

EXAMPLEParenthetical citation

“It's silly not to hope. It's a sin he thought.” (Hemingway 96)

The author's name can appear in the text itself or before the page number in the parenthesis:

EXAMPLEParenthetical citation

Cox names five strategies to implement Diversity Management in companies (50).

Here are some additional examples of in-text citations and their corresponding Works Cited entries:

EXAMPLECitation in prose using author's name

Smith argues that Jane Eyre is a "feminist Künstlerroman" that narrativizes a woman's struggle to write herself into being (86).

EXAMPLEParenthetical citation

Jane Eyre is a "feminist Künstlerroman" that narrativizes a woman's struggle to write herself into being (Smith 86).

EXAMPLEWorks cited

Smith, Jane. Feminist Self-Definition in the Nineteenth-Century Novel. Cambridge UP, 2001.

How to correctly style your in-text citations

  • If you are citing an author in your paper, give the full name at first mention and the last name alone thereafter.
  • If you are citing a work with two authors, include both first and last names the first time you mention them in your paper. Then, in a following parenthetical citation, connect the two last names with and.
  • If the source has three or more authors, you may list all the names or provide the name of the first collaborator followed by "and others" or "and colleagues". In a parenthetical citation, list the last name of the first author and et al.
Citation in proseParenthetical citation (last name only)Work cited
1 AuthorNaomi Baron broke new ground on the subject. Although many scholars have explored the influence of computers on reading habits, Baron's work helps us understand how reading will continue to evolve.At least one researcher has broken new ground on the subject (Baron).Baron, Naomi S. "Redefining Reading: The Impact of Digital Communication Media." PMLA, vol. 128, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 193-200.
2 AuthorsSmith and Williams, along with several other recent scholars, argue that nineteenth-century writers routinely considered how humans interacted with non-humans in an increasingly industrialized society.A recent book argues that nineteenth-century writers routinely considered how humans interacted with nonhumans in an increasingly industrialized society (Smith and Wlliams).Smith, Jane, and Tory Williams. The Posthuman Nineteenth Century: Texts and Contexts. U of Minnesota P, 2008.
3 or more authorsSmith, Williams, and others have recently argued that the period's increasing industrialization led authors to more deeply consider humans' relationships to nonhumans.A recent book contends that the period's increasing industrialization led authors to more deeply consider humans' relationships to nonhumans (Smith, Williams, et al.).Smith, Jane, et al. The Nineteenth-Century Web of Being. Stanford UP, 2009.

Ditch the frustrations for stress-free citations

Formatting your paper in MLA

The MLA Handbook also provides guidelines on how to present your paper in a clear and consistent way. These are the general guidelines to format your paper correctly, according to MLA. For more details, refer to the MLA Handbook:

  • Use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). Font size should be 12 pt.
  • Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.
  • Double-space the entire text of your paper.
  • Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks.
  • Indent every new paragraph one half-inch from the left margin. You can use your tab bar for this.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one half-inch from the top and flush with the right margin.
  • Use italics for the titles of longer works.
  • Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically required.
  • On the first page, make sure that the text is left-aligned. Then, list your name, the name of your teacher or professor, the course name and the date in separate lines.
  • Center align your heading. Do not italicize, bold, or underline your title. Also, do not use a period after the title.

The MLA Handbook gives guidance for a multitude of different sources, like websites, television series, songs, articles, comic books, etc., and considers various types of contributors to these sources. BibGuru's MLA citation generator helps you create the fastest and most accurate MLA citations possible. If you want to learn more about MLA citations, check out our detailed MLA citation guides.

FAQs

📊 How do you cite in-text in MLA style?

An in-text citation usually contains the author's name (or other first element in the entry in the works cited list) and a page number. The page number usually goes in a parenthesis, placed where there is a natural pause in the text.

📽 How do you cite in-text an audio-visual source in MLA style?

In MLA style, audio-visual material uses the specific time of the audio/video for in-text citations. You need to cite the author's last name and the time or a short version of the title and the time within parentheses, e.g.:

The following scene exemplifies the performer's physical abilities (Thurman 00:15:43-00:20:07).

🤓 Who uses MLA style?

Anyone can use MLA style given its versatility. However, this format is often used by writers and students working in the arts and humanities, such as linguistics, literature, and history.

👨‍💻 Is there a free MLA citation machine?

Yes, the BibGuru MLA citation generator is completely free and ready to use by students and writers adopting MLA guidelines.

🙇🏻‍♀️ What version of MLA style should I use?

The most recent version of the MLA guidelines is the 9th edition of the MLA Handbook, released in 2021. It is still very new so you should check with your instructor or institution to make sure you're using the right version.

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