What is MLA Citation Style?
The Modern Language Association (MLA) is one of the world’s most important, renowned, and prestigious academic associations in the literary arts. To ensure high quality and consistency of writing, the MLA has developed a method of formatting documents and citing references: known as MLA style or MLA format.
The MLA citation style is ubiquitous, used when students write papers about literature, religious studies, art history, and a range of other subjects in the humanities and liberal arts. In the United States especially, students will frequently be asked to use MLA citations in their academic papers. The MLA citation style is straightforward and simple to use.
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This guide will provide you with an overview of MLA citation format, and will teach you how to format your in-text parenthetical citations as well as your lists of works cited in your research papers and essays. For more detailed and up-to-date information on MLA style formatting, please refer directly to the MLA Handbook.
The latest version of MLA is the 8th edition (MLA-8) which was published in April 2016. The updates included in this latest version addresses changes in digital publications, as more and more sources are being put online.
Why Use MLA Citations?
When editors or teachers ask you to write in “MLA style,” they are referring to the editorial style used most commonly in literature, the arts and the humanities. The reason why you have been asked to use MLA citations is because the MLA citation style will become increasingly important to you as you progress as a student.
If you are taking classes in comparative literature, literary criticism, art history, or gender studies, you may be asked to format your papers using MLA style and MLA citations. In fact, there are many professors who prefer MLA citation over other styles and will ask you to format your papers accordingly.
MLA citation styles are clean and easy to read, which is one of the reasons why they are favored over other styles. Using MLA style helps you maintain consistency, as well as avoiding plagiarism as you learn how to cite any and all sources that you use when researching and writing. When it doubt, cite it!
MLA style incorporates a parenthetical citation format (LikeThis, 2017) that helps readers locate cited sources on their own or to recognize that the quote, idea, concept, fact, or theory came from a primary source or a secondary source. Proper MLA citation also protects the writer from accusations of plagiarism or inadvertently plagiarizing other people’s work, as you learn to cite ideas that are not your own. Remember, it’s not a problem to borrow ideas or quote from other texts, as long as you cite your sources properly—using MLA citation or whichever citation method your instructor prefers.
MLA citation is only one element of MLA format. MLA format includes other elements of your academic writing, such as diction, tone, style, word usage, and punctuation. The margins, line spacing, use of headers and footers, or inclusion of a table of contents are all covered more extensively by the MLA Style Center.
This guide, on the other hand, offers you a simpler, condensed version of MLA citation methods. Here we will focus on MLA citations because of how important proper MLA citations are to your academic success.
Like APA format [SK1] , MLA format uses in-text citations, as opposed to footnotes or endnotes. As with all formatting methods, MLA format includes not only the in-text citations but also a bibliography page at the end of your document. In MLA format and with MLA citations, the bibliography page is called “Works Cited.”
MLA format means streamlining the in-text citations to only include the author’s last name and the page number (LikeThis, 2017). That’s it. Author’s last name and page number. In some cases, you may need only the author’s last name without the page number, as when referring to an author’s overall argument (LikeThis).
For example, “some fields have frowned on the use of the first-person singular in an academic essay,” (Kandel 1). We will go into more detail about how to properly format MAL in-text citations later in this document.
Works Cited Page:
The Works Cited page lists all the sources that you cited in the body of your paper.
Please keep in mind, using MLA format means that every source you mention in the body of your paper must be included in the Works Cited page at the end of your paper.
Likewise, every source you include in the Works Cited page at the end of your paper will be referenced somewhere in your text.
Do not cite a source without listing it on the Works Cited page, and do not list any reference in the Works Cited page that you did not directly use in the body of your paper.
The Works Cited page is formatted in alphabetical order.
You can see a sample Works Cited page here.
An MLA style Works Cited page entry will look something like this:
Kandel, Michael. “Using ‘I’ In Academic Writing.” The MLA Style Center, https://style.mla.org/2017/07/25/using-i/
- Notice how the author’s first name (Michael) is spelled out in full.
- Also notice that the title of the article (“Using ‘I’ In Academic Writing”) is placed in quotation marks, with the first letter of each main word capitalized.
- The name of the periodical, book, or parent website will be placed in italics.
Also notice that when the original article title also contains quoted text, a single quotation mark (‘I’) is used to distinguish it from the double quotation marks (“Using…”) used for the main title.
The MLA citation example for the in-text parenthetical reference will look like this: (Kandel 1).
MLA citations follow these basic rules, whether the citation is for printed material, material that appears online, or multimedia.
MLA Format Examples:
MLA citations are easy to master. However, sometimes you will come across sources with no author, sources with more than one author, sources with no official title, and sources that do not fit neatly into any category. You may have more than once source from the same author, or sources from two authors with the same last name. These are examples of when MLA citations can become tricky.
This guide will help you to properly cite the different types of sources you might need to use when writing your paper.
First let’s start with the basics: MLA citation formats for printed materials.
MLA Citations for Printed Periodicals/Magazines/Journals
Printed material includes articles appearing in magazines, newspapers, or scholarly journals. Printed material excludes materials you find online. Even if the same article or book exists online, these rules apply only to when you cite the printed version because usually the pagination and even the formatting will be different.
Generally, you will include the volume number, issue number, year, and page span of the article in your Works Cited page when citing printed material in MLA format.
Scholarly Journal Article with One Author:
Scholarly journal articles, or peer-reviewed academic articles, appear in specialized journals. You will find these mainly in academic libraries. Although most academic journal articles are now available online, occasionally you will be referring to a printed version. When you do, refer to the following examples:
Baum, Rosalie Murphy. “Alcoholism and Family Abuse in Idlewild Solar.” Mosaic Vol. 19, No. 3, 2012, pp. 91-105.
The in-text MLA citation corresponding to this entry would be something like this: (Baum 91)
Scholarly Journal Article with Two Authors:
MLA citation style gets a little trickier when citing an article with two or more authors. The first author is still listed with Last Name. First Name. However, the second and subsequent authors are listed First Name Last Name. The word “and” is spelled out, instead of using the ampersand (&) symbol.
Bowering, George and Jean Chugg. “Soccer and the Canadian Imagination.” Canadian Literature, vol. 109, pp. 115-24.
In-text MLA citation: (Bowering and Chugg 115)
Scholarly Journal Article with Three or More Authors:
When there are three or more authors, you can list them all or use the Latin abbreviation et al. to indicate there are other authors.
A Note About “et al.”
The Latin phrase et alia means “and others.” It is abbreviated as “et al.” when used to indicate that there are additional unlisted authors in your MLA citation.
The word “et” means “and,” and is not an abbreviation. However, the word “alia” is abbreviated to “al.” Because of this, you only write a period after “al.”
Example with et al.:
Bowering, George, et al. “Soccer and the Canadian Imagination.” Canadian Literature, vol. 109, pp. 115-24.
In-text MLA citation: (Bowering, et al. 115)
Example without et al.:
Bowering, Linus, and George. “Soccer and the Canadian Imagination.” Canadian Literature, vol. 109, pp. 115-24.
Printed Magazine Article:
(Note: Dates should appear as Day Month Year. Abbreviate months. If the article jumps pages, specify only the first page, followed by a plus sign: e.g. 23+.)
Bezel, Robert. “Science and Society.” New Republic 15 Mar. 1993: 13-14.
Nixon, Will. “Are We Burying Ourselves in Junk Mail?” E: Environmental Magazine Nov.-Dec. 1993: 30+.
Unsigned Magazine Article (no author):
Sometimes an article will appear without an author by-line. When this happens, simply list it in the Works Cited page alphabetically according to the first word in the title of the article.
“Waiting to Exhale.” Newsweek 9 Mar. 2013: 26-37.
Article with a Corporation or Organization as Author
Sometimes an organization like the United Nations will publish an article. In this case, simply write the organization’s name as the author in the MLA Works Cited list.
United States Air Force. “Counterterrorism.” Newsweek 9 Mar. 2014: 45-46.
Note: Even if it goes against the official title of the newspaper, omit any introductory article in the title by saying, for example, Chicago Sun Times, not The Chicago Sun Times. Also, specify the edition is available.
Mansfield, Catherine S. “Becoming a Land of the Smoke-Free, Ban by Ban.” New York Times 22 Sept. 2011, late ed.: A1+.
Editorials are often authored by the entire editorial staff of a newspaper. In this case, list the article in alphabetical order in the MLA Works Cited page by referencing the title:
“Death of a Writer.” Editorial. New York Times 20 Apr. 2009, late ed.: A18.
MLA Book Citation (Printed Books):
The following MLA citation rules apply for all printed books, including textbooks.
General Format: Author Last Name, Author First Name. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.
Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957. Print.
Two or Three Authors:
Kerrigan, Troop, and Gordon Braxton. The Idea of the Renaissance. Baltimore: Taylor Hopkins UP, 1989. Print.
A Guide to Our Federal Lands. Washington: National Geographic Soc., 2009. Print.
If you are citing a book that was translated into English from its original language, make sure you indicate the translator in your MLA citation. This is because the same work can be translated by different people, with vastly different results.
Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Romances, and Home Remedies. Trans. Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen. New York: Doubleday, 2012. Print.
Unsigned/unauthored encyclopedia article:
“Laos.” The Encyclopedia Americana. 2012 ed. Print.
Signed/authored encyclopedia article:
Mohan, Jitendra M. “Indian Philosophy.” The New Encyclopedia Britannica: Macropaedia. 19th ed. 2013. Print.
Work from an anthology:
Anthologies are compilations of texts, usually short stories, essays, or poems. When citing an individual work that appears in an anthology in an MLA Works Cited page, use the following format. Note: Give the page numbers for the entire piece that you are citing.
Ricky, Kilmer. “Toad’s Mouth.” Trans. Margaret Sayers Cedar. A Hammock Beneath the Mongoes: Stories from Latin America. Ed. Thomas Cochran. New York: Plume, 2010. 83-89. Print.
MLA Citation for Textbook:
Textbooks can be tricky for MLA citation because sometimes they have authors, but sometimes they only have editors. Check the textbook carefully to see if the word “Editor” or “Editors” appears.
MLA Citation for Textbook with Editors:
Tallett, Frank and D.J.B. Trim, eds. European Warfare, 1350-1750. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.
MLA Citation for Websites:
General Format: Author Last Name, Author First Name. “Title of Article.” Website.com. Website Name, Date Published. Web. 5 Jan. 2012.
- Note that electronic materials may have as many as five divisions: 1) Author’s name. 2) List title of the work in italics if the work is independent. 3) Information about print publication. 4) Information about electronic publication. 5) Access Information.
- The URL of a Web publication is no longer required by the MLA Handbook, but you should check with your instructor to see if it is required for your assignment.
- If you decide to present a URL in your works-cited list entry, place the entire URL in angled brackets followed by an end period. It should immediately follow the date of access, a period, and a space.
McMullen, Morris, Loraine Mesick, and Joe Hines, eds. The William Blake Archive. Lib. of Cong., 28 Sept. 2007. Web 20 Nov. 2007. <http://www.blakearchive.org/blake/>.
MLA Citation for Online Article:
The MLA citation for online material varies depending on whether it is an article, a blog post, or a multimedia content like a YouTube video. However, the basic elements of the MLA citation will remain the same including author’s last name, first name, title, and location of the work.
Note that electronic materials may have as many as eight divisions: 1) Name of author, compiler, director, or editor of the work. 2) Title of the work (italicized if the work is independent; in “quotation marks” if the work is part of a larger work. 3) Title of overall Web site (italicized) if distinct and called out. 4) Version or edition used. 5) Publisher or sponsor. 6) Date of publication if available; if not available use n.d. 7) Medium of publication 8) Date of access (day, month, year).
Committee on Scholarly Editions. “Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions.” Modern Language Association. MLA, 25 Sept. 2007. Web. 15 May 2010.
“de Mooning, William.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Web. 15 May 2012.
Able, Joshua. “The Rove Presidency.” The Atlantic.com. Atlantic Monthly Group, Sept. 2011. Web. 15 May 2013.
“Hourly News Summary.” National Public Radio. Natl. Public Radio, 20 July 2007. Web 20 July 2012.
Online Scholarly Article:
Some scholarly journals are published independently online but never actually printed. If page numbers are not present, be sure to use n.pag. Conclude the entry with the following items:
1. Medium of publication consulted (Web)
2. Date of access (day, month, and year)
Ouellette, Marc. “Theories, Memories, Bodies, and Artists.” Editorial. Reconstruction 7.4 (2007): n.pag. Web. 5 June 2010.
Trevin, Constance L., and Amanda B. Morris. “Deconstructing Laundry: Gendered Technologies and the Reluctant Redesign of Household Labor.” Michigan Family Review 11 (2006): n. pag. Web. 8 Nov. 2011.
An article, review, editorial, or letter to the editor retrieved from an online database should follow the same MLA format as that used for citing works in print periodicals. The major difference is that the medium of the original publication should be changed from (Print) to (Web). If pagination is not available, use n.pag. Conclude the entry with the following items:
1. Title of the database (italicized)
2. Medium of publication consulted (Web)
3. Date of access (day, month, and year)
Chan, Evans. “Postmodernism and Chinese Cinema.” Postmodern Culture 10.3 (2010): n. pag. Project Muse. Web. 5 June 2011.
Mathews, Carolyn L. “Female Symbolism in Kate Chopin’s the Awakening.”
Mosaic: a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. 35.1 (2002): 127-150. Proquest. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.
Author name/poster’s username. “Title of Video.” Online video clip. Name of Website. Name of Website’s publisher, date posted. Web. Date accessed.
Tokas, Alice. “How to Make Homemade Pasta.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 22 May 2013. Web. 18 July 2014.
How to Add In-Text Citations in MLA
Now that you are familiar with the method of formatting MLA Works Cited pages, it’s time to show you how to format the MLA citations in text and using parentheticals.
Remember, if you listed it in the Works Cited page, there must be a corresponding in-text reference somewhere in the body of your text.
When you write your paper, you will want to vary the way you create in-text citations because it makes your paper flow nicer. Your reader will appreciate it if you sometimes include the citation at the beginning of the sentence, sometimes in the middle, and occasionally at the end, too.
The following paragraph demonstrates three different MLA in-text citations:
The food of Thailand is complex and varied. Nathorn mentions the relevance of Issan Thai food for offering rich dishes without using coconut milk (3). However, southern Thai food is the style most common in restaurants outside of Thailand (Fatty 1). Siriporn notes that “all Thai food is delicious,” (15).
There are two basic rules for MLA in-text citations:
1. If you do not mention the author’s name in the sentence, mention it in the parenthetical at the end:
As argued in subsequent chapters (White 178-85).
2. If you integrate the author’s name in a sentence, only mention the page number at the end in a parenthetical:
White argued this point (178-85).
It becomes more complicated when you have works by more than one author, different works by the same author, or unauthored works.
MLA In-Text Citations with Multiple Authors:
When a work has two authors, mention both their last names, separated by the word “and.” Spell out the word “and.” Do not use an ampersand (&) symbol.
Other researchers came to opposite conclusions, especially the study by McMullen and Xian (210-15).
Podgoricy and Utica note, “Jane Austen was an author of great regard,” (14).
If the work has three authors, write each of their last names:
Baron, Smith, and Levinson claim that Jane Austen was not an author of great regard at all (17).
MLA In-Text Citations for Works with More than Three Authors
If a work has more than three authors, you can choose to write all of them out, or you can use the Latin abbreviation for et allia, which means “and others,” written as “et al.” Please note only the “al.” takes the period, because the word “et” is not an abbreviation. See the following example:
Baron, et al. note that Japanese food is “delicious,” (108).
MLA In-Text Citations for Works with No Author
Don’t despair. If an article has no author, simply cite it by using the title. Place the title of the work in quotation marks (“Like This” 6). If the title is long, as with something entitled, “Frugality: The Best Way to Save Money by Reusing What You Already Have and Spending As Little As Possible,” you can easily shorten the title in your MLA in-text citation. You could, for example, refer to the article as “Frugality.”
A New York Times editorial called Ralph Ellison “a writer of universal reach” (“Death” 1).
Multiple works by the same author:
Often you will refer to multiple articles or books by the same author. How do you distinguish between them in your in-text citations? Simply by listing both the author and the title. If the title is long, then simply use an abbreviation, as follows:
Example using a Book Title:
Shakespeare’s Othello has been referred to as a “drama of the grotesque” (Fitzpatrick, Anatomy 237).
Example using an Article Title:
Jones claims that the economy was going to “collapse anyway” (“Causes” 4).
MLA In-Text Citations for Items by Authors with the Same Last Name
When you are using works by different authors with the same last name, how do you differentiate between them in the MLA in-text citation? Use the first initial of each author’s first name.
Whereas P. Jones states that solar energy is cheap, M. Jones points out that wind power is more cost-effective in the long run.
How to Avoid Plagiarism Using MLA Format
Knowing how to create MLA citations is one thing; knowing when or what to cite is another. The key to avoiding plagiarism is to cite anything that you borrowed from someone else. That means using MLA citations when you paraphrase, as well as when you quote.
If you “copy and paste something word for word,” and use it in your document, that is a quotation and needs to be indicated by the use of quotation marks (Kessler 1).
If you paraphrase what someone says, changing their wording to your own but capturing the author’s main idea, you do not use quotation marks but still do need an MLA citation (Kessler 1).
Knowing what to cite takes some practice, but after a while you will start to understand the difference between what is considered common knowledge and ideas that are unique to an author. When in doubt, cite it. You are much less likely to get in trouble for plagiarizing if you use a citation when you didn’t need one than you are to get in trouble for not using one when you did.
MLA citation styles are one of the benchmark citation styles used in multiple academic areas. Especially in the liberal arts and humanities, MLA style is accepted at universities around the world. Students will often be asked to format their papers using MLA style, and to rely on MLA style for formatting their Works Cited page and their in-text citations.
Using MLA citation style will improve your writing, helping you to integrate sources seamlessly into your academic papers. You will become more comfortable with using MLA style and formatting the more you use it. When you master MLA citations, you will be able to develop your own ideas and avoid plagiarizing others. MLA citations are necessary in multiple subject areas, making it one of the most important ways you can excel in your writing.