The Modern Language Association (MLA) is a professional association for scholars of literature and language. Among other things, the MLA publishes a style manual (sometimes called a “style guide”) for writing and citing sources, used primarily in the humanities, including most English classes. MLA is one of several types of citation styles. As an undergraduate student, some professors or courses may require you to use APA (details below), Chicago, or Turabian style.
It’s not necessary (or advisable) to memorize formatting rules for any citation style. Getting used to checking formatting examples and published guidance (for example, in books or on websites) will help you proofread citations and move more easily between citation styles. There are helpful reference books you can keep on hand (such as the MLA Handbook, which is the style manual mentioned above), and many great online tools through your college library or tutoring websites, or found with a quick online search. Every so often, MLA style (or any citation style), will undergo some changes, and a new edition of the style manual will be released. All citation styles have different formats for citing various information types (e.g., websites, books, podcasts, emails), and as technology advances and information becomes available in new formats, citation styles need to be added and updated.
In MLA style, the list of detailed bibliographic information at the end of the paper or assignment is called “Works Cited.” The core elements of an MLA citation are as follows (be sure to pay attention to the punctuation that follows each element):
MLA Core Elements
- Title of source.
- Title of container,
- Other contributors,
- Publication date,
- A single author should be written: Last name, First name Middle name
- For two authors, only invert the first author’s name. List the names in the order in which they appear on the source.
- For three or more authors, use et al. (which means, ‘and others’).
- When citing an edited book, add a descriptive label (“editor”) after the name.
Example: Smith, John M.
Example: Smith, John M., and Terence Duvall.
Title of Source
- Include both the title and subtitle separated by a colon [:].
- Capitalize the first word of the title and subtitle, plus all other important words.
- Enclose in “quotation marks:”
- If the title is part of a larger work, such as a story in an anthology, an article in a journal, or a Web page from a Web site
- Place in italics:
- If the title is a for an entire book, journal, or Web site
Title of Container
- When a source is part of a larger work, the larger work is called the “container.”
- The container is italicized and followed by a comma.
- Containers can be:
- Periodicals (magazines, journals, newspapers)
- Anthologies (books which contain short stories, essays, poetry, etc.)
- Entire Web sites (which contain individual web pages)
- Library or other online databases (which contain articles, books, etc.)
- Contributors other than the author are named in the entry if they are important to your research or the identification of the source (i.e. editors and translators).
- When citing a source with both an author and editor, list the author first and the editor after the title of the source.
If a source carries a notation that it is a work in more than one form (i.e. book edition), identify the version.
- 7th ed.
- Expanded ed.
- Journals are typically numbered with volume (vol.) and issue numbers (no.).
- If you are using a multi-volume set, include the volume (vol.) number.
- Only include the first publisher listed, unless the source was published by multiple independent organizations. Separate independent publishers with a forward slash [/].
- Abbreviate publisher names in the following cases:
- Omit business words like Company, Corporation, Incorporated, and Limited
- Replace University Press with UP (i.e. Oxford UP, U of California P, MIT P).
- A publisher’s name may be completely omitted for the following types of sources:
- Web page whose publisher is the same as the name of the overall website
- Periodical (journal, magazine, newspaper)
- Work published by the author
- Dates should be given as fully as they appear in your sources.
- If multiple dates are listed, cite the date most meaningful to your use of the source.
- Format as: Day Month Year. Abbreviate the names of months longer than 4 letters
- In print sources, a page number (preceded by p.) or a range of page numbers (preceded by pp.) specifies the location.
- In online sources, location is indicated by the URL, DOI, or Permalink.
- URL: Copy in full from your Web browser, but omit http:// or https://
- DOI: Journal articles are often assigned “Digital Object Identifiers”. When possible, cite a DOI (preceded by doi:) instead of the URL.
- Permalink: Web sources (especially Library databases) often provide stable URLs, called “permalinks”. When possible, use these instead of the URL.
Compiling & Formatting
Once you have constructed your citations according to MLA rules, there are a few more steps to complete the Works Cited list.
- Center the words “Works Cited” at the top of the page.
- Alphabetize the citations by author’s last name, or by the first main word of the title if there is no author. (When alphabetizing, ignore A, An, and The at the beginning of citations.)
- Make sure all lines are double-spaced.
- Apply “hanging” indents to all citations: The first line of the citation is not indented. All subsequent lines are indented 0.5 inch.
Mancini, Candice. Racism in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Greenhaven Press, 2008.
Schreiber, Brad. Music Is Power : Popular Songs, Social Justice, and the Will to Change. Rutgers UP, 2019. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=2293722&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Hollmichel, Stephanie. “The Reading Brain: Differences between Digital and Print.” So Many Books, 25 Apr. 2013, somanybooksblog.com/2013/04/25/the-reading-brain-differences-between-digital-and-print/.
Academic Journal Article:
Grauer, Jens, et al. “Strategic Spatiotemporal Vaccine Distribution Increases the Survival Rate in an Infectious Disease like Covid-19.” Scientific Reports, vol. 10, no. 1, Dec. 2020, pp. 1–10. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1038/s41598-020-78447-3.
For more MLA style citation examples, visit Excelsior OWL.