MLA Documentation Style

MLA Style


MLA document formatting

When setting up your word processor for an MLA-formatted document, use the following settings to format your page:

MLA Page Formatting
  • Set one-inch margins on all sides of the document.

  • Double-space the entire document, including block quotes.

  • In the top left portion of the first page, type your name, instructor’s name, course title, and date on separate, double-spaced lines.

  • Include your last name and a page number on each page in the top right corner of the header.

  • Include a centered title on the first page.

  • Indent the first line of each paragraph with a tab set to 1/2 inch.

Example:

MLA requires a bibliography at the conclusion of the essay that includes the full citation of the sources cited within the essay. In MLA the bibliography is known as the Works Cited page. When formatting a Works Cited page, use the following rules:

MLA Works Cited page formatting

  • Center the words “Works Cited” at the top of the page.

  • Use your last name and the page number on the right side of the page’s header.

  • Double space the entries.

  • Alphabetize the entries by the author’s last name.

  • If an entry runs more than one typed line, indent the second (and any subsequent) line with a 1/2-inch tab.

  • If two or more works by the same author are used, list the entries alphabetically by title. After the first entry, replace the author’s name with three dashes followed by a period.

Example:

When a quotation runs more than four typed lines, use a block quote. A block quote is a freestanding block of quoted words, set apart from the rest of the text. When formatting block quotes in MLA, use the following rules:

MLA Block Quote Formatting

  • Begin the block quote on a new line.

  • Indent every line of the quote 1 inch from the left margin (this should be two tabs).

  • Do not use quotation marks around the quoted material.

  • Place the parenthetical citation after the final punctuation of the quoted passage.

Example:

MLA in-text citations

The MLA style uses parenthetical citations within a document to indicate the author and page number of sources. Each time a source is used in your text, the author’s name and the page number of the source are placed in a parenthesis within your document. These in-text citations correspond to a full bibliographic entry for the source located in the essay’s Works Cited page at the conclusion of the essay.

MLA In-text Citations

The MLA style parenthetical citations primarily take two forms:

1. One form is used when the source you are citing is named or understood by your audience:

According to scholar James Frey, “Each American consumes five pounds of ice cream annually” (78).

  • In this first sentence the author is specifically named. If the author is clear from the context, only the page number must be placed within the parenthetical citation.

2. The other form is used when the author being cited is unknown or unclear based on the context:

Researchers have reported that “Each American consumes five pounds of ice cream annually” (Frey 78).

  • In the second example the student author uses a generic term “researchers” that does not help identify a specific source or author; as a result, the student has included Frey’s name in the citation to indicate whose research is being referenced.

The in-text citations described above will comprise virtually all of your citations. However, there are a few circumstances when the in-text citations will require a different approach.

3. For media that has a runtime—like film, television, or music—MLA now requires that you cite a timestamp within your in-text citations. Use colons to separate hours, minutes, and seconds. For example, this citation is of a film:

According to Rushmore Academy’s headmaster, Max is “probably the worst student” at the school (04:04-07).

or

In “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” BeyoncĂ© proclaims “I am the dragon breathing fire” (01:13-15).

4. For citations when the author is unknown, use an abbreviated version of the work’s title in the parenthetical citation. If no page number is available (for example, if the source was found on the web), just use the abbreviated title in the citation and provide the full bibliographic entry in the Works Cited page:

Accordingly, the moose population in New Hampshire is suffering from the increased tick population (“Not Moosing Around”).

5. If the source was written by a corporate author, you may use the name of the company, government office, or organization who published the piece in place of the author:

Scientists declare that this will be the hottest year on record (NOAA 234).

The MLA core elements

The eighth edition of the MLA Handbook, published in 2016, issued sweeping changes to the formatting of the MLA bibliography. The previous seven editions of the handbook—stretching back to the 1930s—attempted to provide a model citation for every type of source. However, the explosion of internet-based sources and new forms of communication and media made the project of providing guidance on every type of source extremely challenging.

The new handbook replaces the creation of an ever-growing list of source types with a set of universal guidelines that may be used to formulate a citation for any type of source. These guidelines are referred to as the “core elements.” The promise of this new approach is that it provides a method for citing any type of source, even those that do not yet exist.

Using the core elements

The MLA core elements below are listed in the order they should appear in your own bibliography. The proper punctuation that should follow each element is also provided. Thus, you will begin the entry with the author(s) name, followed by a period. Then the title of the work will be provided, followed by a period. Then the title of the container, followed by a comma. And so on. If one of these core elements does not apply to your source, skip it and move to the next one until you have been through the entire list of elements.

Core Element Concluding Punctuation
Author .
Title .
Title of container (self contained if book) ,
Other contributors (translators or editors) ,
Version (edition) ,
Number (vol. and/or no.) ,
Publisher ,
Publication Date ,
Location (pages, paragraphs URL or DOI) .

Some sources have multiple containers

Note that some sources will have more than one container. If so, you will have to proceed through the second table listed below (adding it to the end of the entry you made using the table above) to complete your bibliographic entry:

Core Element Concluding Punctuation
2nd container’s title ,
Other contributors (translators or editors) ,
Version ,
Number ,
Publisher ,
Publication date ,
Location ,
Date of Access (if needed) .

Using the MLA core elements

1. Author.

The first element of a citation is the author’s name. Since the MLA bibliography is organized alphabetically by the author’s last name, begin your citations with the author’s last name followed by a comma, then the author’s first name. If a middle name or initial are supplied, include those after the first name in the entry. Conclude the author element with a period. Sources will often have multiple authors. In that case, only the first listed author will use the Last Name, First Name structure. For example:

Taylor, Alan. A Tour of New Hampshire’s Wolf Trees. Little and Sons, 1998.

Greely, Fred, Mary Jones, and Rick Flair. There’s a Bat in My Attic: Struggles with the New Hampshire Brown Bat. Wildlife Press, 2012.


2. Title of source.

The title of a source is italicized if it is considered “self-contained” and “independent.” Sources that are part of a larger whole, however, are placed in quotation marks. For example, a book is a self-contained and independent source; however, a chapter in a book is part of a larger whole. Thus, the title of the book will be italicized while the title of the chapter will appear in quotation marks. Similarly, a television series is an independent whole, so its title will be italicized. However, an episode within the television series is part of the larger program, so its title appears in quotations. For example:

San, Rathanak. Escaping Vietnam. Peach Publishing, 1988.

Taylor, James. “The Indian Matter of Charles Brockden Brown’s Writings." American Literature, vol. 45, no. 6, 1998, pp. 432-45.

“Say My Name." Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan, performance by Brian Cranston, season 5, episode 7, AMC, 2012.


MLA has a standardized approach to the capitalization of titles. Regardless of how the title appears on a title page, scholarly journal, or database, use the following information to properly capitalize the title of your source on your Works Cited page:

  • Capitalize nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions.

  • Unless they begin the title, do not capitalize articles, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, or the “to” in infinitive verbs.


3. Title of container,

Many kinds of sources are smaller parts of larger wholes. MLA refers to these larger wholes as containers. For example, a chapter is a smaller part of a book. In this sense, the book is the container for the chapter. Similarly, a scholarly article is a smaller part of the scholarly journal that contains it. Newspaper articles, essays in a collection, and television episodes are all contained by a larger whole. These containers are italicized in your bibliography. For example, here are the citations for an article in a scholarly journal and a work in a collection of essays:

Taylor, James. “The Indian Matter of Charles Brockden Brown’s Writings.” American Literature, vol. 45, no. 6, 1998, pp. 432-45.

Cranston, William. “My Famous Donkey.” Short Stories of East Tennessee, edited by Jax Ridley, East Tennessee State P, 2011, pp. 77-90.

Some sources have multiple containers. This is often true for electronic sources. For example, a scholarly article may be contained by both the journal that originally published it and the academic research database that hosts it online. Consider an article published in the academic database called JSTOR:

Taylor, James. “The Indian Matter of Charles Brockden Brown’s Writings.” American Literature, vol. 45, no. 6, 1998, pp. 432-45. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/8759038475.

When citing a source make sure that you represent every container so as to truly represent where that source was discovered.


4. Other contributors,

Your sources will often have a number of other individuals who contributed to the work besides the author(s). You may find sources with one or more of these additional roles:

  • director

  • editor

  • illustrator

  • introducer

  • narrator

  • performer

  • translator


5. Version,

Many sources are published in more than one version. The most common version you will encounter in academic research is a new version of a book. Each new version of a book is described as an edition. These versions are numbered in sequential order: 1st edition, 2nd edition, 3rd edition, and so on. There are other kinds of versions, some of which are illustrated below.

Anderson, Wes. Rushmore. 1998. Performance by Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, director’s cut, Buena Vista International, 2017.

The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.

David, Gray. Blister in the Sun: A Day in the Life of an Aging Rock Star. Revised ed., Primer Publishing, 1993.

Smith, John. Raising Arizona. 3rd ed., Primer Publishing, 1993.

Always ensure that you cite the exact version that you use in your writing. Pagination often differs between editions; versions of a film or other media may vary significantly or have additional content. Failing to cite the specific version of a text will lead to confusion and may make your readers feel that you are sloppy or uncaring.


6. Number,

Many sources are part of a numbered sequence. For the most part you will encounter this in journal articles and books that are part of a numbered series.

Journal articles are often collected together in volumes and numbered issues:

Taylor, James. “The Indian Matter of Charles Brockden Brown’s Writings.” American Literature, vol. 45, no. 6, 1998, pp. 432-45.

Some journals do not collect issues into numbered volumes; instead, they only publish numbered issues:

Clampers, Smitty. “Genocide in South America.” Journal of Violence, no. 7, 1990, pp. 221-75.

When books are too large to be published as a single text, they are organized in volumes:

Smith, Jeb. A History of American Serial Killers. Vol. 6, Samford UP, 2012.


7. Publisher,

A publisher is the business or organization responsible for bringing a book, article, website, or other type of source to the public. Books will commonly indicate the publisher on the title or copyright pages, which will be the first few pages of the text:

Lund, Frank. The Gravest of Errors. Indiana UP, 2012.

Websites or blogs may not have clear indications for the publisher. However, this information is often included in the footer at the bottom of a homepage or on “About” or “Contact” pages:

Teeter, Graham. “My Time Alone in Vietnam, a Travel Tale.” Narratives from the Edge, Society of World Geographers and Adventurers, www.edgenarratives.com/teeter.

Television series and films are often created by a large array of producers and companies. However, cite only the organization that had the primary responsibility for production:

Anderson, Wes. Rushmore. Performance by Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, Buena Vista International, 1998.

The MLA stylebook explains several situations where a publisher’s name is not required in the citation:

  • A periodical (academic journal, newspaper, magazine, etc.)

  • A work published by its author.

  • A website whose title is essentially the name of the publisher.

  • A website that does not help produce the source, only host it (academic database, YouTube, etc.)

Be careful, however, to include things like the electronic database name or platforms like YouTube as containers, described above.


8. Publication date,

Most sources appropriate for academic research will clearly disclose the date, or dates, of publication. This information will often appear in the front matter of books or journals, or in the masthead of newspapers.

Online sources, however, present a problem. Sometimes it is unclear when an online source was published. Other times the online source may be a digital version of a print source which may have been published at a different time.

When a source has more than one publication date, cite only the version that you are using in your own writing. For example, if you are citing a newspaper article you read online, you should cite the date disclosed on the online version, not the corresponding print version. Failing to do this may cause problems if the online version was edited after the newspaper went to print.


9. Location,

The location of a source largely refers to a source’s page number, or numbers. However, many types of sources do not have page numbers. A web page’s location, for example, is a URL. And a painting or some other artwork’s location would be the physical location of the museum where you viewed it in person.

  • A chapter in a book:

    Tate, Justin. “Ordering Wine in Paris.” An American’s Guide to French Cuisine, U of Tennessee P, 1989, pp. 45-61.

If the source is only on a single page, use p. rather than pp. to indicate the page number.

URLs can be challenging to present because of their length or mutable nature. If possible, use what is known as a “stable url” or “permalink”—a permanent URL associated with online content. These permalinks will not change over time. You may also find online content with a DOI, a digital object identifier. You may cite this DOI in place of a URL. If a URL is too long to include in your bibliography, you may use a shortened version of the URL by citing the domain name of the source (for example: www.nytimes.com).

  • A material object or work of art:

Wayins, Brill. Lone Pine Tree. 2001, Hood Museum of Art, Hanover.

Note: In previous versions of the style, MLA required the city of the publisher to be included. This is no longer a requirement of the style.

The MLA bibliography

While the new edition of the MLA Handbook largely dispenses with specific templates for making citations, I have retained the following examples for this edition of the Open Handbook. I find that these examples are still a helpful guide, especially for students who lack experience with this style of citation.

The following section provides examples for citing sources that are commonly found in academic writing. The various forms have been organized into sections on books, periodicals, electronic sources, and other types of sources that are less common.

Citing Books

Book Forms

A book by one author:

Taylor, Herman. A Tale of One City. Little and Sons, 1998.


Two or more works by the same author(s):

San, Rathanak. Escaping Vietnam. Peach Publishing, 1988.

- - -. The Golden Triangle. Gray and Long, 1999.

  • If you cite two works by the same author, use the author’s first and last name in the first instance. Use three dashes followed by a period in place of the author’s name for any additional works. Place the works in alphabetical order using the first important word in the title.

Two or three authors:

Roberts, John, Philip Glass and Jane Hinds. Recovering the City of Boston. U of Massachusetts P, 2000.

  • Cite the first author using the typical Last Name, First Name format. For each subsequent author, use First Name Last Name.

Four or more authors:

Bankston, Jonathan, et al. On Barns. Woodcraft Publishing, 2013.

  • If a work has four or more authors, you may give the first author’s name and replace the other authors with the Latin term “et al,” which means “and others.”

A book with an editor:

James, Henry. Portrait of a Lady. Edited by Leon Edel, Houghton, 1963.

  • If a work has multiple editors, use “Editors” followed by the editors' names in the order they are listed in the source.

An edition (other than the first):

Thompson, Fred. Why I Fight. 3rd ed., Vanity Publications, 2000.

A republished book:

James, Esther. My Life. 1946. Random House, 2001.

  • A republished book is one that was previously published in a different form, perhaps even from a different publisher. For books of this kind, indicate the original year of publication after the title.

Corporate author (written by organization or government):

John Bigam Society. The Religions of Kenya. Nairobi Publishing, 2000.

United States, Department of Transportation. State Highway Signage Regulations. Government Publishing Office, 2002.

  • If the author of a work is a government or institution, use the name of that organization in place of the author. If the text is the publication of a government, include the name of the department or agency.

An anthology:

Foner, Eric, editor. An American Voice: A Collection of America’s Finest Essays. McKinley and Smith, 2011.


Work in an anthology or collection of essays:

Graves, Thomas. “The History of our National Anthem.” An American Voice: A Collection of America’s Finest Essays, edited by Eric Foner, McKinley and Smith, 2011, pp. 20-41.


No author or editor:

A Guide to Boston. Beantown Publishing, 2000.


Forward, introduction, preface, or afterward:

Knox, John. Introduction. The Life of James, by Elders Johnson, Random House, 2009, pp. 1-8.


A book with a translator:

McDougle, Astrid. The Basics of Gaelic. Translated by Paddy Maloney, Vintage, 1990.


Multivolume work:

Graves, Johanna. Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra Affair. Vol. 7, Greenstalk Publishers, 1988.


Book in a series:

Smith, Rod. American Economic Expansion in the Nineteenth Century. Edited by Andrew Stills, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. History of American Economic Development.

  • Occasionally, a press will publish a series of books about a single topic. If your source is a book in a published series, indicate the name of the series at the conclusion of the citation.

Dictionary or encyclopedia entry:

“Suzerian.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed., 2008.

  • If you are citing an entry from a reference text like a dictionary or encyclopedia that is organized alphabetically, you do not need to indicate the page number.

Sacred text:

The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.

  • If you are citing a particular edition of a sacred text, such as the Bible, Koran, or Torah, include that information.

Book with title within the title:

Hixson, Fred. On Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Plainspeak P, 2000.

  • If a book title contains the title of another book or article, remove the italics to indicate the title of the other work.

Citing Periodicals

Periodical Forms

Article in a scholarly journal with volume and issue numbers:

Taylor, James. “The Indian Matter of Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly.” American Literature, vol. 45, no. 6, 1998, pp. 432-45.


Article in a scholarly journal that only numbers issues:

Johnston, Johanna. “A Reading of Moby Dick.” North Dakota Quarterly, no. 45, 1978, pp. 45-56.


Article with a title in the title:

Glastonbery, Wes. “On Teaching Blood Meridian.” The Journal of College Writing, vol. 4, no. 5, 2011.

  • If an article’s title contains the title of another text, add italics to internal title.

Article in a newspaper:

McKinley, Robert. “Cat Saved from Dog.” The New York Times, 7 Oct. 2011, p. B2.

  • When an article appears on nonconsecutive pages, indicate the page where article begins then use a “+” sign.

Letter to the editor of a newspaper:

Johnson, Smitty. “Reduce our Property Taxes.” Letter, Henniker Telegraph, 14 Oct. 2013, p. A2.


A review:

Smith, James. Review of The Orchard Revival, by Cormac Freedman. Oregon Magazine, 23 Oct. 2011, pp. 34-36.

  • If the review has a title, include it in quotations after the author’s name.

An unsigned article in a newspaper:

“A Walk Down Nostalgia Lane.” Chicago Sun, 28 Oct. 2013, p. B6.


Article in a magazine:

Smith, Jim. “Remembering Tony.” The New Yorker, Jan. 2010, pp. 12-18.


Citing Online Content

Online Forms

URLs & DOIs

  • Include the address of any content that you find online.

  • When possible, use a “stable url” or “permalink” for this purpose. This address will never change and will allow others to find the content easily.

  • Some online sources have what is known as a Digital Object Identifier, or DOI. If the source has a DOI, use it in place of a URL.

  • When using a URL, remove the “http://” or “https://” that precedes the address. Instead, begin your url with “www.”

  • If a URL is too long to include in your bibliography, you may use a shortened version of the url by citing the domain name of the source (for example: www.nytimes.com).


Article in an online database:

Taylor, Abel. “Moby Dick and the Cold War.” American Literature, vol. 45, no. 6, 2010, pp. 45-57. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/785463258.

  • Cite the source as you would a print article then include the database name, stable url, or DOI (Digital Object Identifier).

A website as a whole:

Zimmerman, Constantine. The Moose Report. New Hampshire Hiking Club, www.moosereport.org.


A work from a website:

Reagan, John. “The Judo Champion Parent.” Parenthood Online. 11 Oct. 2011, www.parenthoodonline.org/judo.


Article in an online scholarly journal:

Nelson, Grady. “Electronic Literature Comes of Age.” e-Lit Quarterly, no. 2, 2012, pp. 45-60. www.elit.org/2/2012/grady.pdf.


Article in an online newspaper:

Taylor, Robert C. “Harvesting Undersea Sponges.” New York Times, 23 Nov. 2000, www.nytimes.com/2000/11/23/us/sponges.


Article in an online magazine:

James, Brian Taylor. “The New War on Terror.” Foreign Affairs Monthly, Errata Publishing, 2 Oct. 2009, www.famonthly.org/2009/10/james-terror.


Email:

Cooledge, John. “My Election Thoughts.” Received by Mel Smith, 12 Nov. 2012.

  • For an email message, use the subject line of the email as the title. Indicate the person, or persons, who received the email after the title and the date it was sent.

Article from an online reference work, such as Wikipedia:

“Al-Qaeda.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Aug. 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Qaeda.


Podcast:

Zeender, Nathan, James Spenser, and Michael Tonsmeire. “Dark Lagers.” Basic Brewing Radio, 31 Jan. 2013, http://traffic.libsyn.com/basicbrewing/bbr01-31-13darklagers.mp3.


Citing Other Types of Sources

Other Forms

A dissertation:

Redburn, Marcus. “A Study of Melville’s Aesthetics.” Dissertation, Boston University, 1978.


Artwork:

Freeman, Dianna. Still Life 7. 2009, Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga.

  • For a work of art with no title, include a description of the medium after the author’s name. For example: photograph, oil on canvas, watercolor, mixed media.

Film or video clip:

Anderson, Wes, director. Rushmore. Buena Vista International, 1998.

Anderson, Wes, director. Rushmore. Performance by Bill Murray, Buena Vista International, 1998.

  • If the focus of your writing is on a particular performer rather than the film as a whole, include the lead performers in the film after the director.

YouTube or similar video:

Gibson, Liesl. “How to Sew a Button with Liesl Gibson.” YouTube, uploaded by Creativebug Studios, 28 July, 2014. https://www.\youtube.com/watch?v=7mX1qyzYMJw