MLA Format and Documentation

Modern Language Association (MLA) style is generally used in English courses and some humanities courses. In addition to formatting guidelines, MLA determines rules for citing in two places: within the paper at the end of each sentence using source material (via in-text citations) and on a Works Cited page at the end of the overall essay. In-text citations are very brief; they include only the author's name and the page number(s). Citations on the Works Cited page give full information about the source. In the following sections, some of the details of MLA formatting and citations are explained, but you must be aware that these examples only provide a brief gloss of common citation rules and examples. More complex situations may not be covered or further assistance might be helpful for a complete citation of the source. For the most accurate, effective citations, you should always consult a current copy of the official citation style handbook, via places such as the library or Writing Center. The following information comes from MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (seventh edition) and Rules for Writers (sixth edition) by Diana Hacker.

Paper Format

Font: use something standard and easily readable, such as Times New Roman, size 12.

Margins/spacing: use one inch on all sides with lines double spaced.

Title page: MLA does not often require a title page, but if one is requested, give the full paper title and your name (on separate lines) in the upper third of the page; instructor’s name, course title, and the date (on separate lines) at the bottom.

Headers with title page: select the “different first page” option in the header. Leave the cover page header blank. On all subsequent pages, include your last name then the page number (counting the cover page as 1).

Essay with title page: begin a new page with the title of the essay, centered, then on the next line the body of the discussion will be left aligned, with the first line of each new paragraph indented.

Headers: state your last name then the page number.

Essay: begin with 4 separate lines of information: your name, instructor’s name, course title, and the date. On the next line, state the title of the essay, centered, and on the next line the body of the discussion will be left aligned, with the first line of each new paragraph indented.

No empty or excess space should be left unless a new page is needed (such as with the Works Cited).

Sections: MLA doesn’t typically use section headings.

In-text Citations

In-text citation provides a brief note or signal within the sentence that source material is used. This note identifies the source and other important information. When adding in-text citation to notes or projects, remember that every sentence requires its own in-text citation; a note at the end of a paragraph or section cannot cite the material clearly or properly. For MLA in-text citations, the content that is typically used is the author's last name and the page(s) the information appears on. Where and how this information is provided can vary depending on the structure of the sentence, but here are some general examples:

Stating the author in a signal phrase: According to Author, this claim is made (#).

Stating the author at the end: This claim is made (Author #).

Note that in these examples, all punctuation is placed correctly and should not be changed or moved. Commas are not needed to separate data, pages are stated by number only, and the period for the overall sentence is placed after the citation. While the placement of author is fluid, make sure all other punctuation is presented correctly at all times.

If the source has no author, then the in-text citation will typically be the next major piece of information about the source (see the Works Cited entry to identify what that information should be). It will often be the title of the article or source. In the in-text citation, use a shortened (but clear) version of the title in either a signal phrase or in parentheses, using correct formatting as required for that source type (an “Article Title” would be quoted while a Book Title would be italicized):

Stating the title in a signal phrase: According to “Article Title,” this claim is made (#).

Stating the title at the end: This claim is made (“Article Title” #).

Tips and Rules for In-Text Citation

Authors are generally presented with last names only, omitting any titles or honors, even if the source includes them.

Present these names in the order the source includes them without rearranging them.

When a source has two authors, name both using and spelled out (not &). 

When a source has three authors, you must name allauthors using Oxford comma rules: Author, Author, and Author.

When a source has four or more authors, you have two choices:

1) Name all authors each time using Oxford comma rules

2) Name the first author only followed by et al.

Note: the method chosen here needs to be the same method used in the Works Cited entry as well.

If a source doesn’t have paginated sections, leave out page and use paragraph number. If the source doesn’t have pre-numbered paragraphs, then leave out paragraph number and no further location detail is needed.

Sometimes a source will quote another source (this is called an indirect source). Be sure to follow MLA rules carefully to illustrate who said what (see the example below).

For other situations involving in-text citation that aren’t covered here, please consult a more detailed handbook.

Examples of MLA In-Text Citation at Work

A Standard Quotation

Humphrey insisted that “dancers love to suffer, and while they wallow in tragedy, they alienate and bore their audiences” (40).

A Standard Paraphrase

The modern dance pioneer believed that many literary themes were inappropriate for dance because key relationships and ideas could not be succinctly portrayed to the audience (Humphrey 40).

A Work with Two Authors

Stolerman and O'Connor argue that it is better for a writer to discuss a narrow aspect of a large topic in detail than to attempt to discuss loose generalizations (4).

It is better for a writer to discuss a narrow aspect of a large topic in detail than to attempt to discuss loose generalizations (Stolerman and O'Connor 4).

A Work with Three to Five Authors

Eggen, Kauchak, and Harder define a hypothesis as “a tentative generalizing inference which is based upon the data available at the moment” (27).

A hypothesis is defined as “a tentative generalizing inference which is based upon the data available at the moment” (Eggen, Kauchak, and Harder 27).

Indirect Source

The overall source is by Myers. Within the piece, though, Myers quotes or cites Smith. Important: the idea is created by Smith but you found it in Myers’s discussion. This clarification of who created what is vital to correctly credit the creator.

Paraphrase: Smith illustrates that the even concrete things have an element of mystery to them (cited in Myers 57).

Quote: Smith illustrates that the “tangible is still unknowable” (qtd. in Myers 57).

This is important because attributing the source to Smith will lead the reader to look for the citation of Smith’s work in the reference page, which isn’t effective (as the correct source is actually Myers). Similarly, if the idea is simply attributed to Myers, this is inaccurate. While the idea appeared in Myers’s work, the claim is actually Smith’s.

A Source with No Page

The university designs departments and resources to ensure you success (Miller).

Miller notes that the university designs departments and resources to ensure you success.

Electronic Source with Page but No Author

A report of the habits of college you revealed that the regular study and review resulted in the higher grades (“College You” #).

Electronic Source with No Page and No Author

A report of the habits of college you revealed that the regular study and review resulted in the higher grades (“College You”).

Works Cited

In MLA, the citation list is called Works Cited, and the following formatting rules should be used:

Start on a new page with the words Works Cited centered at the top of the page.

Double-space the entire list.

Alphabetize entries by last name (or first word of the citation, if no author is listed). If there are two works by the same author, alphabetize by the next piece of data.

Hanging indent all citations (meaning the first line is not indented but any subsequent lines of the citation are). This feature can be selected quickly using Ctrl/Command T for the highlighted material. Otherwise, use the Help feature of the word processor to find how to enable this option if the quick command doesn’t work.

No empty or extra spaces are needed between entries.

Note: the examples below illustrate only the citation for that source. You should always realize that the sources you find may have other features or information that must be taken into account in your own citations. These are merely basic examples to illustrate what proper citation looks like or may entail. However, the punctuation and placement of information on the citations below is correct and should be emulated logically.

Print Book with Author

Bradford, Barbara. Angel . New York: Ballantine Books, 1993. Print.

Author. Book Title. City: Publisher, year. Print.

List authors (see Tips and Rules below for arrangement). Present the book title in italics, using MLA capitalization rules (see Tips and Rules below). Give city of publication (no state needed); if multiple cities are listed, name only the first. Then publishing company and year of the book’s publication. If multiple years are given, provide the most recent. End the citation with Print. See below for web or database citation.

Print Book with Editor

Maxwell, Martha, ed. When Tutor Meets You. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994. Print.

Editor, ed. Book Title. City: Publisher, year. Print.

List editors (see Tips and Rules below for arrangement). End the editor list with ed. for one editor or eds. for more. Present the book title in italics, using MLA capitalization rules (see Tips and Rules below). Give city of publication (no state needed); if multiple cities are listed, name only the first. Then publishing company and year of the book’s publication. If multiple years are given, provide the most recent. End the citation with Print. See below for web or database citation.

Print Book of Second Edition or Higher

Abcarian, Richard, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen, eds. Literature: The Human Experience. 11th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. Print.

Author/editor, ed. Book Title. #rd ed. City: Publisher, year. Print.

List authors/editors (see Tips and Rules below for arrangement). End the editor list with ed. for one editor or eds. for more. If the book has authors instead, omit the “ed./eds.” Present the book title in italics, using MLA capitalization rules (see Tips and Rules below). State edition number in numeral form, with edition abbreviated. Give city of publication (no state needed); if multiple cities are listed, name only the first. Then publishing company and year of the book’s publication. If multiple years are given, provide the most recent. End the citation with Print. See below for web or database citation.

Chapter of a Print Book

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers, eds. “Academic Writing.” A Writer’s Reference. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 67-108. Print.

Author/editor, ed. “Chapter Title.” Book Title. #rd ed. City: Publisher, year. #-#. Print.

List authors/editors (see Tips and Rules below for arrangement). End editors with ed. for one editor or eds. for more. If the book has authors instead, omit the “ed./eds.” Present the title of the chapter, using quotations and MLA capitalization rules (see Tips and Rules below). Then present the book title in italics, using MLA capitalization. The example above includes edition number; this can be stated here or skipped if the source has none. Give city of publication (no state needed); if multiple cities are listed, name only the first. Then publishing company and year of the book’s publication. If multiple years are given, provide the most recent. Present the start and end page numbers of the chapter. End the citation with Print. See below for web or database citation.

Work in a Print Anthology

Barnes, Peter. "Auschwitz." Plays of the Holocaust. Ed. Elinor Fuchs. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1987. 105-45. Print.

Author. “Selection Title.” Anthology Title. Ed. Editor. City: Publisher, year. #-#. Print.

An anthology is a collection of a range of works within one book, for instance a series of essays or works of literature. The works will often have different authors, with the overall book collected by an editor. List authors first (see Tips and Rules below for arrangement). Present the title of the literature or selection, using the correct format for the type of work it is (quotations for a short piece or italics for a long one), using MLA capitalization rules. Then present the book title in italics, using MLA capitalization. List editor(s) of the overall book next, starting with Ed. (short for Edited by—do not use S even if there are multiple editors). Give city of publication (no state needed); if multiple cities are listed, name only the first. Then publishing company and year of the book’s publication (not the selection). If multiple years are given, provide the most recent. State the start and end pages of the selection, ending the citation with Print. See below for web or database citation.

Print Article in a Magazine or Newspaper

Millea, Holly. "Look Into My Eyes." Elle Aug. 2003: 118-119. Print.

Author/editor. “Article Title.” Publication Title date: #-#. Print.

List authors/editors (see Tips and Rules below for arrangement). Present the title of the article, using the quotation marks and MLA capitalization rules (see Tips and Rules below). Then present the publication title in italics, using MLA capitalization. Present as much date information as given, in MLA order (see Tips and Rules below). State the start and end pages of the article, ending the citation with Print. See below for web or database citation.

Print Article in a Scholarly Journal with only a Volume Number

Boivin, Jacky. "A Review of Psychosocial Interventions in Infertility." Social Science and Medicine 57 (2003): 2325-43. Print.

Author/editor. “Article Title.” Journal Title V (date): #-#. Print.

List authors/editors (see Tips and Rules below for arrangement). Present the title of the article, using the quotation marks and MLA capitalization rules (see Tips and Rules below). Then present the journal title in italics, using MLA capitalization. Volume number is stated by number alone (no abbreviations or signals needed). Present as much date information as given by the source, in MLA order (see Tips and Rules below). State the start and end pages of the article, ending the citation with Print. See below for web or database citation.

Print Article in a Journal Paginated by Issue

Heng, Geraldine. "Cannibalism, the First Crusade, and the Genesis of Medieval Romance." Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 10.1 (1998): 98-175. Print.

Author/editor. “Article Title.” Journal Title V.I (date): #-#. Print.

List authors/editors (see Tips and Rules below for arrangement). Present the title of the article, using the quotation marks and MLA capitalization rules (see Tips and Rules below). Then present the journal title in italics, using MLA capitalization. Volume number is stated, separated from issue number by a period; list both by number alone (no abbreviations or signals needed). Present as much date information as given by the source, in MLA order (see Tips and Rules below). State the start and end pages of the article, ending the citation with Print. See below for web or database citation.

Any Work Accessed Online (General Web)

Connors, Devin. “Plantronics RIG Headset Review.” Escapist Magazine. Defy Media, 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1884. Gutenberg. Michael Hart, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

Citation details according to source type in print style. Print. Website Name. Publisher/sponsor, date updated. Web. Date accessed.

When documenting online sources follow the same format as printed sources. Collect and present the information in the style shown above for print citations, but instead of “print” at the end, include the website name hosting the source (presented in italics and MLA capitalization rules). After website, present sponsor/publisher. Check the “About Us” or equivalent page of the website for this data; if none is found, then use the name of the website itself again (stated without italics this time). Present the date of publication or last update. State the medium of access (Web) and then conclude the citation with the date the source was accessed. Note: the general web is distinct from a database.

Any Work from a Database Service (such as InfoTrac or EBSCOhost)

Hoge, Dean. "Catholic Generational Differences." America 181.9 (1999): 14-20. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Nov. 2003.

Scraba, Jeffrey. “Repetition and Remembrance in Poe’s Poetry.” Critical Insights: The Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. Ipswich: Salem, 2010. 34-55. Literary Reference Center. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

Citation details according to source type in print style. Print. Database Name. Web. Date accessed.

When documenting database sources follow the same format as printed sources. Collect and present the information in the style shown above for print citations, but instead of “print” at the end, include database name, presented in italics. State the medium of access (Web) and then conclude the citation with the date the source was accessed

Tips and Rules for Works Cited Pages

State as many author names as the source indicates (for example middle or maiden). If middle name is included, provide that in the citation after the first name.

Present all authors’ names in the order the source includes them without rearranging them.

Authors are presented with names only, omitting any titles or honors, even if the source includes them.

MLA only inverts the name of the first author/editor stated in the beginning of the citation: Last, First. Any names after that are stated in traditional order (even names later in the citation, such as editors): First Last.

Two names: Last, First, and First Last. …

Three names: Last, First, First Last, and First Last. …

Four and more: List all names in the style shown for three names or state the first name and et al.: Last, First, et al. …

Note: If the “et al.” version is used in the works cited entry, then “et al.” should also be used in the in-text citation. If all the names are listed fully in the works cited entry, then all last names should also be used in the in-text citation. Be consistent with the method chosen.

Capitalize titles by MLA rules, even if the source doesn’t show the title in that way. MLA rules are threefold:

1) Always the first word of the title and subtitle

2) Always the last word of the title and subtitle

3) Every other word in between except articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), or prepositions

Use quotation marks for the titles of articles or other short works—also do so if referring to those works in the body of the essay or in in-text citation.

Use italics for the following titles and names: books, journals, newspapers, magazines, websites, and databases—also do so if referring to those works in the body of the essay or in in-text citation.

Use MLA style of presenting date: day month year. Abbreviate months to three letters and a period, with the exception of May, June, and July, which are always spelled fully.

For Additional Guidance

Obviously there are many more variations, in both print and electronic resources. For full documentation guidelines, consult the MLA Handbook or Purdue University's Online Writing Lab.

[Material adapted and updated by Laura Hardin Marshall, Oct. 2015]

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