MLA FORMAT: GUIDELINES FOR CITING SOURCES


What Is MLA Format?

MLA format is a styling and reference format developed by the Modern Language Association; its purpose is to keep research documents around the globe consistent in design formatting and source citation. MLA formatting is typically used for research papers and presentations in the humanities, such as English, art, history, folklore, and related areas of study.

Citing sources correctly in a recognized format like MLA is fundamental to being a successful writer, scholar, and citizen. When you cite sources, you recognize original work, you creatively and intelligently build on what others have done, and you show awareness of the topic. In other words, when you cite sources, your work is more credible and ethical.

Quick Links to MLA Formatting for Works Cited Pages

Two Ways to Cite: In-Text (Parenthetical) and in a Works Cited (Bibliographical) List

In-Text Citations
In-text citations (also known as “parenthetical” references) are abbreviated citations inside parentheses that include page numbers and/or author names. These references go at the end of a sentence, paragraph, or section that directly quotes or paraphrases information from another work. The purpose of parenthetical references is to guide the reader of your paper to the correct reference in your Works Cited, which comes at the end of your document and includes much more complete reference information. Parenthetical references in MLA format differ depending on the type of source and location in which they are placed in your document. Read here for details on citing different sources in-text.

Works Cited List
Works cited (also known as “bibliographical” references) are complete citations that include information such as an author’s name, title of work, publishers, dates, and so forth. Works cited references come at the end of a research paper or presentation on what is called a “Works Cited” page. The purpose of bibliographical references is to allow the reader of your paper to find the original source on their own, should they want to read further about your topic or verify your information. Bibliographical references follow a general formatting pattern (see below), but change slightly depending on the type of media being cited. Read here for information about formatting a Works Cited page.

How MLA Formatting Works (Based on the 8th Edition)

Because media sources are often found in more than one place, MLA guidelines suggest that, rather than focusing on a strict or prescriptive way to cite each unique media type, it’s suggested that writers and publishers refer to a list of core components that most media contain. In other words, when citing a source, you should follow the list below and cite, in order, the information you have available to you (and pay attention to the punctuation after each component):

 

  1. Author Last Name,
  2. Author Given Names.
  3.  Title of Source.
  4. Title of Container,
  5. Other Contributors,
  6. Version,
  7. Number,
  8. Publisher,
  9. Publication date,
  10. Location.

Citing sources in MLA format requires that you cite the components listed above, in order, and you include what is available. If your source has all 10 elements above, it would be cited using this pattern:

GENERAL PATTERN FOR CITING SOURCES WITH CORRECT ORDER AND PUNCTUATION
Last Name, Given Names. Title. Title of container, Other contributors, Version (edition), 
     Number (vol. and/or no.), Publisher, Publication Date, Location. 

While you will always follow the order of these citation elements, not all sources require all ten elements. In fact, most sources do not include all ten. For example, a common book citation only includes citation elements 1, 2, 4, 8, and 9, like this:

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Random House, 1996.

Always follow the list above, in order, and include everything you have available.

A description of each of the citation components named above is listed here:

1. Author Last Name: The last name of the person who created the media piece.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Random House, 1996.

 


2. Author Given Names: The first and middle name or middle initial, as published in the source you are citing.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Random House, 1996.

 


3. Title of Source: The title of the source is the name of the piece you are directly citing and is a smaller part of a bigger whole. If your source is part of a “container,” meaning it is a smaller component of a bigger whole, then you need to cite the title of the source. For example, in an edited book with several articles by different authors, you may be citing one article (title of the source) that falls within a larger container (the edited book). The title of the source will be in quotation marks if it is an article, chapter, episode, or some other smaller part of a whole. If the title of the source you are citing is the whole (or larger) piece, then it is considered a “container” and you can skip this citation component.

Arnheim, Rudolph. "Pictures, Symbols, and Signs." Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. Edited by Carolyn Handa, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004, pp. 137 - 151.

4. Title of Container: The title of the container is the name of the bigger whole in a media type. For example, a book will be a container but it may have smaller components, like chapters. A name of a journal is a container, but it has articles within it. Or, a television series is a container that has episodes within it. Whether you are citing a source within a container or simply the container itself, you will almost always need to cite the container.

Arnheim, Rudolph. "Pictures, Symbols, and Signs." Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. Edited by Carolyn Handa, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004.

Examples of containers with “smaller” sources contained therein:

  • Books (container): chapters or essays (sources within)
  • Journals (container): articles (sources within)
  • Television Series (container): Episodes (sources within)
  • Albums (container): Songs (sources within)

5. Other Contributors: Some works include contributors that are not authors, like translators, editors, and illustrators. If your source has such contributors, include them after the title of the container. In previous versions, there were abbreviations for contributors (like trans. for “translated by” or ed. for “edited by”) but the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook now requires that you write it out.

Arnheim, Rudolph. "Pictures, Symbols, and Signs." Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. Edited by Carolyn Handa, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004.

6. Version: Some sources will have multiple versions (think, for example, of the different versions of the bible) or multiple editions. You can typically find the version or edition noted on the cover of a publication, often by the title.

Redish, Janice. Letting Go of the Words. 2nd ed., Morgan Kaufmann, 2012.

7. Number: Many works–especially periodicals like newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals, or in multi-volume books–have specific version numbers. Versions are typically numbers or seasons, but could vary depending on the publication.

Ross, Derek G. The Role of Ethics, Culture, and Artistry in Scientific Illustration. Technical Communication Quarterly, Vol. 26, no. 2, 2017.

8. Publisher: Many media types, whether they be books, television episodes, or magazines, are produced by a publisher or distribution company. Some media are published by more than one publisher; if it is relevant to your particular source and useful to the person reading or viewing your work, then include both publishers side-by-side using the forward slash (/).

Arnheim, Rudolph. "Pictures, Symbols, and Signs." Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. Edited by Carolyn Handa, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004, pp. 137 - 151.

9. Publication Date: Most all works will have a date of publication somewhere on the document. In most cases, it is acceptable to list only the year in which the media was published. However, when citing websites, it’s best to cite the day and month of the date the web source was retrieved. Note that the publication date and location will sometimes switch places, depending on what the location is (website URLs will typically come before the date). What’s most important is that both are listed if the source includes both.

Thompson, Derek. "The Secrets of Google's Moonshot Factory: How the Tech Giant is Trying to Leverage the Science of Breakthroughs and Resurrect the Lost Art of Invention." The Atlantic, November Issue, The Atlantic Monthly Group, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/x-google-moonshot-factory/540648/. Accessed October 10, 2017.

10. Location: The location is the specific place in which you found your information. This will vary widely depending on your source; in an edited book or a journal, for example, the location will be the page range in which the chapter or article was found. For an online source, the location will be the website URL that you accessed. For a physical object, like a painting or a sculpture, the location may be an actual building, park, or public space.

Arnheim, Rudolph. "Pictures, Symbols, and Signs." Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. Edited by Carolyn Handa, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004, pp. 137 - 151.