A complete guide to MLA citation

MLA Citation handbookMLA is one of the most common citation styles used by students and academics. This guide follows the 8th (most recent) edition of the MLA Handbook, published by the Modern Language Association in 2016.

To cite sources in MLA style, you need:

  1. A list of Works Cited that gives full details of every source. Each entry follows a simple template that can be adapted to different source types.
  2. In-text citations that direct the reader to the full reference. They usually include the author’s name and a page number, e.g. (Smith 205).

Make sure your paper also adheres to MLA format: one-inch margins, double spacing, and indented paragraphs, with an MLA style heading on the first page.

You can create citations automatically with the free MLA Citation Generator. Enter a URL, DOI or ISBN and the generator will retrieve all the necessary information.

Scribbr MLA Citation Generator

MLA List of Works Cited

The list of Works Cited is where you give full details of all sources you have cited in the text. Other citation styles sometimes call this the reference list or bibliography.

Each Works Cited entry follows a template of nine core elements that all provide information about the source. The nine core elements are:

Author. "Title of the Source." Title of the Container, Other contributors, Version, Number,Publisher, Publication date, Location.

You only include information that is relevant to the type of source you’re citing. The examples below show which of these nine elements are used when citing a website, a book, a journal article, or a lecture.

MLA website citation

  • Sengupta, Somini. “Global Warming Is Helping to Wipe Out Coffee in the Wild.” The New York Times, 16 Jan. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/01/16/climate/climate-change-coffee.html.

The article on global warming is part of the website of The New York Times. Therefore, this is the name of the container. There are no other contributors, versions or numbers. For websites, you usually don’t have to include a publisher.

MLA book citation

  • Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Free Press, 1989.

Only the relevant information is included for a whole book with a single author. If there are other contributors (such as editors or translators), or if you used a particular volume or edition of a book, these elements are included in the citation.

MLA journal citation

  • Wieseke, Jan, et al. “Willing to Pay More, Eager to Pay Less: The Role of Customer Loyalty in Price Negotiations.” Journal of Marketing, vol. 68, no. 6, 2014, pp. 17-37. JSTOR, doi.org/10.1509/jm.13.0104.

If there are more than two authors, only the first author is included followed by “et al.” Journals usually have volume and issue numbers, but no publisher is required. As the article was accessed through a database (JSTOR), this is included as a second container, and the DOI provides a stable link to the article.

The nine core elements of MLA citations

1. Author

Begin each source entry with the name of the author(s) or creator(s). The name of the first author is always inverted (last name, first name). For example: Johnson, David. Titles and suffixes such as PhD or Prof. can be omitted.

If a source has no author, start the source entry with the title of the source. Always end the author element with a period.

Two authors
When a source has two authors, the second author’s name is shown in the normal order (first name, last name). For example: Johnson, David, and Valerie Smith.

Three or more authors
Sources with three or more authors are shortened. Only state the first author’s name (reversed) followed by “et al.” which stands for and others. For example: Johnson, David, et al.

Organization as author
The author of a source is not necessarily a person; it can also be an organization. If so, simply use the name of the organization. For example: Microsoft.

However, if the organization is both the author and publisher, which is often the case with websites, exclude the author element and start with the title of the source.

MLA author element

2. Title of the source

The second element is the source title – for example, the title of a book, chapter, blog post, journal article, or YouTube video.

Always include the full title of the source, including subtitles (separated from the title by a colon (:) and space). If no title is available, provide a short description of the source.

The styling of the title
Capitalize all words apart from conjunctions, prepositions and articles. The title may be italicized or placed in quotation marks, depending on whether it is a stand-alone source or part of a larger work:

  • Italics when the source is self-contained (e.g. a whole book, movie or website).
  • Quotation marks when the source is part of a larger whole (e.g. a chapter of a book, a page on a website, or an article in a journal).
  • No styling when describing a source without a title.

MLA titles

3. Title of container

A container is the larger work that the source you’re citing appears in. A chapter is part of a book, a page is part of a website, and an article is part of a journal. The container title is always italicized.

Containers in MLA
Source typeSource titleContainer title
Journal article“An Applied Service Marketing Theory.”European Journal of Marketing
Book“The Clean Slate.”The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story
TV episode“Crawl Space.”Breaking Bad
Online article“Evolutionary History of Life.”Wikipedia

Elements three (container title) to nine (location) provide information about the container.

Sources with two containers
A source can also have two containers. If you found the episode of Breaking Bad on Netflix, Netflix would be the second container title. JSTOR is the second container title for a journal article found through the JSTOR database.

In most cases, only the title and location (often the URL or DOI) of the second container are included in the source entry. This is because databases like JSTOR don’t have relevant contributors, versions, publishers or publication dates.

  • Datta, Hannes, et al. “The Challenge of Retaining Customers Acquired with Free Trials”. Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 52, no. 2, Apr. 2015, pp. 217-234. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43832354.

The example above starts with the author names and the title of the journal article. It is followed by details of the first container: the journal in which the article is published. The second container provides the database name and URL where the journal article can be found.

Pay attention to the punctuation. The author and source title elements end with a period. Elements within a container are separated by commas, and a period is used to close the container.

Sources without container
Sources such as a whole book or a whole website might not be part of something bigger. In this case, you can skip the container title. Other relevant elements, such as version or publisher, should still be included.

  • Garcia, Ofelia. Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. 1st edition, Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.

4. Other contributors

In addition to the author(s) of the source, there might be other contributors such as editors, translators and directors. You only need to add other contributors if they are relevant to your research or help identify and locate the original source.

Contributors are added right after the container title and always end with a comma. Use a description like “translated by”, “directed by” or “illustrated by” to indicate the role of the contributor. For example:

  • Latour, Bruno. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Translated by Catherine Porter, Harvard University Press, 2004.

When a source has three or more contributors with the same role, include the name of the first contributor followed by “et al.”

5. Version

When there is more than one version of a source, you should include the version you used. For example, a second edition book, an expanded version of a collection or a director’s cut of a movie would require the version to be included:

  • Porter, Michael E. Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors. 2nd ed., Simon & Schuster, 1998.
  • Columbus, Chris, director. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. director’s cut, Warner Bros., 2002.

6. Number

Sources such as journal articles (vol. 18), magazines (no. 25) and TV shows (season 3, episode 5) are often numbered. If your source has numbered parts, include this in the source entry:

  • Wieseke, Jan, et al. “Willing to Pay More, Eager to Pay Less: The Role of Customer Loyalty in Price Negotiations.” Journal of Marketing, vol. 68, no. 6, 2014, pp. 17-37.

It is also possible for a source to have an edition, volume and number. Just separate them using commas.

7. Publisher

Book and movie citations always include the publisher element. The publisher is the company responsible for producing and distributing the source – usually a book publisher (e.g. Macmillan, Hachette, Oxford University Press) or a movie production company (e.g. Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros).

When not to add a publisher
Sometimes the publisher is already included elsewhere in the source entry, such as in the container title or author element. For example, the publisher of a website is often the same as the website name (e.g. Scribbr). In this case, omit the publisher element.

You generally don’t need to include a publisher for the following source types:

  • Websites
  • Journals
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Platforms like YouTube, Netflix or JSTOR

8. Publication date

When available, always include the publication year. If you also know the month, day, or even time of publication, you can include this if relevant. Date ranges are also possible. For example:

  • 2003
  • 25 Jan. 2019
  • 14 Aug. 2017, 16:45 p.m.
  • Jan. 2017–Apr. 2018

Multiple publication dates
If there is more than one publication date, use the one that is most relevant to your research and take the date of the edition that you have used.

No date
When a source does not state a publication date, it’s recommended to add the date on which you accessed the information. For example: Accessed 22 Sep. 2018.

9. Location

What you include in the location element depends on the type of source you are citing:

  • Book chapter: page range on which the chapter appears (e.g. pp. 164–180.)
  • Web page: URL, without ‘https://’ (e.g. www.scribbr.com/mla-style/quick-guide/.)
  • Journal article: DOI or stable url (e.g. doi.org/10.1080/02626667.2018.1560449. or www.jstor.org/stable/43832354.)
  • Physical object or live event: name of the location and city (e.g. Moscone Center, San Francisco. or The Museum of Modern Art, New York.)

MLA in-text citations

MLA in-text citations are brief references in the body of your document which direct your reader to the full reference in the list of Works Cited. You include them when quoting, block quotingparaphrasing or summarizing the contents of a source.

A standard MLA in-text citation includes the author’s last name and a page number in parentheses. The page number refers to the exact location of the quote or information that you are citing:

  • 66% of voters disagree with the policy (Smith 13).

If the author is already named in the sentence, you only need to include the page number in parentheses:

  • According to Smith, 66% of voters disagree with the policy (13).

Multiple authors

For a source with two authors, include the last names of both authors. If a source has three or more authors, only include the last name of the first author followed by “et al.” (“and others”).

  • Smith and Morrison claim that “MLA is the second most popular citation style” (17).
  • According to Reynolds et al., social and demographic circumstances still have a major effect on job prospects (17–19).

No author or organization as author

If a source does not state a specific author, use the name of the organization that created it. However, if the organization also published the content (as is often the case with websites), use the source title instead of an author.

Use the full title if mentioned in the text itself, but an abbreviated title if included in parenthesis. For example:

  • The article “New Ways to Slow Down Global Warming” claims that… (4).
  • Reducing carbon emissions slows down climate change (“New Ways” 4).

Make sure that the in-text citation matches the first word of the Works Cited entry so that your reader can easily find the correct source.

No page number

If a source has no page numbers, but is divided into numbered sections (e.g. chapters or numbered paragraphs), use these instead:

  • Morrison has shown that there is a great need for… (par. 38).
  • Reynolds devotes a chapter to the rise of poverty in some states in the US (ch. 6).

For audiovisual sources (such as YouTube videos), use a timestamp:

  • In his recent video, Smith argues that climate change should be the main political priority of all governments today (03:15–05:21).

If there is no numbering system in the original source, include only the author’s name in your citation.

Combining multiple sources in one citation

If multiple sources contribute to or provide evidence for the same point, you can combine the in-text citation. Separate the different sources with a semicolon (;). For example:

  • As a result of global warming, glaciers and ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica are melting (Johnson 176; Smith et al. sec. 16).

Different authors with the same name

If the authors of two different sources have the same last name, to avoid confusion, add the first initial of each author. For example: (B. Smith 16). If the initials are the same, add the authors’ full first names.

Multiple works from the same author

If you are citing more than one work by the same author, to distinguish between them, add a shortened version of the source title to each in-text citation. For example: (Sengupta, “New Ways” 178).

Frequently asked questions about MLA style

What is the easiest way to create MLA citations?

The fastest and most accurate way to create MLA citations is by using Scribbr’s MLA Citation Generator.

Search by book title, page URL or journal DOI to automatically generate flawless citations, or cite manually using the simple citation forms.

What is the basic structure of an MLA citation?

A standard MLA Works Cited entry is structured as follows:

Author. “Title of the Source.” Title of the Container, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location.

Only relevant information is included in the reference.

What should I do when source information is missing?

If information about your source is not available, you can either leave it out of the MLA citation or replace it with something else, depending on the type of information.

The most common scenarios (and what to do) are:

  • No author: Start with the source title.
  • No title: Provide a description of the source.
  • No date: Provide the date you accessed the information.
Who uses the MLA citation style?

MLA Style is the second most used citation style (after APA). It is mainly used by students and researchers in humanities fields such as literature, languages, and philosophy.

What is the most recent edition of the MLA Handbook?

The MLA Handbook is currently in its 8th edition, published in 2016.

This quick guide to MLA style explains the latest guidelines for citing sources and formatting papers according to MLA.

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