MLA citation guidelines

MLA Citation handbookEvery time you use someone else’s work, either through quoting, summarizing or paraphrasing, you need to credit the original author or creator.

MLA is one of the most common citation styles used by students and academics. This MLA Citation Quick Guide lays out the guidelines of the eighth (most recent) edition of the MLA Handbook, published in 2016.

MLA citations consist of two major components:

  1. The list of Works Cited
    This is where all the sources you’ve used are cited in full. The Works Cited list is also known as a bibliography or reference list.
  2. In-text citations
    These are the brief references in the text that help the reader identify the full reference in the list of Works Cited. Only the author’s last name and page number are included, e.g. (Smith 205).

Make sure you also follow MLA formatting rules: one-inch margins, double spacing, and indented paragraphs. Add an MLA heading on the first page.

MLA List of Works Cited

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

Each entry in the list of Works Cited uses 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 for a website citation, a book citation, and a journal article citation.

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.
Explanation:

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.
Explanation:

Only the relevant information is included for a whole book with a single author. If there are other contributors, editions or volumes, the citation should include these too.

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, https://doi.org/10.1509/jm.13.0104.
Explanation:

This journal article has three authors. However, to save space, MLA citation guidelines state that only the first author is included in full, followed by ‘et al.’ (‘and others’). There are no other contributors, and the publisher does not need to be included when citing a journal article.

MLA lecture citation

  • Dent, Gina. “Anchored to the Real: Black Literature in the Wake of Anthropology.” Moving together: Activism, Art & Education, 16 May 2018, The Black Archives, Amsterdam. Lecture.
Explanation:

For live presentations such as lectures, the container is the name of the course or conference, but it is not italicized. Include the physical location where the lecture took place, and add a descriptive label at the end to indicate the type of event.

The nine core elements of MLA

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 name of the first author is followed by a comma and ‘and’. 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’s name from the source entry and start with the title of the source.

Usernames
When citing an online source such as a tweet, a Reddit comment or a YouTube video, the real name of the author or creator might be unknown. In this case, usernames can be cited instead. For example: @realDonaldTrump (Twitter), CaseyNeistat (YouTube), or u/davidmiller (Reddit).

If you know the user’s real name, you may add it in parentheses – for example, @realDonaldTrump (Donald Trump).

MLA author element

2. Title of the source

The second part of each source is the source title. This could be, 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, aside from conjunctions, prepositions and articles. Titles can be italicized or put in quotation marks. It depends on whether the source you are citing is part of a bigger work. Read more about this in our guide to MLA titles.

  • Italicize: when the source is self-contained (e.g. a whole book or website).
  • Quotation marks: when the source is part of something bigger (e.g. a chapter of a book, a web page or a journal article).
  • 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. For example: a chapter is part of a book, a page is part of a website, and an article is part of a journal. The title of the container is often the name of the website, book or journal. For example:

  • Wikipedia is the container title for a Wikipedia article on monkey species in Africa.
  • Breaking Bad is the container title when citing episode 11 of season 4 called ‘Crawl Space’ of the TV show Breaking Bad.
  • European Journal of Marketing is the container title for the article ‘An Applied Service Marketing Theory’ published in this journal in 1982.

Elements three (container title) to nine (location) provide information about the container. This information helps your reader identify the original source.

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 the first container: the journal in which the article is published. The first container is followed by the second container. 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 close with a period. Every element within a container closes with a comma, and to close a container, again, a period is used (after the page numbers and database URL). The container titles are italicized.

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. MLA Style guidelines state you should only 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 description like ‘translated by’, ‘directed by’ or ‘illustrated by’ to indicate the role of the contributor. For example:

  • Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Translated by Jim Williams, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014.

When a source has three or more relevant contributors, you should shorten it again by only stating the name of the first contributor, followed by ‘et al.’.

5. Version

When there is more than one version of a source, such as a second edition book, an expanded version of a collection or a director’s cut of a movie, you should include the version name in your source entry. This helps to avoid confusion for your reader. For example:

  • Porter, Michael E. Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors. 1st 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 is numbered, you should add this to the source entry as it helps identify the original source. This is what the source entry would look like:

  • 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

Books and movies often have publishers. Examples of publishers are Macmillan, Hachette, Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. They are responsible for the distribution of the material.

When not to add a publisher
Sometimes it’s not necessary to include the publisher name. The reason for this is that the names of these ‘publishers’ are included elsewhere in the source entry, such as in the container title or author element. Examples of these are:

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

8. Publication date

The publication date shows the recency of the source and helps identify it. 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

The location of your source depends on the type of source you are citing (e.g a website, journal article or book chapter). The list below shows what information to include for the most common source types:

  • Book chapter: page number (e.g. pp. 164-180.)
  • Webpage: 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 the brief references in the body of your document, which help your reader to find the full reference in the list of Works Cited. You include them when quoting, block quotingparaphrasing or summarizing the contents of a source.

The standard MLA in-text citation includes the author’s last name and a page number. This can be included in the text in multiple ways:

  • Research by Robert Smith shows that X has a negative effect on Y (15-17).
  • According to Smith,“66% of voters are currently against Brexit” (13).
  • “66% of voters are currently against Brexit” (Smith 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 website or other source does not state a specific author, try to use the name of the organization that wrote it. However, if this organization also published the content, which 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:

  • In the article New Ways to Slow Down Global Warming it is stated that… (4).
  • Reducing carbon emissions slows down global warming (Global Warming 4).

No page number

Sources without page numbers can be cited by only including the author’s name or by referring to paragraph, section, chapter number or, for videos, timestamp. For example:

  • Morrison discovered 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).
  • In his recent video, Smith claims “global warming has a large negative effect on the rainforest” (03:15-05:21).

Combining multiple sources in one citation

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

  • Due to global warming, the sea level is rising. This is because 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, the in-text citations will be identical. To avoid confusion you can add the first initial or even the full first names of the authors, e.g. (B. Smith 16).

Multiple works from the same author

When citing two different works from the same author, it is recommend to add a shortened version of the title of each work to the in-text citation. For example: (Sengupta, “Global Warming” 178).

Avoiding plagiarism

A good research paper builds on the work of others. While conducting research you have probably consulted books, websites and journal articles.

However, to avoid committing plagiarism it is important to give credit to the original author(s). That’s where citing sources comes in. To make sure you didn’t forget to cite anything, you can use a plagiarism checker.

A good plagiarism checker highlights all similarities in your document so you can easily double-check whether or not you have cited the source correctly. Then you can submit your paper with peace of mind!

Check for plagiarism

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