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Citation Styles: MLA Style

Information on standard citation styles such as MLA and APA, as well as specialized citation formats by discipline

Link to OWL's MLA Formatting and Style Guide

Introduction to MLA Style

"MLA" stands for the Modern Language Association of America, a group that "promotes the study and teaching of languages and literatures." (They go by MLA, not MLAA.)

 

MLA Style is the Association's method for formatting a paper. The style is documented in the MLA Handbook. The current version of the handbook is the ninth edition. The style covers many topics, including: margins, formatting text, headings and titles, page numbers, the mechanics of prose, inclusive language, documenting sources, the list of Works Cited, and tables and illustrations.

 

MLA offers information online about formatting a research paper.

 

Setting Up Your Paper

MLA Style requires that the entire paper be double-spaced, including the body of the paper, quotations, notes, and the Works Cited list. The paper must have one inch margins on all sides. Set the spacing and margins at the beginning of your writing, and that way, you don't have to worry about it or potentially forget to do it later.

 

Always choose an easily readable typeface—like Times New Roman—and set it to anywhere between 11 and 13 points, for example, 12 point font. Generally use the same typeface and type size throughout the paper. (An exception to this rule is headings, which are covered below.)

 

MLA Style requires page numbers. Detailed instructions are available below.

 

An MLA Paper Template for Alfred State College is available under the Handouts tab above.

Page Numbers

MLA Style requires that documents have page numbers. Insert page numbers using the page numbering function of your writing software, starting with number 1 on the first page.

 

Page numbers should be in the top, right corner of the page. Page numbers are preceded by your last name and a space, like this: Foster 1.

 

In Microsoft Word, on the Insert ribbon, click on Page Number, hover over Top of Page, and select Plain Number 3. Press the left arrow once. Type your last name and a blank space. Double-click down in the body of the paper. Save the file. You should be all set: as you advance on to more pages Word should add your last name and the page number to new pages.

 

In Google Docs, from the Insert menu, hover over Page numbers, and choose the top left choice: where page numbers will be in the upper, right corner. Press the left arrow once. Type your last name and a blank space. Click down in the body of the paper. You should be all set: as you advance on to more pages Google Docs should add your last name and the page number to new pages.

 

Author, Class, Date, and Title Information

Do not make a separate title page for your paper unless you are working on a group project or otherwise specifically told to do so by your professor. If your teacher requires a title page in lieu of or in addition to what MLA requires, format the title page according to the instructions you are given.

 

Starting in the upper left-hand corner of the first page, flush with the left margin, put your name, your instructor's name, the course name and number, and the date, each on its own line, like this:

Ron Foster
Dr. Henry Jekyll
Freshman Composition: COMP 1503
15 September 2022
 

Some of this information should be listed on your class syllabus. When writing the date here, do not abbreviate the month.

 

On a new line, center the title. Do not italicize or underline your title, put it in quotation marks or boldface, or type it in all capital letters, and do not use a period after your title. Write the title in Title Case, which means capitalize the first word, the last word, and all principal words, including nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, subordinating conjunctions (after, before, because, etc.), and those words that follow hyphens in compound terms. Do not capitalize the following parts of speech when they fall in the middle of a title: prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, the 'to' in infinitives (for example, to Survive), and articles (a, an, & the), but capitalize an article at the start of a subtitle, for example: How to Write Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values.

 

Begin your paper on a new line after the title, indenting the first line of the paragraph half an inch from the left margin.

 

The Body of the Paper

Your writing makes up the body of your paper. All of the important ideas in your paper are assumed to be yours, unless there is a citation to another person's work.

 

Begin your paper on a new line after the title, indenting the first line of the paragraph half an inch from the left margin. Indent the first line of each paragraph one half-inch from the left margin. Do not right justify or fully justify the text in the body of the paper. Do not use automatic hyphenation. Leave only one space after a period or other concluding punctuation mark, unless your instructor prefers two spaces. Use commas to separate words, phrases, and clauses in a series. The final comma in a series is known as the serial (or Oxford) comma, for example, The family owned dogs, cats, and horses.

 

Headings

Headings are like mini titles within your paper. They identify the different parts of the paper and clearly signal the paper's structure to readers. Headings are generally not needed in short, essay-length works.

 

In the body of the paper, headings should be flush with the left margin, not indented or centered. Headings go on their own line, so there's one blank line above and one blank line below a heading (that is, normal double-spacing, not extra blank lines). You should keep headings short and to the point. Avoid using numbers and letters to designate headings—like, 1. Introduction—unless you are working in a discipline where using them is typical. You can use whatever system of formatting headings works best for you; however, use it consistently throughout the document.

 

Consistency helps the reader and shows you are a good writer who plans ahead and pays attention to details. For readability, avoid using all capital letters in headings. Capitalize headings using Title Case, explained above. There are many details regarding punctuation in headings: they are covered in the MLA Handbook, sections 2.100-2.105.

 

Headings should be styled in descending order of prominence. After the first level, the other headings are subheadings. Font styling and size are used to signal prominence. Each level 1 heading should appear in the same style and size, as should each level 2 heading, and so on. Formal MLA rules say that no internal heading level should have only one instance. For example, if you use a level 1 heading, you should have at least one other level 1 heading. These details are usually not necessary for short student papers, that is, 6 pages or fewer; they are presented here in the interest of fullness.

 

Citations Inside the Paper

Practicing a consistent documentation style—and learning how to read a writer's citations—helps establish trust between researchers and their audience and is a key component of academic integrity.

 

When you mention another person's idea you have to provide a citation to your source for the idea. (You do not need to provide citations for allusions, common knowledge, epigraphs, familiar proverbs, passing mentions, or well-known quotations.) You provide a brief citation inside the body of the paper which corresponds to and leads to a complete citation in your Works Cited list at the end of your paper.

 

The brief citation usually consists of the author's name and a page number in parentheses; for example: (Kafka 48). There is some variation in the exact form because different sources are cited differently. Your goal is to attribute your source and provide a reference without interrupting your text. Your readers should be able to follow the flow of your argument without becoming distracted by extra information.

 

The author's name may appear either in the sentence itself or in parentheses following the quotation or paraphrase, but the page numbers should always appear in parentheses, not written in the text of your sentence. Where you put the author's name is entirely up to you as the writer. When a source has no page numbers or any other kind of part number, no number should be given in the parenthetical citation. Do not count unnumbered paragraphs or other parts to come up with a number.

 

Here are some examples of the two ways to do citations inside your paper:

 

1. Narrative Citations (where the author's name is in the sentence)

No Author:

Reading at Risk notes that despite an apparent decline in reading during the same period, "the number of people doing creative writing—of any genre, not exclusively literary works—increased substantially between 1982 and 2002" (3).

 

One Author:

Wordsworth extensively explored the role of emotion in the creative process (263).
 

Two Authors:

Best and Marcus argue that one should read a text for what it says on its surface, rather than looking for some hidden meaning (9).

 

Three or More Authors:

According to Franck et al., “Current agricultural policies in the U.S. are contributing to the poor health of Americans” (327).

 

 

2. Parenthetical Citations (where the author's name is in parentheses)

No Author:

Despite an apparent decline in reading during the same period, "the number of people doing creative writing—of any genre, not exclusively literary works—increased substantially between 1982 and 2002" (Reading 3).

 

One Author:

Romantic poetry is characterized by the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" (Wordsworth 263).

 

Two Authors:

The authors claim that surface reading looks at what is “evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts” (Best and Marcus 9).

 

Three or More Authors:

The authors claim that one cause of obesity in the United States is government-funded farm subsidies (Franck et al. 327).
 

Any information about the source you provide in the body of your paper must directly correspond to the citation in the Works Cited list. Whatever word or phrase you provide to your readers in the text as a signal must be the first element that appears on the left-hand margin of the corresponding entry on the Works Cited page so your reader can easily find the whole citation.

 

Electronic sources often do not require a page number in the parenthetical citation. Finally, do not include URLs in the body of your paper.

 

Quoting

There are two types of quotation styles in MLA Style: short and long. And there are a few rules to consider when you use exact, direct quotations in MLA Style.

 

Short Quotations

A short quotation quotes a word, phrase, or complete sentence. It cannot be longer than four lines: quotations longer than four lines are call "long quotations."

For a short quotation, place the quote in quotation marks in your sentence and use a parenthetical citation with a period after the reference. Here are some examples:
The rabbit word "silflay" means to graze (Adams 10).
Orwell uses the party slogan "War Is Peace" primarily to refer to how the government treats its own people, not a foreign enemy (101).
"All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others" (Orwell 97).
 

Long Quotations

A long quotation is one that is more than four lines. Long quotations are sometimes called block quotes or block quotations. Indent the whole quote half an inch from the left margin. Do not indent the first line twice, and do not add any quotation marks that aren't already in the quote.

 

Before the block quote, your text could end with a colon, a different mark of punctuation, or none at all. The author and page number citation is in parentheses after the last line of the quotation. The punctuation mark concluding the quotation comes before the parenthetical citation; no punctuation mark comes after that citation. After the block quotation, either your text continues not indented or a new, indented paragraph is introduced.

 

Works Cited List Overview

All your full citations will be listed in alphabetic order near the end of your paper in your Works Cited list.

 

The title "Works Cited" is centered and is at the top of its own page. (If the list contains only one entry, it's called "Work Cited.") It is not bolded or in quotation marks. The list is double-spaced, like the rest of your paper, and it uses a hanging indent, which is explained in detail below.

 

Here are some general rules:

Titles from journal articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, book chapters, and individual webpages should be in quotation marks. The titles of books, journals, magazines, newspapers, and websites are in italics, for example, The New England Journal of Medicine.

 

Month names longer than four letters used in journal and magazine citations should be abbreviated: that is, Jan., Feb., Mar., Apr., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. The months May, June, and July are not abbreviated.

 

Cite publishers’ names in full as they appear on books' title or copyright pages. Cite the entire name for a publisher (for example, W. W. Norton or Liveright Publishing). There are a few exceptions which you can find online.

 

An online source will have a website address, which is called a Uniform Resource Locator, though most people use the abbreviation URL. Some online sources will be tagged with a unique code called a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) that is permanently assigned to a source by the publisher. If the DOI is not preceded by http:// or https:// in your source, start the DOI with https://doi.org/, for example, https://doi.org/10.1300/J120v37n78_09. Similarly, some sources have a shortened, stable version of a URL called a permalink; if you can find a permalink, use that instead of a URL, but use the DOI first. If a DOI is available, cite it instead of a URL or a permalink.

 

A sample Works Cited is available under the Handouts tab above.

 

The MLA Template

MLA offers a template as a tool to learn how to make citations. You don't have to use the template, but it is meant to be helpful, especially for people just starting to use MLA Style.

The template lists the elements of an MLA citation—Author, Title, and Container—and where the periods and commas go. It is very straight-forward: fill in the template first and then copy it out with periods, commas, and blank spaces to make a complete and correct MLA citation. There is always a blank space after a period or comma.

MLA offers an online, interactive version.

 

Citing Different Types of Sources

Here are examples of citations for journal articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, books, e-books, entire websites, single webpages, and Youtube. You can use these formulas and examples as templates and substitute in your source's information to generate a new citation. Follow the same format—italicize items already in italics—and put periods, commas, and blank spaces in the same places. (Remember that the Works Cited list is double-spaced and uses a hanging indent, which is explained below.)

Journal Articles

When citing articles from library databases, include the name of the database in italics before the DOI or URL. If a DOI is not provided, use the URL instead. Provide the date of access if you wish.

Formula:

Author. "Title of Article." Title of Journal, volume number, issue number, year of publication, page numbers. Database name, DOI. Accessed date of access.

Example:
Shaw, Tony. “‘Some Writers Are More Equal than Others’: George Orwell, the State and Cold War Privilege.” Cold War History, vol. 4, no. 1, 2003, pp. 143–70. Academic Search Complete, https://doi.org/10.1080/14682740312331391774. Accessed 8 May 2022.

 

Magazine Articles

Formula:

Author. "Title of Article." Title of Magazine, date of publication, page numbers. Database name. Accessed date of access.

Example:

Wasserstrom, Jeffrey. "The Year Without End: Why Orwell's Masterpiece is Always Relevant." New Statesman, 16 Aug. 2019, pp. 44+. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A597962606/GLS?u=alfredtech&sid=bookmark-GLS&xid=0580c68a. Accessed 12 May 2022.

 

Newspaper Articles

Formula:

Author. "Title of Article." Title of Newspaper, date of publication, website address.

Example:

Wilson, Jennifer. "The Century-Old Russian Novel Said to Have Inspired ‘1984.’" The New York Times, 2 Nov. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/11/02/books/review/yevgeny-zamyatin-we.html

 

Books

Formula:

Author. Title of Book. Publisher Name, year of publication.

Example:

Lynskey, Dorian. The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984. Doubleday, 2019.

 

E-Books

Citations for e-books closely resemble those for physical books. Simply indicate that the book in question is an e-book by putting the term "E-book" in the citation.

Formula:

Author. Book Title. E-book, Publisher Name, year of publication.

Example:
Carpenter, Ted Galen, and Malou Innocent. Perilous Partners: The Benefits and Pitfalls of America’s Alliances with Authoritarian Regimes. E-book, Cato Institute, 2015.

 

Entire Websites

Formula:

Title of the Website. Publisher Name, date of publication, URL.

Example:

Folgerpedia. Folger Shakespeare Library, 21 July 2020, folgerpedia.folger.edu/Main_Page.

 

Single Webpages

If the publisher is the same as the website name, list it only once. Cite what information is available.

Formulas:

Author. "Title of the Webpage." Title of the Website, date of publication, URL. Accessed date of access.

"Title of the Webpage." Title of the Website, Publisher, date of publication, URL.

"Title of the Webpage." Title of the Website, date of publication, URL.

Examples:

Feeney, Matthew. "Seventy Years Later, Orwell’s Vision Remains Timely." Cato Institute, 3 June 2019, www.cato.org/commentary/seventy-years-later-orwells-vision-remains-timely. Accessed 14 May 2022.

"Emoticon, N." Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford UP, 2018, www.oed.com/view/Entry/249618.

"Understanding Athlete's Foot—The Basics." WebMD, 17 May 2021, www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-athletes-foot-basics.

 

Youtube

The title of the video is copied exactly as it appears on YouTube. The container is YouTube, followed by the date listed below the video and the URL. If it’s not clear who the primary creator or author of a video is, you could omit the Author element and begin the citation with the title of the video.

Formulas:

Author. "Title of Video." YouTube, date of publication, URL.

"Title of Video." YouTube, uploaded by Contributor's Name, date of publication, URL.

Examples:

Beyoncé. “Beyoncé – Pretty Hurts (Video).” YouTube, 24 Apr. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXXQLa-5n5w.

“Capybara Eat Huge Pumpkin.” YouTube, uploaded by Alex Smith, 12 Jan. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YNwxZnABzA.

 

Citing and Using Images

Students at Alfred State often need to cite images in MLA Style. Here are formulas and examples of how to do that. You can use these formulas and examples as templates and substitute in your source's information to generate a new citation. Follow the same format—italicize items already in italics—and put periods, commas, and blank spaces in the same places. (Remember that the Works Cited list is double-spaced and uses a hanging indent, which is explained below.)

Formulas:

Author. Title of the Image. Date of Composition. Title of the Website, URL.

Author [online handle]. Description of the image. Twitter, date of posting Tweet, URL.

Examples:

Bearden, Romare. The Train. 1975. MOMA, www.moma.org/collection/works/65232?locale=en.

Ng, Celeste [@pronounced_ing]. Photo of letter from Shirley Jackson. Twitter, 22 Jan. 2018, twitter.com/pronounced_ing/status/955528799357231104.

 

Place an illustration as close as possible to the part of the text to which it relates and label it Figure, usually abbreviated Fig., assign it an Arabic numeral (1, 2, 3 ...), and provide a caption, for example, Fig. 1 Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child, Wichita Art Museum. A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the illustration and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper. If the caption provides complete information about the source and the source is not cited in the text, no entry is needed for the source in the Works Cited list. If you provide full bibliographic details in a caption, punctuate the caption like a works-cited-list entry but do not invert the name of the author or artist that appears at the beginning of the caption: list it in the usual way a name appears, like Pablo Picasso. Otherwise, use commas to separate elements in a caption and provide full publication details in the Works Cited list.

 

Hanging Indents

MLA citations use a hanging indent, that is, the first line is never indented, and all the other lines are always indented half an inch. A hanging indent looks like this:

 

To make a hanging indent in Word, select the citation and click the little arrow in the bottom right of the Paragraph group on the Home bar. The arrow is the image in the red box:

 

Under Indentation, Special, choose Hanging. Click on the OK button. The Indentation section looks like this:

 

I recommend this procedure when making your list of Works Cited:
1. Create a Word or Google Docs document and save it. This document will be your paper.
2. On the second or third page, type Works Cited at the top of the page.
3. As you research your topic in the library databases or Google Scholar, copy their suggested citations for the articles you are going to use, that is, the articles you download, print, or otherwise save. You should verify using a source like OWL that the form of the citation is correct.
4. Paste the citations into your draft paper starting immediately under the phrase Works Cited. Paste the citations in in alphabetic order by the authors' last names as you research. Paste the citations in as text-only so no formatting is copied over. (In Word, Keep Text Only is an option under Paste. In Google Docs, "Paste without formatting" is a choice in the Edit menu.)
5. Once you have finished researching or writing the paper, delete the citations of any sources you aren't using.
6. Italicize anything that needs to be italicized: for example, the titles of books, journals, magazines, newspapers, and websites.
7. Select the phrase Works Cited and center it.
8. Select your text from the beginning of the word Works to the end of the last citation.
9. In Word, click the arrow in the Paragraph group of the Home bar. Under Indentation, Special, choose Hanging. Under Spacing, Line spacing, choose Double. Click on the OK button. (For Google Docs, in the Format menu, under Align & indent, choose Indentation options; Under Special indent, choose Hanging and click the Apply button.)
You're done.

 

This procedure may seem complicated or laborious: it isn't. It's very straight-forward, efficient, and involves a lot less hassle than other methods. This method produces consistent, correct results, and it helps you focus more on writing the paper rather than dividing your attention too much.
 

Endnotes and Footnotes

Endnotes and footnotes are allowed in MLA Style, but their use is uncommon and they aren't required. Professors will sometimes require that you use them. If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Title the section Notes (centered, unformatted).

 

Sources Consulted

Most of the information in this LibGuide regards an established writing style and is meant to be only a faithful copy from MLA-related sources. Therefore, I make no claim of original authorship, though any mistakes are my own. The content in this LibGuide comes mainly from two sources:

"MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Purdue OWL, Purdue U Writing Lab. Accessed 12 May 2022.

MLA Handbook. The Modern Language Association of America, 2021.