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Citations: Overview

Introduction to Citation Styles: MLA 9th ed. 3:38

What is MLA?

MLA style was created by the Modern Language Association of America. It is a set of rules for publications, including research papers.

There are two parts to MLA: In-text citations and the Works Cited list.

In MLA, you must "cite" sources that you have paraphrased, quoted or otherwise used to write your research paper. Cite your sources in two places:

  1. In the body of your paper where you add a brief in-text citation.
  2. In the Works Cited list at the end of your paper where you give more complete information for the source.

Core Elements of an MLA Citation

When constructing a citation for a works cited page, you will use the following list of nine elements that a source can have. You will not need all of the elements for any one source. The author and title elements are followed by a period and the other elements are followed by a comma, until the end. The end of the citation - no matter which element is last - has a period. 

  1. Author.
    • The author might be more than one person or a group of people, like a band or and organization. 
      • For two authors, write the names like this: Bagshaw, Anna, and Phil Yorke-Barber.
      • For more than two authors, write the first-listed author's name followed by et al., like this: Schutz, Suzanne, et al. 
  2. Title of source.
    • Though other elements are irrelevant to some sources, MLA guidelines require a title! Write a brief description if there is no title. 
    • Italicize the title or put it in quotations according to what kind of source it is. 
      • Books, films, and other sources that are self-contained are italicized.
      • Articles and other sources that are part of another container (like a journal) are put in quotation marks.
  3. Title of container.
    • A container is a bigger work that contains the work you are citing. A journal is the container of an article, the New York Times is the container for its articles, an album is the container for a song, and Instagram is the container for a photo found there. 
    • The container title is usually italicized: 
      • SoundCloud,
      • Mexican Literature in Theory, 
  4. Contributors.
    • A contributor might be a translator, an editor, a director, or an audiobook narrator. 
    • Define what kind of contributor it is:
      • Translated by Barbara Mellor,
      • Edited by Thomas R. Frazier,
  5. Version.
    • This could be the 2nd edition of a book, a certain translation of the Bible, or the director's cut of a movie. Capitalize the first word if there is a period before it and do not capitalize it if there is a comma before it. 
    • Examples:
      • e-book ed.,
      • Authorized King James Version,
  6. Number.
    • The number could be the volume and number of a journal or the season and episode number of a TV shows. 
    • Examples:
      • vol.46, no. 1,
      • season 1, episode 7,
  7. Publisher.
    • The publisher element can be filled by several types of entities, such as the publisher of a book, the network that aired a TV show, or a government agency that put out a report.
    • Examples:
      • U.S. Department of Justice,
      • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
  8. Publication date.
    • Write the publication date that the source gives. For most books, this will be just the year, but other sources may be more specific. 
    • The MLA Handbook prescribes how to write dates, for example:
      • fall 2021, (do not capitalize season names)
      • 19 Mar. 2020, (use day-month-year order)
  9. Location.
    • For a print work, this will be page numbers. For example, for a short story within an anthology, the location is the pages of the anthology that contain the story. 
      • Write p. for "page" and pp. for "pages": p. 101 or pp. 101-120.
    • For something found digitally, the location is the URL or DOI. 
      • DOI (digital object identifier) is preferred if one is available. 
      • Include the http:\\ or https:\\

Commonly Used Terms

Access Date: The date you first look at a source. The access date is added to the end of citations for all websites except library databases.

Citation: Details about one cited source.

Citing: The process of acknowledging the sources of your information and ideas.

In-Text Citation: A brief note at the point where information is used from a source to indicate where the information came from. An in-text citation should always match more detailed information that is available in the Works Cited List.

Paraphrasing: Taking information that you have read and putting it into your own words.

Plagiarism: Taking, using, and passing off as your own, the ideas or words of another.

Quoting: The copying of words of text originally published elsewhere. Direct quotations generally appear in quotation marks and end with a citation.

Works Cited List: Contains details on ALL the sources cited in a text or essay, and supports your research and/or premise.