MLA Citation Style Overview

What is MLA Style?

MLA Style is a set of conventions and standards for writing put forth by the Modern Language Association. These standards allow for ease of communication between authors and readers, similar to the way physicists or mathematicians use symbols to communicate information.

MLA Style has standards concerning,

  • Format and page layout (margins, headings, page numbers, etc.)
  • Stylistic considerations (spelling, abbreviations, punctuation, footnotes, etc.)
  • Citing Sources
  • Preparing a finished product for publication

Why Should I Use MLA Style?

As I said above, MLA Style is a set of conventions that, when adhered to, allow for the ease of communication. Using a specific style type allows readers to navigate their way through your work and presents all relevant information in a uniform way.

Can you imagine if every researcher in a given discipline used a different method of source citation? Think of all the wasted time the reader would spend just trying to understand the organization of the paper, let alone the argument being put forth.

The MLA Style allows for a consistent, uniform presentation of a paper’s findings so that the maximum amount of time can be spent on the content, not the formatting.

Who Uses MLA Style?

MLA Style is widely used throughout the humanities such as,

  • English studies
  • Comparative literature
  • Linguistics
  • Cultural Studies

Formatting

All major styles have formatting requirements for how the text should appear on your page. This allows for ease of reading and a consistent experience across papers.

Margins

  • Margins should be one inch from the top, bottom, left, and right of the paper. (1 inch = 2.5cm)
  • Page numbers should be set at one-half inch (1.25 cm) from the upper right hand corner and flush with the right margin.

Except for names and pages numbers, the margins on an MLA Style paper should be one inch at the top and bottom and on both sides of the text.

The first word of every paragraph should be indented one-half inch from the left margin. This can be accomplished in Microsoft Word and other word processors by hitting the “tab” key.

Text Formatting

  • Font: Usually Times New Roman (Check with instructor)
  • Size: Usually 12 point (Check with instructor)
  • Do not justify the text
  • Double-space the entire research paper
  • Leave one space after a period (unless instructor prefers two)

When writing a paper in MLA Style or any other style, you should always choose a font that is easy to read. You also want to pick a typeface that has a clear contrast between its regular and italic style. Most teachers will specify a font they prefer and require you to use that, but if they do not, you can never go wrong using Times New Roman.

Next you will want to pick a standard size to use, usually a 12-point font. Again, if your academic department or teacher has its own standard, use that.

Your paper should be double-spaced throughout its entirety, including quotations, notes, and onto your works cited page.

Finally, leave one space after each period or other concluding punctuation mark unless your teacher prefers otherwise.

Heading and Title

Begin your paper one inch from the top of the page. Then type:

  • Your name
  • Instructor name
  • Class
  • Date

Specific instructors will differ on the need for a title page on an MLA research paper, but MLA Style does not require one.

There are, however, specific guidelines for how your first page should look. As seen below, the paper should begin with your name one inch from the top and flush with the left margin. Press the return key then type your instructor’s name, the class, and the date, all on separate lines and double-spaced.

After that, add a double space between the date and the title of the paper, which should be centered. Your title should not be underlined, in quotations, bolded, or in all capitals. Only primary words should be capitalized, and you should only italicize words that would appear in italics in your text. For example,

  • My Opinion on Huckleberry Finn
  • Attitudes Toward Race Relations in To Kill A Mockingbird

Do not use a period after your title or after any of the headings in your paper.

Finally, add a double space between your title and the first line of text in your paper. As with all paragraphs throughout MLA Style, the first word starting each one should be indented one-half inch.

MLA-header

On all other pages, the running head of your paper should appear as seen below.

MLA-next-pages

Page Numbers

  • Place page number on all pages (possible exception on page one, refer to instructor)
  • Page numbers should have a one-half inch margin from the upper right hand corner and be flush with the right margin.
  • Last name should appear before page number followed by a space.

Each page on your paper should have an ordered page number in the top right hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. Also, type your last name before the page number.

Page numbers should appear on every page within a paper, but some teachers prefer not to have them on the first page. Follow their guidelines in such cases.

Tables and Illustrations

  • Tables and other illustrations appear as close to parts relevant text as possible.
  • A table is labeled Table and given a number and titled.
  • All other visuals should be labeled Figure.

If you include and tables, graphs, or figures in your paper, be sure to include them as close to the relevant text as possible.

A table should be labeled “Table” along with a numeral, e.g., “Table 1.” Any other visual materials, graphs, charts, pictures, etc., should be labeled “Figure.”

In both cases, give the table/figure a title, capitalizing as you would a heading, and include any relevant sources or noted directly below. If your visual materials do require a note, mark them with a lowercase letter “a.” to distinguish from the body of your paper (see below image).

research-paper-format-table

Citations and Works Cited Page

Properly documenting your sources is extremely important. Not only does it avoid accidental plagiarism, but it also allows the reader to see whom you are referencing.

In MLA Style, you site your sources with parenthetical citation in your text that reference an alphabetical list that follows your research paper called a works cited page.

These parenthetical citations are called “in-text citations” and there are a few ways you can do them.

Another defining feature of MLA Style is the requirement that you include the medium of the publication—DVD, web, print, audio, etc.—in addition to the full facts of the publication (more on that below).

Author Not Mentioned in Text (Name Page)

  • This idea is nothing new and has been talked about for years (Smith 87).

Author Mentioned in Text (Page)

  • This idea is nothing new and has been talked about by various authors such as John Smith for years (87).

Author with Same Last Name as Others in Work Cited (Initial Name Page)

  • This idea is nothing new and has been talked about for years (J. Smith 87).

More than One Work by Author (Name Short Title Page)

  • This idea is nothing new and has been talked about for years (Smith, Book Title 87).

Two or More Authors (Name and Name Page)

  • This idea is nothing new and has been talked about for years (Smith and Stephenson 87).

Two Locations in Same Work (Name Page, Page)

  • This idea is nothing new and has been talked about for years (Smith 87, 105).

Two Different Sources (Name Page; Name Page)

  • This idea is nothing new and has been talked about for years (Smith 87; Stephenson 105).

Online Source with Numbered Paragraphs (Name, Pars. Number)

  • This idea is nothing new and has been talked about for years (Smith, pars. 7-8).

Footnotes

MLA Style does not make use of footnotes to identify citations, unless a given citation is so long that it would disrupt the flow of reading. In such rare occasions, footnotes are permitted and should follow the “Name Page; Name Page” format.

Works Cited Page

The works cited page should be the last page of your paper. All of the referenced material from within your paper should appear in an alphabetized list on this page. Here are the basic guidelines,

  • Entries are in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, or, for any sources without authors, by title.
  • Entries should be double-spaced and be followed by a period.
  • Capitalize the first word and all primary words of titles and subtitles. (You should not capitalize articles, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, or the “to” in infinitives.”)
  • When there are multiple publishers listed, include all of them with a semicolon between them.
  • When there is more than one city listed for the same publisher, only use the first city.
  • When listing multiple authors of the same work, use “and,” not the ampersand (&).

Citation Examples

Below are specific examples and guides you can use for creating your own citations from sources in the following mediums.

works-cited

Citing Books

Basic Format

Last name, First name. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.

For publishers’ names, abbreviate “University” to “U” (no period) and “Press” to “P” (no period).

Print Book

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1960. Print.

If the book was produced by an organization, not an individual, list the organization as the author.

Electronic Book

For electronic book, use the date of the e-book edition and identify the format you used, e.g., Kindle, Nook, PDF.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2009. Kindle

edition.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2009. PDF e-

book.

Online Book

Twain, Mark. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1. Berkley, 2010: Mark Twain

Project Online. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Edited Book (Anthology or Collection of Essays)

If a book has an editor but no author, put the editor in place of the author followed by the abbreviation “ed.”

Meehan, William F., ed. Conversations with William F. Buckley Jr. Jackson: U P of

Mississippi, 2009. Print.

Revised or Updated Edition

If the book you are citied is an updated or revised edition, include this information between the title and the publication facts.

Sowell, Thomas. Basic Economics. 5th ed. New York: Basic Books, 2015. Print.

Multivolume Work

Lucas, Robert E., Jr. and Thomas J. Sargent, eds. Rational Expectations and

Econometric Practice. 2 vols. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1981. Print.

Single Works Within an Edited Book

If you only need to cite a single chapter in an anthology, use the below method. This basic method works for citing a letter in a collection, a short story in a collection, a single poem in a collection.

Lamb, Brian. “William F. Buckley Jr.: Happy Days Were Here Again.” Conversations

with William F. Buckley Jr. Ed. William F. Meehan. U P of Mississippi, 2009.

99-118. Print.

Introduction, Prefaces, Afterwords

If you are citing an introduction or preface to a book that was written by someone other than the book’s author, cite it separately.

Friedman, Milton. Introduction. The Road to Serfdom. 50th Anv Edition. By F. A.

Hayek. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994. 1-9. Print.

Citing Articles from Journals, Magazines, and Newspapers

Basic Format

Last Name, First Name. “Article Title.” Journal or Magazine Title Volume Number

(Year):Page Number. Medium of Publication. Access Date.

Print Journal

Matarrita-Cascante, David. “Beyond Growth: Reaching Tourism-Led Development.”

Annals of Tourism Research 37.4 (2010): 41-63. Print.

Print Journal Consulted Online

If you obtained access to a print journal through an online database, include information for the print edition, followed by the database (in italics). If there are no page numbers, use “n. pag.” instead.

Matarrita-Cascante, David. “Beyond Growth: Reaching Tourism-Led Development.”

Annals of Tourism Research 37.4 (2010): n.page. JSTORE. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Online Journal

If there are no page numbers, use “n. pag.”

Matarrita-Cascante, David. “Beyond Growth: Reaching Tourism-Led Development.”

Annals of Tourism Research 37.4 (2010): n.page. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Print Magazine

For print magazines, do not include article or issue numbers, even if they are given. If, in the magazine, the article is interrupted by other content, simply use the first page and followed by “+.”

Salam, Reihan. “Bill de Blasio’s New York.” National Review. 14 Oct. 2013: 17+. Print.

Print Magazine Consulted Online

If you obtained access through an online source, include both the title of the magazine and the online provider, even if they are the same.

Salam, Reihan. “Bill de Blasio’s New York.” National Review. National Review Online, 14

Oct. 2013. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Online Magazine

Maney, Kevin. “How Patents Kill Innovation and Hold Tech Companies Back.”

Newsweek.com. Newsweek LLC, 2 Feb. 2015. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.

Newspaper Article

Wei, Lingling. “China Rate Cut Renews Economic Concerns.” The Wall Street Journal

1 Mar. 2015: B1+. Print.

Online Newspaper

For citing an online newspaper, include both the title of the publication and the online provider, even if they are the same.

Wei, Lingling. “China Rate Cut Renews Economic Concerns.” The Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal 1 Mar. 2015. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.

Citing From Reference Works

Dictionary or Encyclopedia

“Engine.” Def. 1a. American Heritage Dictionary. 5th ed. 2012. Print.

“Engine, n.” Def. 1a. American Heritage Dictionary Online. 2014. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

“Internal Combustion Engine.” The Encyclopedia Britannica. 2004. Print.

Citing Internet Websites and Blogs

Websites don’t follow the same rules as some of the other traditional sources from above do. Given this fact, you may need to improvise at times, doing your best to still supply the same kind of information that is required of a traditional publication.

  • Author, if listed
  • Website Title
  • Sponsor or Publisher (if none, put “N.p.”)
  • Date of Publication, (If none, put “n.d.”)
  • Medium of Publication (“Web”)
  • Access Date

Single Web Page

For individual pages, add the title in quotation marks between the author and the site title. URLs are optional in MLA Style.

University of Michigan Library. “Introduction to Research.” University of Michigan

Library. University of Michigan, 2014. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Blog Entry

Similar, and usually easier, blogs have most of the necessary information readily available.

  • Author
  • Title of Blog (in italics)
  • Medium of Publication (“Weblog”)
  • Sponsor or Publisher (if none, put “N.p.”)
  • Date of Publication, (If none, put “n.d.”)
  • Medium of Publication (“Web”)
  • Access Date

Salam, Reihan. “The Underpolicing Crisis.” Weblog entry. The Corner. National

Review, 1 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

YouTube Video

MLA Style does not, as of yet, have guidelines for how to cite a YouTube video. However, based on their guidelines for similar mediums, here is a perspective style suggestion that should be acceptable for your instructor.

Author’s Name or Poster’s Username. “Title of Image or Video.” Media Type
Text. Name of Website. Name of Website’s Publisher, date of posting. Medium. date retrieved.

Here is the above suggestion filled in with information.

LibertyinOurTime. “How Much Can Discrimination Explain?” Online video clip. YouTube.

YouTube, 2 Nov. 2010. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Additional Information

For more information on MLA Style, I advise getting either of the following books,

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th Edition.

-or-

A Writers’ Reference, 7th Edition by Diana Hacker.

References

– MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th Edition, Chapter 4