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MLA Formatting Style

Guide to the MLA Style of Writing and Formatting Rules

This overview of the Modern Language Association (MLA) formatting style is designed to show you how to correctly cite any sources you use in a paper in this particular style. This guide covers both in-text citation and works cited lists.   

A number of examples are provided later in this article but please note all examples are fictional and purely for the purpose of explanation.

How to Create a Works Cited Page Using MLA 8th Edition

The MLA system of documenting sources is wide-ranging and includes recommendations on citing all possible types of sources across several different writing types. However, because writing is becoming more mobile, and any one document can be located in a number of different places, a fixed set of rules no longer suffices.           

The existing citation system is founded on a number of core principles, and not on an extensive set of rigid rules. Although the MLA manual still provides examples of how sources should be cited, it is arranged by a documentation process and not on actual source materials themselves. This documentation process provides the writer with a flexible citation method that applies universally. When a writer understands this system, they can use it to acknowledge virtually every type of information source and for a number of different types of papers in almost any field of study. 

Process Overview

When determining the best way to cite sources, begin by considering the core requirements. These consist of some general elements that the MLA system recommends for every in-text and works cited page entry. Essentially, the following elements should be included in the order described:

  1. Name of author
  2. Source name or title
  3. Container title
  4. Names of other people who have contributed to the source where applicable
  5. Version number
  6. Volume or issue number
  7. Name of publisher
  8. Date of publication
  9. Place of publication.

Each of these elements should end with an appropriate punctuation mark as shown in the examples. Previous editions of the MLA handbook required the publication place, and specific punctuation marks, e.g., editions of journals in parenthesis and colon marks following the issue number. However, punctuation has been simplified in the latest version where the different elements just need to be separated by periods and commas, and source information is restricted to the minimum amount. 

Citing Authors

A citation should start with the surname of the author, with a comma following it and then the rest of the author’s name as this appears in the cited work, ending with a period.

Example: Jones, Brian P. Imperialism versus Culture. Life, 2000.  

Source Title

The source’s name or title comes after the name of the author. This should be presented in quotation marks or italics depending on the source type.  

Italics should be used for book titles as follows:

Example: White, Jenny. The Bird House. Brooks. 2010.   

Italics should also be used for website names:

Example: Winters, Joanna. “Vegetarian Recipes.” eHowTo www.ehowto_11737_vegetarian_recipes.html.   

Quotation marks should be used for citations from periodicals, e.g., from newspaper, magazine, and journal articles.  

Example: 

Cassell, Alice. “Conflicting Loyalties: The Ultimate Human Choice.” Michigan Studies in Human Behaviors, vol. 22, no. 3, 1999, pp. 33-42.  

Quotation marks should be used for an album’s musical track and for songs.

Example:

Ladybirds. “Want To Be With You.” Cider, Oregon Entertainments, 2000,      www.ladybirds.com/album/cider-visual-album/.

The inclusion of URLs is recommended in the MLA 8th edition manual for citing sources found online. Please refer to the section on “Optional Items” below.  

Container Title

The 8th edition of the MLA guidelines differs from previous versions insofar as this edition makes reference to containers. A container is the bigger whole where sources are located. If, for instance, one wanted to cite a book that is part of a collection of books, the individual book is classed as the source and the wider collection is classed as its container. It is common practice to place container titles in italics and to follow this with a comma because the subsequent information relates to the source’s container.  

Example:

Meade, Leonora. “Pirates.” The Warner Book of Pirate Stories,

edited by Thomas Grimes, Warner, 2010, pp. 210-212.

Containers can also comprise of a TV television series divided into episodes. 

Example:

“20 Essential Visits.” Outdoor Pastimes, created by Jon Metcalfe and Mark Gates, performance by Jen Blackwell, season 1, episode 6, Tweedle-Dee Productions and Media Four Studios, 2011.  

Additionally, websites can be containers, wherein postings, articles and other types of work are contained.  

Example: Winner, Daniel. Interview by James Kelland. Dissected and Analyzed, 14 May, 2011, www.plpgames.com/en/games/power-trips-online/news/detail/1066930-dissected-%2526-analyzed-interviews-daniel. Accessed 22 June 2011. 

Sometimes, containers can even be contained within larger containers. You may, for instance, have read a collection of short stories on a writer or publisher’s website, viewed a Netflix TV series, or found an e-journal in JSTOR. In any case, these containers-in-containers should be cited so that readers can locate the precise source you are referring to.

Examples:    

“20 Essential Visits.” Outdoor Pastimes, season 1, episode 6, NBC, 4 May 2011. Netflix, www.netflix.com/watch/70242041?trackId=200256157&tctx=0%2C20%2C09873d361-28cd-43de-9b2a-2c9d768b8f64-12120962. 

Temple, Louise. “Courtship Rituals in Victorian England.” History Journal, vol. 44, no. 3, 2010, pp. 164-69. ProQuest, doi:11.1027/SAA19356X07005865. Accessed 15 June 2010.   

Citing Others Who Contributed to a Work

As well as an author, other people who deserve credit can contribute to a source. These contributors can include editors, translators, photographers, illustrators, and so on. Where such contributions have a bearing on the research work you are doing, or are necessary for identifying a source, their names should be included in your source documentation. 

NB: The guidelines set out in the 8th edition MLA manual no longer require such terms as editor, translator, illustrator, and so on to be abbreviated.

Example:

Forbes, Paul. The Madness of Civilization: The History of Madness in the Modern Age. Translated by Robert Von Hauff, Warner-Brooks House, 1977.

Windham, Laura. The Haunted House. Annotated and containing an introduction by Vincent Hastings. Thompsons, Inc., 2010.

Citing Versions

Where any source is displayed as a version or edition of a particular work, this should be noted in the citation.

Example: 

The Holy Bible. Authorized Rev Jones Version, Minnesota University Press, 1982.

Hinds, Steve, and Monika Green. New Practices for Modern Students. 2nd ed., Mills, 2010.

Including Numbers in Citations

Where a particular source belongs to a numbered set or sequence i.e. a book that is part of several volumes or a journal that has issue and volume numbers, the citation should include these numbers.

Example: 

Raine, Phillip. “A Research into Modern Youth: Current Attitudes and Future Prospects.” Society and Voluntary Work: The Global Society Journal, vol. 4, no. 3, 2010, www.volwork.net/sws/article/view/62/242. Accessed 19 July 2010. 

“20 Essential Visits.” Outdoor Pastimes, created by Jon Metcalfe and Mark Gates, performance by Jen Blackwell, season 2, episode 6, Tweedle-Dee Productions and Media Four Studios, 2011. 

Kennedy. Philosophical Orations. Translated by S. A. McCall, vol. 4, Harvard Press, 1979.

Information about Publisher

A publisher is the person or entity who produces and/or distributes source materials to the wider public. Where the number of publishers exceeds one, any that are relevant to the research or paper you are working on should be mentioned in citations, with a “/” mark (forward slash) separating them.

Example: 

Lane, Peter. Printing Machine. 1931. Modern Art Museum, Washington. The Artmaker,  www.artmaker.com/artmaker/P/Lane/printing_machine.jpg.html. Accessed July 2010.

Public Health: Digestive Problems. USA College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, 2011.

Metcalfe, Jon and Mark Gates, creators. Outdoor Pastimes. Tweedle-Dee Productions and Media Four Studios, 2011. 

NB: There is no need to include the name of the publisher in sources of the following type: periodicals, works that are published by the person who authors or edits them, websites with the same title as the person/entity who published them, websites that host various works but do not publish them, e.g., JSTOR, WordPress, YouTube, etc.    

Information about Date of Publication

It is possible that one particular source was published more than once i.e. on different dates. For example, an original source may be published online at a later date or a TV series can be shown on one network during a certain time period and then on another at a later time. Where there are different dates for a particular source use the one that best matches the way you are using it. In the event of uncertainty, use the original publication date.   

In the example shown below, MT Productions is the name of the main production or producing company, and “Thriller” is a series released in 2000. The following example shows how to create citations for an episode of a television series.

“Thriller.” Billy, the Phantom Thief, created by Jack Sellars, performance by Jean Alice Gore, season 5, MT Productions, 2000. 

If, however, you are referring to the earlier context surrounding the episode’s original airing, the complete date should be cited. Because the airing date is being specified, the name of the TV network (e.g., Global Networks) should be used (not MT Productions), because it is the actual network and not the production or producing company that has aired the particular episode you are citing.

Example:  

“Thriller.” Billy, the Phantom Thief, created by Jack Sellars, performance by Jean Alice Gore, season 5, episode 6, WB Television Network, 10 Nov. 2000.

Citing Information about Locations

It is necessary to be as precise as you possibly can when identifying the location of a work.

A journal article or book essay should show the page number(s).

Noor, Lynette. “A Memorable Day.” The Strangest Thing, Bernard C. Lavin, 2010, pp. 61-71. 

Location for online works should display the URL.

Ellis, Christopher. “Diagnosing Outbreaks of Disease in War Zones.” Suspicious Diseases, vol. 4, no. 3, 2010, pp. 485-501, wwwus.opc.gov/eid/article/5/5/10-0507_article. Accessed 6 Jan. 2011.

First-hand experiences of physical objects should indicate the location or place.  Example:

Barbato, Paulo. The Raging Sea. 1961, Modern Art Museum, New York.

Optional Items for Citations

The 8th edition of the MLA style manual endeavors to be highly streamlined. Any piece of information that assists readers to easily locate a source should be included in citations, yet without unnecessary or distracting details. Listed below are some optional items for inclusion in a citation at the discretion of the writer.    

Original Date of Publication:

Where sources have more than one publication date, it is permissible to include both if that information is helpful or necessary for the reader. 

Sedgwick, Leonard. Love Potions. 1975. Brooke-Mills, 2001. 

Cities where Works were Published

It was a requirement in the 7th edition of the MLA handbook to include the city where the publisher or publishing company is/was based. However, the 8th edition says this is needed only in certain cases, for example, for works published prior to 1900. Since works before this date were generally associated with their city of publication, you may replace the name of the city with the name of the publisher.

Example:

Williams, Alan James. Exciting Places. New York, 1974. 

Access Dates

It is recommended in the MLA style handbook that access dates are included when citing online sources. This means the date the writer accesses the online material since such works are often subject to change or relocation.

Example:

Benoit, Pierre. “Ten Great Writing Tips.” A Writer’s Guide: For Website Creators, 28 Oct. 2012, writersguide.com/article/writingtips. Accessed 8 May 2013. 

Including URLs in Citations

As previously mentioned, although the 8th edition handbook recommends the inclusion of URLs when citing online materials, it is always best to check with your tutor or publisher if they require URLs.

Including Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) in Citations

DOIs are comprised of a number of letters and digits that take readers to an online source’s location. Journal articles are frequently given a DOI to make the source easy to locate, even if the source’s URL alters. If any source you are using has a DOI, use it rather than the URL.  

Bianchi, Benedict, and Juan Castello. “Identifying Water Toxins.” Environmental Health, vol. 19, no. 3, 8 Mar. 2012, pp. 81-89. Walters Electronic Library, doi: 10.1103/tox.30245.

In-Text Citations Using MLA 8th Edition

An in-text citation is a short reference in the body of a text that explains the sources a writer used/consulted. This citation should accurately acknowledge any direct quotes, ideas or paraphrasing of a source, and it should take readers to the corresponding entry in the works cited list/page. Generally, in-text citations are comprised of the name of the author and page number(s) of the source in parentheses, or only page number(s) where an author is mentioned in a particular sentence.

Imperialism means “the theory, practice, and attitudes of a metropolitan center of governance ruling a far-off territory” (Jones 10).

or

Leonard P. Jones says imperialism means “the theory, practice, and attitudes of a …” (10).

Creating a Works Cited Entry

Jones, Leonard P. Imperialism of the Past. Giles, 2004.

If you have to create an in-text citation for media with a runtime, for example, a podcast or movie, your citation should include the time range i.e. the hours, the minutes, and the seconds, e.g., 00:01:13-00:03:25. 

Here again, the aim is to accurately attribute the source and to provide readers with reference information that does not interrupt the flow of your written work. It is important readers can follow your arguments without being distracted by additional details.

A Few Last Thoughts about the MLA 8th Edition

The present guidelines on the MLA style teach a wide variety of practical skills. When you understand the essential elements to include in the entries for a Works Cited page, you should be capable of documenting all source types. While there are plenty useful examples in the handbook, you should not need to refer to it on every occasion when trying to decide how to create citations for unfamiliar sources. Once you know the main elements to include and the correct order for these, and you use punctuation consistently, you should be well positioned to create your own Works Cited list. 

Citing EssaysService.com’s Writing Website in the MLA Style

Full Website

The EssaysService.com Writing Service Website, 2011. 

Citing Individual Sources/Resources

Names of all contributors and the last date a work was edited are located in orange-colored boxes at the top of the appropriate pages on EssaysService.com’s website.

Names of contributors. “Resource Title.” The EssaysService.com Writing Service Website, Last date edited. 

Grant, James, et al. “Guide to MLA Formatting Style.” The EssaysService.com Writing Service Website, 3 Jan. 2007.

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