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Citation guide: MLA (8th ed.): General notes


This guide is based on the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 8th ed. and provides selected citation examples for common types of sources. For more detailed information please consult the print version of the MLA handbook

Graduate students and professional writers might also need to consult the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd ed. [print].

Keep track of your document references/citations and format your reference lists easily with citation management software

General notes on MLA style

The MLA citation style is generally used in the humanities (English, Philosophy, Music etc.). While the 8th edition provides detailed guidelines on how to create in-text and reference citations, it does not include instructions on how to format your research paper. For proper MLA paper formatting guidelines, refer to the 7th edition of the MLA handbook & the MLA Style Centre website.

MLA requires that the entire paper be double-spaced, including all the lines in the list of works cited (7th edition - 4.2, 5.3.2).

All pages of the paper, including the list of works cited, need to be numbered consecutively and must appear in the top right-hand corner of the page after your last name (7th edition - 4.4, 5.3.2).

You need to cite and document any sources that you have consulted, even if you presented the ideas from these sources in your own words (7th edition - 5.1). You need to cite:

  • to identify other people's ideas and information used within your essay
  • to inform the reader of your paper where they should look if they want to find the same sources

A citation must appear in two places in your paper:

  • in the body of your paper ("in-text citations")
  • in the list of works cited (at the end of your paper)

To introduce other people's ideas in your paper, use the following examples:

  • Richardson argues, refers to, explains, hypothesizes, compares, concludes
  • As Littlewood and Sherwin demonstrated, proved, ... etc.
  • The electoral system that was adopted in Germany after the Second World War combined majority decision rule and proportional representation (Wattenberg and Shugart 280).

Spelling: Use a standard English language dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary [print] or Canadian Oxford Dictionary [print].

Approach to citation

Today, a single document or publication is often produced and accessed in various formats and mediums (for example, a film may be viewed on Netflix, DVD, or digital download, or through a public viewing). Sometimes the medium of publication cannot be defined in simple terms. The 8th edition of the MLA style guide reflects this wide range of publication formats; rather than providing strict instructions on how to format a citation for specific types of sources, the guide now focuses on the process of scholarly documentation. Therefore, the MLA Handbook does not list specific rules on how to cite a DVD, a book, a journal article, etc., but instead outlines a universal set of general guidelines of citation and documentation that can be applied to any source type.

These guidelines provide a basic model for citations: writers create citations, not by looking for specific formulas for individual source types, but rather consulting MLA's list of core elements, and assembling them in the standard order.

Core elements

The 8th edition of the MLA style guide identified "core elements" as basic pieces of information that should be common to all source types (DVDs, print or digital books, journal articles, comments on blogs, etc.) (pp. 20-54). The MLA core elements are as follows:

  • Author
  • Title of source
  • Title of container
  • Other contributors
  • Version
  • Number
  • Publisher
  • Publication date
  • Location

If a particular core element is not deemed relevant to a particular source type, it can be omitted from the citation. For example, a YouTube video may not be associated with a particular version, and the works cited citation will therefore not include a version number (p. 20).

Note on containers: A source is sometimes part of a larger work. For example, a journal article is part of a larger whole - the journal in which it was published. The journal, in turn, may be located in a database. For citation purposes, the larger whole (ex. journal or a database) is a container.

Once you understand the basic principles of citation, you can apply them to any source type, without concern to the actual format or medium of publication. While the MLA guidelines reflects this approach, we have developed specific examples for commonly used source types for you.

Parenthetical (in-text) citations

If you directly quote from, summarize or use the ideas or arguments from a book or article, then list the author's last name, followed by a space and the page number without any other punctuation (i.e., no commas) (pp. 54-58; pp. 116-127, 3.1-3.6).

If you incorporate the author's name in the text of your paper, only provide the page number in parentheses, for example:

Forer states that "corporal punishment was employed as a legally imposed penalty in Colonial America" (142).

If a quotation is more than four lines when typed into your paper, begin the quotation double-spaced on a new line that is indented by 2.5cm (1 inch).  The quotation should be double-spaced. Do not use quotation marks. Also note that the period is placed before the parenthetical citation (pp. 76-77, 1.3.2). For example:

At the conclusion of My Side of the Mountain, Sam realized how much he had missed his family: 

Then I jumped in the air and laughed for joy. I recognized my four year-old brother's pleasure song. The family! Dad had brought the family! Every one of them. I ran, twisting, and turning through the trees like a Cooper's hawk, and occasionally riding a free fifty feet downhill on an aspen sapling. Dad gave me a resounding slap, and Mother hugged me until she cried. I led them proudly up the mountain. (George 175)

Many electronic sources do not provide page numbers. Sometimes the source will have paragraph numbers that you can use for your parenthetical citation. Use the abbreviation "par." for a single paragraph or "pars." for multiple paragraphs. Don't count paragraphs yourself if they are not indicated on the document (p. 56; p. 96, 1.6.2).

Women talked of their aspirations relating to their clothes and of attempts to create images, which were perceived as successful. (Martin par. 20)

If there are no page or paragraph numbers, the MLA guide recommends that you incorporate the name of the author in the text of your paper:

Mitchell argues that there is a link between soda consumption and obesity.

You may indicate in your paper an approximate location of the cited passage:

In the final third of his article, Mitchell argues there is a link between soda consumption and obesity.

Conversely, you can may also include only author information in the parenthetical citation (p. 56):

There is a link between soda consumption and obesity (Mitchell).

If you cite multiple works by the same author, place a comma after the author's last name in the parenthetical (in-text) citation and add the title (in full or a shortened version if it is long) and the relevant page reference, e.g., (Foucault, History of Madness 125) (p. 55; pp. 117-118, 3.2.1).

Works cited

At the end of your paper, you will list all your sources on a separate page entitled Works Cited (pp. 20-54; pp. 102-116). The works cited entries are composed of the "core elements", and are given in the order in which they are presented in the list above, along with the punctuation mark shown (unless it is the final element in the citation, in which case it should end with period). Elements may be omitted if they are deemed irrelevant or are absent. For example, if a work does not have an author, the works cited entry would start with the title of the source (p. 24).

The works cited list is arranged alphabetically by the author's last name. If there is no author, use the title of the source (p. 112, 2.7).

The works cited list is double-spaced throughout, both between and within entries. If a citation is more than one line, the second line is indented by 1.25 cm (0.5 inches) (p. 112, 2.7).

Use the format of the author's name as it appears on the title page of a work (e.g. "Mooney, Jayne," or "Danto, Arthur C.," or "Gibaldi, M. C.") (p. 21).

Additional resources

The MLA site includes helpful citation information and minor corrections to the Handbook on their FAQ page.

This practice template can help you build your works-cited-list entires.

Other MLA resource guides

Several of these guides, though helpful, nevertheless vary in terms of how they cite sources. Please keep this in mind while consulting these other online guides.

MLA Lite for Research Papers
Includes images of appendices, charts, figures and many other aspects of a paper.

MLA Formatting and Style Guide
Includes a sample paper and many examples.