General notes: MLA (9th ed.) citation guide

This guide is based on the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 9th ed. and provides selected citation examples for common types of sources.

For more detailed information, please consult the full manual: available in print and online

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.


 Still using the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook? 

See our printer-friendly PDF version of MLA 8. 

General notes on MLA style

Writers, scholars and students all incorporate, confirm, modify, correct, and refute the work done by previous scholars and peers. The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is a system of documentation that directs readers to the source of the quotation, paraphrased idea, fact, or other material that has been borrowed from someone else (95).

 Key points     

Why do you need to cite?

There are two key reasons to cite your sources:

  1. To identify other people's ideas and information used within your paper
    • the use of proper citations gives writers a verifiable way to refer to someone else's work
  2. To show your reader where to find those same sources

Where do you cite?

Citations must appear in two parts of your document:

  1. In the body of your paper ("in-text" or "parenthetical" citations)
  2. Listed on the Works Cited page (at the end of your paper)


The MLA's approach to citation

References in MLA style are formatted in a standard way so that they can be quickly understood by all, just like a common language (95).

The MLA Handbook does not list specific rules on how to cite different source types (a book, a journal article, a DVD, a podcast etc.), but instead outlines a universal set of general guidelines of citation that can be applied to any source type. This guide will help you understand the core elements and the process of creating citations. Examples will be provided for common source types, found in the MLA Citation Guide menu.

A note about indirect/secondary sources:

Whenever you can, find and take material from the original source. If you find a thought/idea/quote etc. in a paper that you want to reference but it is already being quoted/paraphrased in that work, it is worth the effort to find that original source and reference that instead of referencing it as an indirect or secondary source. This process also gives you practice reading and understanding how citations work. Please see Citing indirect sources for more information.  

 Citing generative AI

The MLA directs writers to describe how they use generative AI, to cite the tools, and to "take care to vet the secondary sources it cites." 

For citations, the MLA recommends using the Title of Source, Title of Container, Version, Publisher, Date, and Location elements -- but not Author.  

For the MLA's detailed citing instructions and examples, see How do I cite generative AI in MLA style? 

Works cited and core elements

Each source cited in your work should appear in a list at the end of your paper, on a new page entitled Works Cited (105).

The works cited list is arranged alphabetically by the author's last name. If the citation contains no author, the citation will begin with the title of the source, and will be listed with the other sources alphabetically.

The MLA "core elements" template for creating any works cited item

MLA core elements in standard order: 

1) Author 
2) Title of Source 
3) Title of Container 
4) Contributor 
5) Version 
6) Number 
7) Publisher 
8) Publication Date 
9) Location

Works cited entries are created using a list of core elements -- facts common to most sources, such as author, title, and publication date -- that allows writers to cite any type of work. Once you have an understanding of the core elements, you can apply them to any source type, without worrying about the format/medium of the source.

The MLA core elements are detailed below, in the standard order. This can be thought of as a template. Not all elements will exist or be necessary for all citations; any element that does not apply may be omitted, except for Title of Source (105). Remember, we are including relevant information to help our readers locate the source.

Here is how the core elements look formatted as a works cited entry:

Author. "Title of Source." Title of Container, Contributor, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication Date, Location.


Containers: Works that contain other works

Many sources are part of a larger work. This will not be applicable to all sources, but some sources -- such as an article -- are part of a larger work, like a journal or newspaper in which the article was published. This larger work is referred to as a container. Sometimes, this larger work may itself be contained within a work. In this case, the citation may continue into a second container. Here are two examples:

An article (source) found in a journal (container 1), which is found on a database (container 2). 

An episode (source) of a TV series (container 1), which is found on a streaming website (container 2).

Applying the core elements to different types of works

1.) A standalone work with no container

1) Author: Montgomery, L.M. 
2) Title of Source: Anne of Green Gables 
3) Title of Container 
4) Contributor 
5) Version 
6) Number 
7) Publisher: Signet Classic 
8) Publication Date: 2003 
9) Location


Looking at the elements:

  • The source Anne of Green Gables is not contained in another work (like an anthology or textbook)
  • The title is italicized because it is a novel (a long-form work)
  • The original work provides these core elements: Author, Title of Source, Publisher, and Publication Date
    • This is enough information to direct readers back to the original source
    • Other core elements are not provided by the original source and are therefore irrelevant in this case

Works cited entry:

Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables. Signet Classic, 2003.


2.) An article in a journal:

1) Author: Diamond, B. 
2) Title of Source: Struggling Towards Decolonization in Canadian Music Schools 
3) Title of Container: MUSICultures 
4) Contributor 
5) Version: vol. 48 
6) Number 
7) Publisher 
8) Publication Date: Feb. 2022 
9) Location: pp. 366-79

A note on URLs: Some URLs have a www, but some do not. You may omit the http:// or https:// from URLs, unless you wish to create a hyperlink. Always include the protocol for DOIs (195-96). 


Looking at the elements:

  • The source is a journal article contained within the journal MUSICultures.
  • The article is in quotation marks because it is a short-form work
  • The journal title is in italics because it is a long-form work
  • The source includes article page numbers as a location, as well as a URL to it so that it is easy for readers to find

Works cited entry:

Diamond, B. "Struggling Towards Decolonization in Canadian Music Schools." MUSICultures, vol. 48, Feb. 2022, pp. 366-79.


3.) An episode of a TV show. 

1) Author 
2) Title of Source: Black museum

Television episodes do not typically have an author as many people contribute to them. List the contributors most relevant to your assignment; this might include the director or creator. A TV episode is contained within the TV show, which may also be contained in a larger container like a streaming service (see: Containers: works that contain other works).


First container 

​​​​​3) Title of Container: Black Mirror 
4) Contributor: Directed by Colm McCarthy 
5) Version 
6) Number 
7) Publisher 
8) Publication Date: Dec. 2017 
9) Location

Second container 

3) Title of Container: Netflix 
4) Contributor 
5) Version 
6) Number 
7) Publisher 
8) Publication Date 
9) Location:

Looking at the elements:​​​

  • The episode Black Museum is the source that's being cited, and is contained in the show Black Mirror
  • Black Mirror is contained in Netflix's content selection which the Location field links to

Works cited entry:

"Black Museum." Black Mirror, Directed by Colm McCarthy, Dec. 2017, Netflix, 

See Chapter 5 of the MLA Handbook for more information about core elements and works cited entries.

The MLA website offers more examples using the template of core elements in Works Cited - a quick guide

Additional resources

From the Modern Language Association:

Guides from other academic libraries: