Writing & formatting: 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.

See also: Chapter 1: Formatting Your Research Project in the Handbook

This guide will help you get started with the most common general formatting information. Follow the directions of your instructor, school, or publisher if you are asked to use different formatting guidelines  


  Writing with generative AI and large language models (LLMs)

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Margins and text formatting

Leave margins of one inch at the top and bottom and on both sides of the text (1).

The MLA Handbook sets out text-formatting guidelines:

  • Always choose an easily readable font (Times New Roman is a good example).
    • Choose a font where the regular type style contrasts clearly with the italic, 
    • Set it to anywhere between 11 and 13 points, unless your instructor specifies a different font size. 
    • Generally, use the same typeface and type size throughout the paper (1).
  • Double-space your entire paper, including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited (2).
  • Indent the first line of a paragraph half an inch from the left margin. Indent block quotations half an inch as well.

 Title, running head, and page numbers

One inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin, on separate double-spaced lines, type:

  • your name
  • your instructor’s name (or instructors’ names, if there is more than one)
  • the course name and number
  • the date

On a new double-spaced line, centre the title. Here are the key rules for titles:

  • Do not italicize or underline the title, put it in quotation marks or boldface, type it in all capital letters, or put a period after it.
  • Follow the rules for capitalization set forth in section 2.90, pp. 54-56 of the Handbook, and italicize only the words that you would italicize in the text (2).


A research paper does not normally need a title page in MLA style, but if your instructor requires one, format it according to the instructions you are given (3).

Key notes on page numbers:

  • Number all pages consecutively throughout the research paper in the upper right-hand corner, half an inch from the top and flush with the right margin. 
  • The title page is page 1. Type your surname, followed by a space, before the page number (in the example, the author of the paper’s last name is Josephson).
  • Do not use the abbreviation “p.” before the page number or add a period, a hyphen, or any other mark or symbol (4).

If your project has several authors and all authors’ surnames do not fit in a running head, include only the page number.  Your word processing program will probably allow you to create a running head of this kind that appears automatically on every page (4).

The top of the first page of an essay in MLA format

Fig 1.1. The top of the first page of an essay in MLA format


Internal headings and subheadings

Headings and subheadings in the body of your research project can help organize and structure your writing, but you should avoid overusing them (4). They are generally not needed in short, essay-length works; if headings are called for in your writing project, keep them short and refer to the basic guidelines noted in the Handbook. An exception is the works cited list:

Works cited list

Here are the rules for your works cited list:

  • The list of works cited appears at the end of the paper, after any endnotes. Centre the heading, calling it Works Cited, an inch from the top of the page (capitalize each work but do not italicize, bold, or use a period with this heading) (5).
  • Double space between the heading and the first entry; also double space all entries, (i.e. the whole list is double spaced).
  • Begin each entry flush with the left margin; if an entry runs more than one line, indent the subsequent line or lines half an inch from the left margin. This format is sometimes called hanging indent, and you can set your word processing program to create it automatically for a group of paragraphs.


Works cited entries are made up of core elements. Core elements are the defining details of your sources, which you need to properly cite them (author, title, etc.) In the standard order, the core elements can be thought of as a template for your works cited entries. Title of Source is the only required core element; the others will vary depending on the source. For more on the MLA core elements, please see General notes: Works cited and core elements.

The core elements in standard order:

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

In a works cited list, punctuation is intentional and important. Pay attention to which core elements are followed with a period, and which are followed by a comma. Regardless of which item your entry ends with, at the very end of the citation you will use a period (105).

Parenthetical (in-text) citations and direct quotations

In-text citations are references in the body of your paper that direct readers to your works cited list entries. You must cite any works you reference whether they are direct quotes, summaries, or simply a reference to someone else's idea or argument.

The in-text citation can appear within the narrative of your writing, or in parentheses at the end of the sentence. Generally, only the author's surname is used within the in-text citation (if your source has an author). You are to use the shortest piece of information that directs your reader to the relevant works cited entry, which will be the author's name or title of the work (227).

Integrating quotations into prose:

Construct a grammatically correct sentence that allows you to introduce or incorporate a quotation accurately. When you quote, reproduce the source text exactly: do not change spelling, capitalization, italics, punctuation, etc. Direct quotes require quotation marks. If a specific part of a work is quoted or paraphrased and includes a location marker (page number, line number etc.), that information should also be included in the in-text citation (228). 


Paraphrasing means that you are putting information from a source into your own words. It is not simply swapping out one or two words for synonyms; it is your own rendition of essential information and ideas originally expressed by someone else. You will still need to cite the source since you are using their ideas.

For more information on quoting and paraphrasing, see pages 252-284 (sections 6.31-6.77) in the MLA Handbook.

The following examples are fairly general and are only intended to help you understand in-text citation. For specific examples citing different types of sources, see the this guide's menu for citing specific sources, Appendix 2 of the Handbook (pages 313-346), or visit the MLA website.


Integrated in-text:

Diamond offers her perspective on decolonization within three Canadian music universities.


The researcher looks at decolonization, as well as other social issues and challenges within Canadian music schools (Diamond).

Direct Quote:

Diamond writes about “co-teaching a course with Indigenous dance professor Nina De Shane” (372).

Works cited entry:

Diamond, B. “Struggling Towards Decolonization in Canadian Music Schools.” MUSICultures, vol. 48, Feb. 2022, pp. 366-79, journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/MC/article/view/32782.

Parenthetical (in-text) citation with no known author

When a source has no known author, use the first one, two, or three words from the title instead of the author's last name (don't count initial articles like "A", "An" or "The"). You should provide enough words to make it clear which work you're referring to from your works cited list. Follow the normal formatting rules for the titles you place in parentheses.


A book: (Soft Launch 86)

A TV episode: ("Black Museum")

Adding or omitting words

If you find it necessary for clarity to add a word or words in a quotation, put square brackets around the words to indicate that they are not part of the original text:

In Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, he writes to his son: "you have some acquaintance with the old rules [of the street], but they are not as essential to you as they were to me” (24).

If you omit a word or words from a quotation, put ellipses in place of the omitted word/words, preceded and followed by a space:

Coates writes emphatically, saying “this entire episode took me from fear to a rage that burned in me then … and will likely leave me on fire for the rest of my days” (83).

Use of page numbers

When relevant (i.e. you are quoting or paraphrasing a specific part of a work), an in-text citation also includes a second component along with the author’s name: a page number, line number, time stamp (for audiovisual materials), or other indicator that helps a reader find where in the work the citation is located (228). If you incorporate the author's name in the narrative of your citing sentence, you only need to provide the page number in parentheses.


“Community is thought about differently in the universities of larger and smaller cities” (Diamond 369).

Diamond writes that in her experience, “Community is thought about differently in the universities of larger and smaller cities” (369).

Sources with and without page numbers

When you cite pages from a paginated work, use the same style of numerals as the source --whether it is roman numerals, arabic, alphanumeric, or another type.  A comma is not used in MLA parenthetic citation.

  • Do not use "p" or "pp" in the in-text citation, but include it in the works cited
  • If a work is only one page, no page number is included for the in-text citation, although it will be noted in the works cited
  • If your quotation spans two pages, include the page span in your parenthetical citation.


(Smithe xi-xii)

(Warnar 622)

(Hitchings A2)

Some sources do not have page numbers, but instead have paragraph numbers that you can use for your parenthetical citation. If your source uses explicit paragraph numbers rather than page numbers, give the relevant number or numbers, preceded by the label par. or pars. Change the label appropriately if another kind of part is numbered in the source, such as section (sec., secs.) chapters (ch., chs.) or lines (line, lines).

In-text citation:

Maya Angelou uses a caged bird as symbolism of slavery in her poem “Caged Bird”, writing that “the caged bird sings of freedom” (lines 21-22).

Works cited entry:

Angelou, Maya. “Caged Bird.” The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, 1st ed, Random House, 1994.

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, for help with clarity about how to find the citation within your works cited.

For more information about in-text citations, see Chapter 6 of the Handbook.

Long quotes/block quotes

Sometimes you might want to quote a large chunk of text. Here is what you need to know:

  • A quotation that runs more than four lines in your prose should be set off from the text as a block, indented half an inch from the left margin (254).
  • Do not indent the first line an extra amount or add quotation marks that weren’t present in the source (254).
  • The prose you use to introduce your citation should end with a colon, unless it makes sense grammatically to use different punctuation (or none at all, as when the quotation is integrated with your introducing sentence) (254).
  • The block quote will end with a parenthetical citation, and the punctuation in this case will come before the parentheses.

Example using a colon:

Diamond writes of credentials and gender for applicants into music programs at York University:

York did not require the credentials (from Conservatories for the most part) that validated applicants at most other universities. No particular certificates of training were required to get into the programs there, just a really good audition in whatever style or genre of music the applicant had mastered. At one point, I raised issues about the gender complement at York. Applicants were asked about improvisation experience, but faculty rarely noticed that very few female applicants had been encouraged to improvise. (371)

Example where the quote is integrated into the prose:

On the topic of diversity, Diamond concludes that

universities relate differently to the communities they serve and to the issues of the day. It’s easier to be part of community in smaller places. I personally have liked that aspect of both Queen’s University and Memorial University. Interaction with musicians of many styles and genres of music is easier in smaller cities and one’s circle of friends tends to be diverse. Audiences are more diverse in smaller cities and often both loyal and large since there are fewer competing arts organizations. (373)

Italics and quotation marks

These are the general rules for your prose, parenthetical citations, and works cited:

  • Italicize the titles of: 
    • long-form works (e.g. novels, movies, plays, newspapers, radio programs)
    • works that contain other works (e.g. journals, anthologies, television series, websites, music albums, apps, art exhibits)
  • Use quotation marks for the titles of: 
    • short-form works (e.g. poems, songs, short stories)
    • works contained in other works (e.g. a journal article, a book chapter, an episode of a TV show or podcast) 

Visual artworks are an exception to this general rule: italicize names of photos, sculptures, and drawings (68).

Please see the MLA Style Centre's page on citing an artwork from an exhibition for an example; notice how both the name of the work and exhibit are italicized.

Principles of inclusive language

Chapter 3 in the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook is a new chapter on inclusive language. Included are principles to consider, intended to help writers choose inclusive language with regard to race and ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age, and economic or social status (89).

The following topics about how to write inclusively are expanded on in the Handbook on pages 89-93:

[3.1] Make reference to identity relevant
[3.2] Be precise
[3.3] Choose terms of identity that respect your subject
[3.4] Be thoughtful about capitalization and styling
[3.5] Minimize pronouns that exclude
[3.6] Avoid negatively judging others’ experiences
[3.7] Use a dictionary to check for offensive terms

SFU’s Student Learning Commons (SLC) also has resources that can be helpful when thinking about inclusive and anti-racist writing. “Inclusive writing means paying attention to the ways that language can be, and has been, used to exclude people or groups of people. Exclusive language is often used unintentionally, out of both habit and assumption. So, if you want to write in an inclusive way, you have to intentionally think about the perspectives, peoples, and groups that might be excluded and even harmed through careless word choice” (“Inclusive and antiracist writing overview”).

Other formatting elements

See the MLA Handbook for additional formatting notes on the following:

  • Tables and Illustrations [1.7]
  • Lists [1.8]
  • Paper and Printing [1.13]
  • Proofreading and Spellcheckers [1.14]
  • Electronic Submission [1.16]