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MLA: How to Build a Citation

Learn how to create a paper and source citations in MLA style.

Guidelines for Building a Citation - MLA

Numbers in parentheses refer to specific pages in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition.

Each entry in your Works Cited should contain the relevant "core elements" (p. 20) for that source.  In order for the system to remain flexible, it is less about choosing the right citation based on the format (e.g. book, website) and more about creating a citation based on the information elements available for the source. According to MLA, the core elements are:

  1. Author.
  2. Title of source.
  3. Title of container,
  4. Other contributors,
  5. Version,
  6. Number,
  7. Publisher,
  8. Publication date,
  9. Location.

MLA also mentions several optional elements, including original date of publication and date of access. If you think your citation should include one of these optional elements please consult the MLA Handbook, 8th edition, available at the Library Desk, or Ask Us!

Once you have identified and filled in each of the relevant core elements for your source, an entry on your Works Cited page will be formatted to look similar to this:

1. Author

Numbers in parentheses refer to specific pages in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. All examples are from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition.

Cite the author’s name with the surname first, followed by the rest of the name as it appears in the source (p. 21).  In some cases, the author will not be a person but an organization of some type instead, such as a government agency (p. 25).

Examples:
Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford UP, 2011.

United Nations. Consequences of Rapid Population Growth in Developing Countries. Taylor and Francis, 1991.

If the Works Cited list includes two or more entries by the same author(s), give the author(s) name(s) in the first entry only. In subsequent entries, use three hyphens in place of the names, followed by a period and the title. Arrange the works in alphabetical order by title (pp. 113-14).

Examples:
Borroff, Marie. Language and the Poet: Verbal Artistry in Frost, Stevens, and Moore. U of Chicago P, 1979.

---. "Sound Symbolism as Drama in the Poetry of Robert Frost." PMLA, vol. 107, no. 1, Jan. 1992, pp. 131-44. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/462806.

To cite a source with two authors, give their names in the same order as listed in the source. Reverse only the name of the first author, add a comma, and give the other name in normal form. Place a period after the last name (p. 21). To cite a source with three or more authors, name only the first author followed by et al. (p. 22).

Examples:
Burdick, Anne, et al. Digital_Humanities. MIT P, 2012.

Dorris, Michael, and Louise Erdrich. The Crown of Columbus. HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

If there is no author, begin the entry with the title (p. 24).

In a reference to an edited book, insert the editor's name in place of the author's name, followed by a comma and the word "editor" (without the quotation marks) (p. 23).

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2. Title of Source

Numbers in parentheses refer to specific pages in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. All examples are from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition.

Titles should appear exactly as they appear in the source, other than capitalization (p. 25). Capitalize the first, the last, and all principal words in a title and subtitle (pp. 67-68). Italicize the title of larger, self-contained works such as books and periodicals (pp. 25-26, 68-69).

Example:
Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford UP, 2011.

For the titles of works contained within larger works, such as articles within a periodical, chapters within a book, etc., use quotation marks (pp. 25-29, 68-69).

Example:
Goldman, Anne. "Questions of Transport: Reading Primo Levi Reading Dante." The Georgia Review, vol. 64, no. 1, 2010, pp. 69-88.

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3. Title of Container

Numbers in parentheses refer to specific pages in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. All examples are from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition.

When a source is part of a larger work, MLA refers to the larger work as the source's "container." A container could be a book that is a collection of shorter works, a journal or magazine, a TV series, or a website. Italicize the title of the container and follow it with a comma (p. 30).

Example:
Bazin, Patrick. "Toward Metareading." The Future of the Book, edited by Geoffrey Nunberg, U of California P, 1996, pp. 153-68.

Sources can have more than one container.  For instance, a journal article may be found within a database, or a TV series may be viewed on a platform like Hulu or Netflix. MLA recommends documenting all of the containers relevant to your source (pp. 31-36).

Examples:
Goldman, Anne. "Questions of Transport: Reading Primo Levi Reading Dante." The Georgia Review, vol. 64, no. 1, 2010, pp. 69-88. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41403188.

"Under the Gun." Pretty Little Liars, season 4, episode 6, ABC Family, 16 July 2013. Hulu, www.hulu.com/watch/511318.

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4. Other Contributors

Numbers in parentheses refer to specific pages in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. All examples are from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition.

People other than the author may have contributed to the creation of a source. Include the names of any such people after a description of their role (such as edited by or adapted by) (pp. 37-38).

Example:
Chartier, Roger. The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane, Stanford UP, 1994.

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5. Version

Numbers in parentheses refer to specific pages in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. All examples are from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition.

For an edition other than the first, identify the edition of your source by number (e.g. 2nd ed.), by name (e.g. Revised ed.), or by year (e.g. 2008 ed.) - whichever the source indicates (pp. 38-39).

Example:
Newcomb, Horace, editor. Television: The Critical View. 7th ed., Oxford UP, 2007.

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6. Number

Numbers in parentheses refer to specific pages in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. All examples are from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition.

For books that are part of a multi-volume set, include the volume number. For journals, include both the volume and issue number, if available (p. 39-40).

Examples:
Baron, Naomi S. "Redefining Reading: The Impact of Digital Communication Media." PMLA, vol. 128, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 193-200.

Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes. 2nd ed., vol. 2, Oxford UP, 2002.

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7. Publisher

Numbers in parentheses refer to specific pages in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. All examples are from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition.

For books, list the publisher’s name as it appears on the title page or copyright page.  For websites, check the copyright notice at the bottom of the home page or an "About" page (p. 41).

Examples:
Clancy, Kate. "Defensive Scholarly Writing and Science Communication." Context and Variation, Scientific American Blogs, 24 Apr. 2013, blogs.scientificamerican.com/context-and-variation/2013/04/24/defensive-scholarly-writing-and-science-communication/.

Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford UP, 2011.

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8. Publication Date

Numbers in parentheses refer to specific pages in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. All examples are from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition.

List the publication date as fully as you find it in the source. If there is more than one publication date, list the date of the version you are looking at or the edition you have used (p. 42-46).

Examples:
Belton, John. "Painting by the Numbers: The Digital Intermediate." Film Quarterly, vol. 61, no. 3, Spring 2008, pp. 58-65.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage Books, 1995.

Hollmichael, Stefanie. "The Reading Brain: Differences between Digital and Print." So Many Books, 25 Apr. 2013, somanybooksblog.com/2013/04/25/the-reading-brain-differences-between-digital-and-print/.

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9. Location

Numbers in parentheses refer to specific pages in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition. All examples are from the MLA Handbook, 8th edition.

For print sources, use a page number or page number range to identify the location of a source within its container (p. 46). For online works use the DOI (preferred) or URL (p. 48).

Examples:
Baron, Naomi S. "Redefining Reading: The Impact of Digital Communication Media." PMLA, vol. 128, no 1., Jan. 2013, pp. 193-200.

Chan, Evans. "Postmodernism and Hong Kong Cinema," Postmodern Culture, vol. 10, no. 3, May 2000. Project Muse, doi:10.1353/pmc.2000.0021

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