The Modern Language Association publishes a style guide — now in its 9th edition — that helps academics uniformly format their projects and papers.
The Modern Language Association (MLA) style guide helps humanities students and scholars create consistent reference pages and in-text citations. Following this style makes reading, grading, and research easier and more effective. The guide lays out instructions for referencing various text types, including books, articles, periodicals, and websites.
To help familiarize students with the MLA style guide, this page examines some common types of texts and provides a simple MLA citation guide, plus examples of works cited pages and in-text citations.
What Is MLA Style?
Since its founding in 1883, the MLA has strived to improve the study and practice of languages, literature, and the humanities. Beginning in 1931, the MLA has produced a style guide with universal standards for citations, documentation, and scholarly prose within various humanities disciplines, making it easier for students, teachers, and researchers to record and track sources consistently.
Like most citation guides, the MLA style requires writers to record the origins of information in a particular way. MLA provides more specific references to passages and pages from texts than most style guides do, which is why most humanities disciplines employ the style.
How Does MLA Style Work?
MLA style offers guidelines for in-text citations and works cited pages, and it also offers writing advice on topics like plagiarism. When citing a text, writers need to record the name of the author, the title of the text, the publisher, and the date and page number.
Compared to other popular formats, MLA style more heavily emphasizes page numbers for specific information from the works cited. This allows for easier navigation and analysis of the original text.
By contrast, American Psychological Association (APA) style is typically used in the sciences and focuses more on the year published. In the humanities, the published date of a text is usually not as important as it is in scientific fields, so MLA style only includes it on the works cited page.
MLA Works Cited and In-Text Citations
New types of publications and sources of information are created regularly, and students can use MLA style to cite all of them. Rather than list all of the possible examples, the simple MLA citation guide below outlines some of the most common examples.
MLA Works Cited for a Book
Books in an MLA-style works cited page should adhere to the following format:
Last name, First name. Book Title. Publisher City (only if there is more than one location), Publisher, Date of Publication.
Shteyngart, Gary. Super Sad True Love Story. New York, Random House, 2010.
Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. Pantheon Books, 2000.
In-text citations need the author's last name and the page number of the cited text, formatted in parentheses after the quotation or paraphrase. If the author's name is referenced in the text itself, the parentheses can include only the page number.
The futuristic dating scene is filled with people "too busy looking at rankings" to gauge their interest levels through actual experiences (Shteyngart 92).
Danielewski illustrates the blending of senses by stating that "to hear an echo, regardless of whether eyes are open or closed, is to already have 'seen' a sizable space" (50).
MLA Works Cited for a Book Review
Book reviews in an MLA works cited page should follow this format:
Review author Last name, First name. "Review Title." Review of Text Title, by Author full name. Review Publication Title. Day Month Year, page number (if applicable).
Garrett-Scott, Shennette. "What Price Wholeness?" Review of From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, by William A. Darity, Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen. The New York Book Review. February 11, 2021, 19-21.
Schaub, Michael. "'Super Sad' And Satiric, Two Stories Of Doomed Love." Review of Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. NPR, 28 July 2010.
In-text citations of book reviews require the review author's last name and the page number of the cited text in parentheses following the reference. If the author's name is used in the text, the parentheses can include only the page number.
Garrett-Scott notes that Darity and Mullen's book comes at a "propitious" moment given current social and corporate attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, but admits she has only "guarded optimism" about whether meaningful conversation — and change — will take place (20).
In this not-so-distant future, "intelligence does indeed take a backseat to sexual desirability" (Schaub 45).
MLA Citation for a Chapter in a Book
Use the following format when citing a chapter in a book in an MLA works cited page:
Last name, First name. "Chapter Title." Book Title, edited by Editor's Name (if applicable), Publisher, Year, Page range of chapter.
Danielewski, Mark Z. "IV." House of Leaves. Pantheon Books, 2000, 24-40.
Larsen, Nella. "Quicksand." Classic Fiction of the Harlem Renaissance, edited by William L. Andrews, Oxford University Press, 1994, 258-362.
In-text citations for book chapters follow the same rules as book citations.
One exception to this rule is when the reference comes from a classic text with multiple versions. In this case, give the reader enough information to find cited material by offering the work's version, volume number, book, part, chapter, section, and/or page number.
Similar to the chapter with its extended footnotes and layers that extend the story, "The width of the house inside would appear to exceed the width of the house outside" (Danielewski 30).
Larsen expresses the duality of urban living, allowing Helga Crane to feel at home for the first time before eventually finding herself feeling "small and insignificant that in all the climbing massed city no one cared one whit about her" (283).
How To Cite an Online Article in MLA
An online article in an MLA works cited page needs to follow this format:
Author's Last name, First name. "Article Title." Online Publication Title, day month year, URL. Accessed day month year.
Beggs, Alex. "There's an Entire Industry Dedicated to Making Foods Crispy, and It Is WILD." Bon Appétit, 20 February 2020, https://www.bonappetit.com/story/crispy. Accessed 18 January 2021.
Yong, Ed. "The Last Giraffes on Earth." The Atlantic, 20 April 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/04/how-to-tackle-a-giraffe/606787/. Accessed 18 January 2021.
In-text MLA citations for online articles require the author's name — and page number, if applicable — to appear in parentheses following the quote or paraphrase. If the author's name is used in the text, include only the page number. If the author's name is used in the text but there is no page number for the attributed information, then there is no need to cite that source further.
The giraffe's variable lifestyle has caused it to go largely unstudied and misunderstood and, sadly, "the same goes for its impending extinction" (Wong).
The desire for crispiness has taken off in American cuisine evidenced by the fact that "crispy is by far the most frequent adjective used to describe texture" in restaurant menus across the country (Beggs).
How To Cite a Website in MLA
When including a website in a works cited page, follow this format:
Author or compiler (if applicable). Site Name. Version (if applicable), Site Sponsor or Publisher, creation data (if applicable), DOI or URL or permalink. Accessed day month year.
The Best Schools. Red Ventures, thebestschools.org/. Accessed 18 January 2021.
HGTV. The Discovery Family of Networks, hgtv.com/. Accessed 18 January 2021.
Collins, Billy. Poetry 180. Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/programs/poetry-and-literature/poet-laureate/poet-laureate-projects/poetry-180/. Accessed 25 January 2021.
When creating an in-text citation for a website, place the author or compiler's name, italicized, in parentheses following the quotation or paraphrase. If no name is available, use the site name.
Offering program and school details and rankings, the site provides students with a helpful resource during a challenging time (The Best Schools).
The site features giveaways, home design tips, and shopping resources (HGTV).
The Library of Congress has a website dedicated to disseminating the social power of poetry, noting, "Poems can inspire and make us think about what it means to be a member of the human race" (Collins).
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Cite Correctly?
Each type of text follows a specific format set by the MLA style guide. Students should collect all the necessary information about a resource during the research process and then follow the style guide for instructions about how to format that information in their work.
What Is the Easiest Citation Format?
Each citation format offers pros and cons, with each demonstrating strengths for certain fields. The MLA style guide offers a consistent and easy-to-follow structure that emphasizes page numbers, which is well suited to humanities disciplines.
Why Do We Use MLA Style?
MLA style emphasizes the text and location of the referenced material, making it easier for readers, teachers, and scholars to track how information is used and influenced over time.
Who Uses MLA Format?
The MLA format is primarily used by humanities students, teachers, and scholars, especially in disciplines like English, philosophy, and history.
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