The Danforth Library has a wealth of information on its web pages about how to use MLA and other documentation systems when quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing source information in a paper. Under “Research Tools,” it provides links to Citation Generators such as EasyBib and RefWorks, among other resources, and many of the library databases will create Works Cited entries for you. So why learn to do it yourself?
Because Citation Generators don’t always get it right. They may create an entry with no author, or miss other information on the source. Or up comes the APA or Chicago Manual of Style form of citing the document, because your finger slipped and you inadvertently chose the wrong documentation system. Having some knowledge of what Works Cited entries, and in-text citations look like will help to spot, and fix, the citations that aren’t quite right.
MLA style was updated in 2016 (Eighth Edition); whether you used it before then, or you’re completely new to MLA, it can be daunting to pull up the Formatting and Style Guide on the Purdue OWL website
It needn’t be. In some ways, the new MLA style is easier to manage than previous ones.The main difference is that now the Works Cited page entries are created based on a list of core elements, not on the source’s publication format, so there is no longer a need to scroll through long lists of instructions on how to create an entry for a book, magazine, newspaper, scholarly journal, Web page, or articles retrieved from databases, etc. Examples of how those formats should look are still available in the latest MLA Handbook, on the Purdue OWL site, and in
college texts, but to write the entry one need not find the exact example; just follow the format. As to creating in-text citations, that hasn’t changed; I’ll explain that below.
Creating a Works Cited Page
Let’s start here. A Works Cited page appears at the end of the paper, so it may seem counter intuitive to create it before finishing the writing. But to produce in-text citations while incorporating source information in a paper, one needs to know what first appears in the Works Cited entry of the source being used. Having those entries in proper format (not a list of URLs) will show what to put in the in-text citations. Following are the necessary core elements, in order, with the exact punctuation for a Works Cited entry. Not all elements will be found in every source.
There are different formats for one author, two authors, or three or more authors.
When there’s no author or editor listed, begin the entry with the source title.
2. Title of source.
The title is listed in italics or quotation marks, depending on the type of source.
3. Title of container,
“Containers” are the larger wholes that “contain” the source, such as periodicals that
contain articles, or websites that contain different sections.
4. Other contributors,
(Such as editors, illustrators, translators, etc.).
If the source is a particular version, or edition, that needs to be included.
If the source is part of a numbered sequence, the volume and/or issue numbers must be included in the citation.
The publisher of the work is listed next (with a few exceptions).
8. Publication date,
This follows. (See Purdue OWL for how to handle sources published on more than
In a printed source, the “location” is the pages where it is found, and should be listed as “pp.” before the page numbers. An online source’s location is the URL. Also, Works Cited entries are listed in alphabetical order, with the first line aligned left to the page, and all following lines indented.
Creating In-Text Citations
In-text, or parenthetical, citations are brief references within a paper that indicate the sources used. They are keyed to the Works Cited list. Any ideas that have not come out of your head need to be properly attributed to their sources, whether presented as summaries, paraphrases, or direct quotations. Generally, a citation will be the author’s last name, and the page number. If you’ve used the author’s name in the sentence where the reference appears (a signal phrase), then only the page number is needed.
For a reference from a document with no author, use the source title (if short), or a shortened version, for the citation.
For a reference from an electronic or Internet source, use “the first item that appears in the Works Cited entry . . . (e.g. author name, article name, website name, film name)” (Purdue OWL). Page numbers for internet sources are no longer necessary in citations. URLs should not be included, except partial ones, when the name of a site includes a domain name, like CNN.com or Forbes.com.
More information about MLA documentation style is available in the MLA Handbook, Eighth Edition; at the Purdue OWL website; and on the Danforth Library Webpage. Further explanation, and help handling MLA (or other documentation styles), is available at the Pathways Tutoring Center.