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MLA Citation Style (8th ed.): MLA Style

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MLA Handout

MLA Handbook

MLA Style Overview

Use the MLA style when writing essays, papers, and documenting information sources in English courses, and the Liberal Arts and Humanities.  This edition of the MLA Handbook provides a universal set of guidelines for citing sources across all format types.

MLA is the acronym for the Modern Language Association.

Learn more about using MLA including a summary of the main changes between the previous edition and the new edition published in 2016 at MLA Modern Language Association.

MLA citation style consists of two parts:

  • a brief citation in the body of your work which points to a more detailed citation entry in the Works Cited list, minimizing reader distraction (p. 19)
  • a citation entry in a separate Works Cited list (p. 20)


MLA Handbook, 8th edition, requires writers to use a new scheme for the citation process. Writers are asked to consider containers and sources when creating citations.

"For example, a short story may be contained in an anthology. The short story is the source, and the anthology is the container (The MLA Style Center)."

Use this practice template available on the MLA Style Center website as you begin to format citations.

 For details on each citation element, refer to the following tab titled Formatting Basics.






Image Credit: The MLA Style Center. Works Cited: A Quick Guide. 2016.

CONTAINER normally appear in italics, followed by a comma because everything that comes after a container title - editor and other contributors, publisher name, date of publication, and page numbers - describes the container (30). Many MLA citations will include one or two discrete containers. 

SOURCE are a segment of a container. "Use quotation marks for the titles of sources that are contained in larger works. Follow a source with a period" (68). 

A container is WHERE you found your source, such as:

  • Compilations, such as books of essays, poems, or short stories
  • Newspapers, magazines, and academic journals
  • Websites (including online periodicals) 
  • Library databases and online book platforms

A source is PART of the containers, such as:

  • Pages on a web site
  • Books that are not compilations
  • Chapters, short stories, or poems in a book 
  • Newspaper, magazine, or journal articles
  • TV series episodes


The 8th edition of MLA introduces the concept of containers. For details, refer to the previous tab titled Containers and Sources. It can be challenging to identify the following core elements of each of your sources. Not every source you use lists an author, or volume, or page numbers. 

Do your best to identify the necessary elements of each of your sources. Not every source will have a listed author, a version, or other contributors. Be sure to list the elements in the correct order. If the information is not present, you will leave it out; however, be sure to list the elements of the citation in the correct order as listed below:

1. Author.
  • Listed the first author in this order: Lastname, Firstname.
  • List additional authors in this order:  Firstname Lastname.
  • When your source has more than three listed authors, list the first two followed by a comma and et. al. (e.g., Smith, Robert, and Joanna Mills, et. al.)
  • When you source is an edited work, place a comma after the editor's name followed by the word editor.
  • When using media sources and discussing a performer, writer, creator, or director, list the contributor upon whom you are focussing as the author followed y a comma and their role in the work.
  • When using sources from online social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) use the pseudonym, handle, or username listed on the source. When entering that work in your Works Cited place it in alphabetical order disregarding any special characters like the "@" symbol that might appear at the beginning of an author's name.
2. Title of Source.
  • Capitalize each word except for articles (e.g., the, an, or, of) except when the articles are the first word of the title or subtitle.
  • Place quotation marks around the title if they are part of a larger source (e.g., a journal article, chapter title, or a short story in a collection).
  • Italicize titles of larger or self-contained works (e.g., book titles, movie titles).
3. Title of Container,
  • A container refers to anthologies, collected works, journals, tv series, websites, etc. Sometimes one container sits inside another container. A journal article (source) appears in a journal (container) located in a library database (container). List subsequent containers after providing the details for the previous containers.
4. Other Contributors,
  • List others who contributed to a work only when they are central to your discussion, (e.g., adapted by, edited by, illustrated) followed by the contributor's name. List an editor or translator when available.
5. Version,
  • Types of versions include revised edition, unabridged version, director's cut. List versions when available.
6. Number,
  • Number refers to but not limited to the following: volume number, series, issue number, season, episode. Use the appropriate term to identify the meaning of the number.
7. Publisher,
  • The Publisher refers to the person or entity responsible for producing the content.
  • Do not list the publisher for periodicals (newspapers, magazines, journals), self-published works, a website with the same title as the publisher, works on a website not responsible for publishing the content (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo, Tumblr, Wordpress, Twitter, Facebook).
8. Publication Date,
  • The Publication Date is often the same as the copyright date; however, when more than one date is listed, choose the one that is most relevant to the source you used.
  • Check the physical book whenever possible rather than depending on information from another source or a commercial website like Amazon.
9. Location.
  • Most often Location refers to page number(s) written as p. or pp.
  • However, the Location might refer to a URL, or web address when your source is on the open web. Ask your instructor if they require it.
  • Use a stable or permalink for the URL (without the http://).
  • Use the DOI (digital object identifier) instead of a URL when available.
  • Location might refer to the physical location of the source (e.g., a disc or track number, museum, location of event, institution, or venue and city.

When formatting your research paper according to MLA style, use the following guidelines:

  • typed
  • double-space the entire document
  • indent first line of a paragraph 1/2"
  • standard-sized paper (8.5" x 11") 
  • 1" margins on all sides
  • 12 pt. Times New Roman font
  • no title page
  • student last name and page number at top right of every page inserted as running head
  • type 1" from top of page student full name, instructor name, course title and number, and date (dd, month, yyyy) positioned at left margin and double spaced on first page only, do not italicize
  • Do not italicize or underline title

Your MLA style paper is not required to have specific sections and headings but to follow a logical flow for presenting and supporting your arguments. More information on essay and paper elements are located in Chapter 2 of the MLA Handbook.

  • Mechanics of Scholarly Prose, pg.  61 - 97
  • Works Cited, pg. 102 - 115
  • In-Text Citations, pg. 116 - 127