How to Cite Your Essay in MLA Format


mla essay format

What is MLA?

MLA stands for the Modern Language Association, an organization that was founded in 1883 with the purpose of strengthening the study of languages and literatures.  The MLA hosts an annual convention with the purpose of discussing languages and maintains a humanities publishing program to promote the distribution of humanities works.

One of the purposes of the MLA is to improve the quality of language and literature as it pertains to the humanities.  To do this, MLA has promulgated a writing style known as MLA Style.  In a series of handbooks geared towards writers, MLA has established uniform style guidelines reflecting the norms of each era and incorporating changes in publishing.

The current format of the MLA Handbook is the 8th Edition.  Referred to as MLA 8, this 2016 update to MLA style was actually a major overhaul of the MLA style, especially in terms of how sources should be cited and documented.  Because of the internet, publication types are changing faster than they ever have in the past.  Rather than keeping several different citation formats, MLA 8 hoped to address these changes by recommending a single set of guidelines that writers could apply to any type of source.

By reading this article you will learn the proper MLA essay format and how to use it when writing.

MLA Basic Format

Many students wonder about very basic things about MLA format.  Common questions include spacing, margins, and indents.  Unless otherwise instructed, every paper in MLA format should be:

  1. On standard 8 ½” x 11” inch paper.
  2. On white paper.
  3. With one-inch margins.
  4. With the beginning of each paragraph indented one-half inch.
  5. In a 12-point font.
  6. In an easy-to-read font (usually a Serif-type font, with Times New Roman being the default font).
  7. Double-spaced.
  8. With one space after all punctuation marks, including periods at the end of sentences.

MLA Core Elements

The major change that most writers noticed is that MLA shifted from focusing on things that were different from source-to-source to things that were common among most sources.  MLA refers to these things as MLA Core Elements.  The Core Elements are presented in the same order, regardless of what type of source you are documenting.  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

Because these core elements will be used in every entry in a works cited list, sources are not treated differently.  However, not every source will have every element.  Therefore, we will include examples of how to cite each source.

In-Text Citations

While MLA 8 radically changed its approach to the how to document and cite sources in a bibliography list, it kept the same approach to its in-text citations.  The basic approach to in-text citations is the author-page style.  This is exemplified by (Last xx), which Last signifying the author’s last name and the xx signifying the page number.  However, there are other ways to correctly use the author-page citation format.

Longer citations are separated from the text in what is known as block-quotes.  Though these are double-spaced, they are indented on every line.

Examples

Although MLA 8 takes the same approach to all sources, many students still find themselves confused by how to correctly cite and use sources when writing a paper in MLA format.  Therefore, we are including examples of the most commonly used types of sources, how to include them in your works cited page, and how to use them in in-text citations.

Simple Book Format

Last Name, First Name.  Title of Book.  Publisher, Publication Date.

Works Cited Entry:

Stoker, Bram.  Dracula: A Mystery Story. W.R. Caldwell & Co., 1897.

In-text Citation:

“Having had some time at my disposal when in London, I had visited the British Museum and made search among the books and maps in the library regarding Transylvania” (Stoker 1).

Block quotation:

At the beginning of Dracula, Stoker immediately lets the reader know that his protagonist, Jonathan Harker, will be visiting Transylvania:

Having had some time at my disposal when in London, I had visited the British Museum and made search among the books and maps in the library regarding Transylvania; it had struck me that some foreknowledge of the country could hardly fail to have some importance in dealing with a nobleman of that country.  I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia, and Bukovinia, in the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe.  (1-2)

Book with Multiple Authors

The authors are named in the order they are presented in the book’s cover, not alphabetical order.

Last Name, First Name and First Name Last Name.  Title. Publisher, Year of Publication.

Works Cited Entry:

Pratchett, Terry and Neil Gaiman.  Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes

            Nutter, Witch.  Harpertorch, 2006.

In-Text Citation:

One of the most interesting aspects of Good Omens is how the authors approach the idea of God.  For example, Pratchett and Gaiman describe God as playing games with the universe in a way that suggests more of a cruel indifference than actual malice (14).

Books with No Author

Sometimes there is no individual author for a book.  Instead, it is written by an organization, corporation, or other group author.  You use the same format for them that you do for single author books:

Name of Organization.  Title.  Publisher, Year.

The in-text citation format would be: (Name of Organization x)

Frequently, organizations act as their own publishers.  In this case, the author name and the Publisher will be the same.  The correct format then becomes:

Title.  Publisher, Year.

The in-text citation format would be: (Title x)

Translated or Edited Books with Authors

Last, First.  Title.  Translated by First Last, Year of First Publication, Publisher, Year of

Translated Publication.

Works Cited Entry:

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia.  100 Years of Solitude.  Translated by Gregory Rabassa, 1970, Harper

Collins, 2003.

However, and this is an important thing to note, sometimes you may want to emphasize the role that the editor or translator played.  To do that, you will actually list them instead of the author:

Last, First, editor.  Title.  By First Last, Year of First Publication, Publisher, Year of Edited

Publication.

Works Cited Entry:

Rabassa, Gregory, translator.  100 Years of Solitude.  By Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1970, Harper

Collins, 2003.

In-text Citations:

“On the first contact the bones of the girl seemed to become disjointed with a disorderly crunch like the sound of a box of dominoes” (Marquez 33).

OR

Rabassa’s unique word often serves to make the story more vivid, like when he describes the “disorderly crunch” of a girl’s bones (Rabassa 33).

E-Readers

Books accessed through Kindle or Nook are cited like books, but with the version (Kindle or Nook) shown in their citation:

Last, First.  Title of Book.  Version. Publisher, Publication Date

Kindle:

Last, First.  Title of Book.  Kindle Edition. Publisher, Publication Date.

Nook:

Last, First.  Title of Book.  Nook Edition. Publisher, Publication Date

You do not have to include any page information or line number information for these citations, but you can include chapters and paragraphs if you want to make it easier for your reader to find that information.

Example: (Smith ch.4, para. 5)

Basic MLA website citation format

Author Last, Author First.  Title.  Title of Website, Other contributors, Version or Edition,

Volume, Number, Publisher, Publication Date, Pages or Paragraphs, URL or doi,

Accessed Day Month Year.

Works Cited Entry:

Chemaly, Soraya.  “50 Actual Facts About Rape.”  Huffington Post, 8 December 2014,

huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/50-facts-rape_b_2019338.html

Accessed 19 May 2017.

In-Text Citation:

“Remember facts about rape?  Because it turns out that a whole lot of people know less than nothing about the subject” (Chemaly).

Online Encyclopedias

In many online encyclopedias, there is no author information.  Therefore, the article name takes the place of the author name.  The generic format is:

Article name.  (Date).  In Encylopedia name.  Retrieved from URL

Works Cited Entry:

William Shakespeare.  Wikipedia, 9 May 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare,

Accessed 19 May 2017.

In-Text Citation:

Shakespeare’s “plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright” (“William Shakespeare”).

Article from an Online Periodical (Magazine or Non-Scholarly Journal)

Last, First.  “Article Name.”  Periodical Name, vol., no., year of publication, URL.

Accessed Day Month Year.

Works Cited Entry:

Scherer, Michael and Alex Altman, A.  “Trump’s Loyalty Test.”   Time Magazine, 189 (20), 29

May 2017.  time.com/4783929/president-trump-loyalty-test/?xid=homepage&pcd=hp-

magmod.  Accessed 19 May 2017.

In-Text Citation:

“The West Wing’s thick walls, even with the TV turned up, cannot muffle the sounds of staffers shouting behind closed doors” (Scherer and Altman).

Note that there are no page numbers included in this citation because the entire article is on a single page, which can be found at the URL listed in the Works Cited List.  If the article had required moving to additional pages to read, the web page number would have been included in the in-text citation.

Article from an Online Scholarly Journal

The general format for an online-only scholarly journal is:

Last, First.  “Article Name.”  Journal Name, vol., no., year of publication, URL or doi.

Accessed Day Month Year.

Works Cited Citation:

Yardimci, Veysi and Aytul Yardimci.  “An Unusual First Manifestation of Hodgkin Lymphoma:

Epitrochlear Lymph Node Involvement- A Case Report and Brief Review of Literature.

Journal of Investigative Medicine: High Impact Case Reports, 5, 2,

  1.  10.1177/2324709617706709.  Accessed 19 May 2017.

In-text Citation:

Yardimci and Yardimci noted that “in the histopathological examination of the bone marrow biopsy, no finding in favor of lymphoma was detected” (Yardimci and Yardimci).

This direct citation would have included a page number if the article was paginated, but because it was an e-version of the document, available before a print version, there were no page numbers.

Scholarly Journal with No DOI

Last, First.  “Article Name.”  Journal Name, vol., no., year of publication, pp. xxx-xxx, URL.

Accessed Day Month Year.

Works Cited Entry:

Kovan, Martin.  “Capital Punishment: A Buddhist Critique.  Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 24.

blogs.dickinson.edu/buddhistethics/files/2017/03/Kovan-Capital-Punishment-final-4.pdf.

Accessed 19 May 2017.

In-text Citation:
According to Kovan (2017), “Capital punishment is irreversible and so requires a degree and kind of justification not necessary for non-lethal punishment” (64).

Newspaper Articles

Last, First.  “Article Name.”  Newspaper Name, Day Month Year, URL.

Accessed Day Month Year.

Works Cited Entry:

Takahashi, Julie.  “Judge Dismisses Ahmed Mohamed ‘Clock Boy’ Suit Against

Irving ISD.”  Houston Chronicle, 19 May 2017,  www.chron.com/news/houston-

texas/article/Judge-dismisses-Ahmed-Mohamed-Clock-Boy-suit-11159334.php.

Accessed 19 May 2017.

In-text Citation:

“On Thursday, the U.S. District Judge granted Irving and Irving ISD’s motions to dismiss the Mohamed family’s lawsuit, saying there was no evidence Ahmed faced religious or racial discrimination” (Takahashi).

General MLA Format for Films or Videos

MLA has a general format for films or videos, which applies to those viewed online and those not viewed online, though videos not viewed online would not include the URL.

Late name, First name of the creator.  “Title of the film or video.”  Title of the website, role of

contributors and their First name Last name, Version, Numbers, Publisher, Publication

date, URL. Accessed Day Month Year.

MLA format for films or videos found on a Database

If a film or video is found on a database such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or HBO Go, you want to include that information in the citation.

The proper citation for those sources is:

Late name, First name of the creator.  “Title of the film or video.”  Title of the website, role of

contributors and their First name Last name, Version, Numbers, Publisher, Publication

date,  Database name, URL.  Accessed Day Month Year.

How to cite a YouTube video in MLA format

Late name, First name of the creator.  “Title of the film or video.”  YouTube, uploaded by

username, date of upload, URL.  Accessed Day Month Year.

Works Cited Entry:

“We Won the Game: Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds #2 w/Robin.” YouTube, uploaded by

Jack Septic Eye, 15 May 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIdx2NCzlyI. Accessed 19

May 2017.

In-text Citation:

Popular YouTube personality Jack Septic Eye opens up his video with a consistent phrase and a recap of what happened on his last episode (“We Won the Game”).

Motion Pictures

Title of Movie.  Directed by Director First and Last, Performances by First and Last Name(s),

Studio, Year of Release.

To highlight a specific part of the film (director, actor, producer, etc.), begin with that person:

Last, First, role.  Title of Movie.  Studio, Year of Release.

Works Cited Entry:

The Princess Bride, Directed by Rob Reiner, Performances by Cary Elwes, Robin Wright,

Mandy Patinkin, and Chris Sarandon, Act III Communications, 1987.

Alternate Works Cited Entrees:

Lear, Norman, producer.  The Princess Bride, Act III Communications, 1987.

Reiner, Rob, director.  The Princess Bride, Act III Communications, 1987.

Elwes, Cary, actor.  The Princess Bride, Act III Communications, 1987.

With motion pictures, the format of your in-text citation is going to depend on how you chose to include the movie in your works cited page.

Conclusion

While MLA 8’s departure from prior MLA manual style initially intimidated many students who were familiar with MLA 7, it actually represents a vast improvement over earlier styles.  Instead of having to master new formats for each type of source, writers need only master the MLA Core Elements and writing basics to ensure a paper that complies with current writing standards.

You should now be a professional at properly citing your essay in MLA format.  Get started now, and let us know if you have any questions.

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