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The Complete MLA Citation Guide

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The Modern Language Association citation style is a popular referencing format. Mostly used in humanities, it formats in-text citations using parentheses. And a separate works-cited page lists all the sources referenced. Like all its counterparts, MLA citations ensure validity and credibility and prevent plagiarism.

Wish to learn more about it? Give this article a thorough read for a precisely detailed overview of the MLA referencing style.

What You Need to Know When Using the MLA Style?

The MLA style appears in diverse write-ups across several domains. It is currently in its ninth edition, which came out in 2021. The ninth edition avoids rigid rules and presents flexible guiding principles instead. Current instructions are universally applicable as they follow the document process and structure. This allows easy citing once one learns all the rules.

Citations can take up a lot of time. The best way to speed them up is to be proactive and note all vital metadata early. As you shortlist the best sources for your task, list core data like à 

  • Author Names.
  • Source Titles.
  • Title of the Container,
  • Publication Date,
  • Publisher Name,
  • Version Number,
  • ISDN Number [where applicable],
  • Location.
  • Specific Page Number(s) [for intext citations]

 Note the punctuation marks after every element. The same marks find a place in the reference list entries. As for in-text citations in MLA, they come in parenthetical and narrative formats. In both cases, you need to mention the surname of the first writer and the page number referenced.

Now, we know citations help counter plagiarism. They also boost a document’s overall credibility. But what is so special about the MLA style? Why is it the chosen format in arts and humanities?

The next section clarifies.

Why Use the MLA Citation Format?

The Modern Language Association is the foremost association of language and literature professionals in the USA. It has more than 25000 members from 100+ countries. Scholars, researchers, professors, graduates & post-graduates contribute to the domain through research, discussions, conventions, and the like.

The prestige of this professional organization, alongside its undertakings, and achievements, make it highly influential worldwide. The formatting., structure, and presentation in MLA papers and journals have become global standards in the domain—no wonder the MLA paper formatting and referencing styles are popular across colleges and universities worldwide.

Certain features make the MLA style easy to use and highly effective.

  • The guidelines lay out standard rules and format. This ensures consistency across all documents that use the MLA format.
  • Following a specific citation and formatting style ensures uniformity in appearance. It supplies a common template, making it easy for anyone, student, or researcher, to follow everything.
  • Language, comparative literature, history, archaeology, social sciences, law, philosophy, arts, music, etc.— the MLA style is usable in any humanities discipline.

You can use it for citation in an essay, a thesis, or even a presentation. There is no limit to the kind of task for which it can be used.

Now, let us take a deep dive into the in-text citation rules.

Rules & Tips for In-Text Citations

For any style, in-text citations need to be clear and simple. They must not be hard to read but direct readers toward the right sources. In-text tags point readers to the correct works cited entry. Thus, they must contain the first elements in the entries. For the MLA style, they are the first author’s surname. Page numbers are the other vital part.

So, how to write in-text citations in MLA?

MLA in-text citations come in two forms- parenthetical and narrative. Parenthetical tags come enclosed in parentheses. And, if you used the author’s name in a sentence, that is a narrative citation. Below are some examples à

Narrative: Nick Caboose, a post-grad researcher, uncovered new data through his studies.

Parenthetical: A post-graduate researcher uncovered new data through his studies. (Caboose)

Works Cited: Caboose Nick. “Unearthing hidden data: Case of the Evaporating Black Hole” UCLA, vol. 125, no. 2, Feb 2014, pp. 139-200

  • As mentioned, page numbers can be mentioned optionally. Add page numbers if you wish to point readers to a specific portion. Include page numbers if you quote or paraphrase from a source.
  • You can also add line numbers or time stamps per the source’s nature.
  • The title of the source can also appear in in-text citations. However, the key is to keep things concise. Do not add the author’s surname and/or title in the prose and the parentheses.
  • Add only the author’s surname in parentheses. You can use the full name in prose.
  • If you use the name in the text, there is no need to mention it In the citation bracket.
  • Shorten source titles when using parenthetical citations.
  • If you add a chapter, section, or line number, you should mention so. No need to mention the page when adding page numbers. Use abbreviations in parentheses.

Now, let’s look at how to write in-text citations for different sources and situations.

  • What is the correct format for parenthetical citations for a magazine or journal article? Parenthetical citations appear at the end of the sentence for any printed source. However, this rule is not set in stone.
  • If you have more than one quotation from different pages/sections of a source, place page numbers in parentheses after each.

You can do so even if there is just a single quotation.

  • You can also present all citations for quotes from a lone source in one bracket. Just make sure everything is clear.
  • If you use ideas from just one source in a paragraph, there’s no need to mention the author’s name more than once. Just add specific page numbers near quotes and paraphrases.

You can also place a single parenthesis at the end of the paragraph with respective page numbers.

  • Remember to mention sources time and again for clarity. This is necessary if you are presenting your ideas and ideas from sources.
  •  Need to use more than one source using MLA citations in an essay? Make sure to e mention all sources in parentheses. Separate each using semicolons. You can arrange them in any order.
  • “How do I cite a website using MLA in an essay?” MLA website in-text citations are like that of any other source. Mention the author’s surname in parenthesis at the site of reference. If there is no author, mention the first word of the title of the website content.

Add the section’s title after the surname or primary title to specify a specific web page section.  

  • How to cite a blog using MLA in-text citations? Again, it is just like citing any other print or electronic source. For blog posts, the author’s surname is the in-text citation.

Blogs do not have any page numbers, sections, or headings. Add them as per the rules of printed sources if necessary.

  • Do you know how to cite secondary sources in MLA?

Though it is best to add primary data, sometimes there is no choice. If so, you need to cite the source through the secondary source. Here is an example à

Jones (qtd. in Smith 89) stated that the research could not confirm the proposed hypothesis.


Jones stated that “despite multiple attempts, the research was unable to confirm the hypothesis proposed” (qtd. In Smith 89).

  • How will you cite different works by the same author? How to cite different works by the same group of authors?

In such cases, there is no need to mention author names repeatedly. Mention the different source names. Add page, section, etc., numbers if needed.

  • “Does MLA require the date accessed for a source?”  Well, the MLA format does not require it. You can add the date if you want. But, do so only for online sources. Mention the date you visited a website, especially when there’s no publication date.

Add in the DD/MM/YY format at the end of the entry in the works cited section. If there is no date anywhere, leave it.

  • Citation rules for short and long quotes are different in MLA.

For the short ones, enclose the quote within quotation marks. Then cite the source at the end.

For long quotes, use the block format. Indent all lines of the block quote by half an inch. Do not enclose block quotes within marks. Use citations in brackets after the block quote.

  • You will have to cite even if you are paraphrasing.
  • Want to know how to do MLA citations in the essay? There are no special rules for essays.

Wondering how to do MLA citations in the essay? Here’s an example:

(Author Surname, Page number).

And, for the works cited entry:

Last, First M. “Essay Title.” Container Title, edited by First M. Last, Publisher, year published, page numbers. Website Title, URL (if applicable).

  • Feeling scared when citing a sacred text? Add the title in the text. Then, add the chapter and verse at the end in brackets. Shorten chapter and verse names in the brackets.
  • When working with a dictionary or encyclopedia, use the tile in the text. If not, then add it in the brackets. Adding the author’s name/s is a must.
  • If there are no page numbers, use only the author’s name.
  • If the article is just a single page, there is no need to add page number/s.
  • When citing poetry, make sure to add line numbers with page numbers. And, if you are quoting lines from poems, end each line with space-/-space.

Now let us look at the works cited section.

Designing The Works Cited Section

Creating the works cited list is not that hard. Accuracy and completeness are vital. Add complete data about a source to aid readers. Below are the key parts of the entries.

  • Author,
  • “Title of Source”/ Title of Source.
  • Title of Container (Book, Journal, Magazine, etc.),
  • Other Contributors,
  • Version,
  • Number,
  • Publisher,
  • Publication Date,
  • Location.
  • Optional (Access Date).

Notice the punctuation and the formatting above. Follow them when writing the entries. As for designing the page, here are some tips.

  • Start the works cited section on a new page at the end.
  • Include only the sources you refer to.
  • The title “Works Cited” should be at the centre of the top.
  • Double-space all words.
  • Left justify the first line of each entry. Use half-inch indent for all the next lines.
  • List all entries alphabetically. Ignore ‘A,’ ‘An,’ and ‘The.’
  • For more than one work by the same writer, include the name only in the first entry. Use three hyphens in place of the name for the rest.
  • Add active links to sources.
  • Begin entries by author surnames.
  • Use et al. for three or more authors.
  • Capitalize every major word of the title and end with a period.
  • Title: Subtitle – follow this format in case there’s a subtitle.
  • Italicize the title if the source is stand-alone. Put the title in quotation if the source is a chapter, content, or article. (Part of a large work)
  • Italicize the larger body of work.
  • If there are other contributors, add a ‘by’ before their name and mention their role. Use ‘et al.’ if there are more.
  • Add version or edition numbers if present.
  • Omit business words when mentioning the publisher.
  • No need to mention the publisher if there is no data. Also, no need to mention if the source is a periodical or from a social media website.
  • Give the publication date in DD/MM/YY format. Add publication time if found.
  • Location is NOT the place of publication. Add page numbers, URL, DOI, etc. Add physical location only if present, and there are no other data.
  • Use p. for a single page and pp. for multiple pages.
  • Always mention URL and DOI for websites and online journals.
  • Give the access date for websites and web content. But do so only if there is no publishing date.
  • Add the date of the original publication of every source.

Some Pointers On The MLA Style

The MLA, or Modern Language Association, is another commonly used and highly flexible referencing/bibliographic citation style in academics, especially in the humanities domain. It uses the author-page system for in-text citations and requires a works cited section at the end.

  • Like the APA style, if you have used the author’s name in the narrative, you only need to add the page numbers in parentheses wherever there’s a natural pause in the text.
  • If the author’s name has not been used in the text, add the name and the page number in parentheses at the end of a sentence.
  • Quotes that are fewer than 4 lines must be enclosed within double quotations. And the page number of the respective quotations must be added in parentheses right after the quotes.
  • Place quotations in a separate indented block without quotation marks if they are more than 4 lines.
  • If you use more than one source in a section, mention them in parentheses and separate the author names-page numbers with a semicolon.
  • If only the source’s title is present, use it to refer to the text. Omit subtitles and abbreviate the title if you are referring to it frequently if the title’s not in parentheses.

If placed in parentheses, then abbreviate only in the first instance.

  • The Works Cited section can also be named a bibliography or reference list.  
    • All entries must be arranged alphabetically by the author’s surname or by title if there’s no author.
    • References that are longer than one line must be indented from the second line onwards.
    • Book and journal titles, alongside all independent sources, must be italicized.
    • Article and chapter titles should be placed within quotations but not italicized.
    • All major words in a title MUST be capitalized.
    • Do not omit articles from the title but do not consider them when arranging entries alphabetically.

Quick Notes on the Harvard Referencing Style

The Harvard citation style is yet another popular referencing format in academic writing. Like the APA style, it also follows the author-date style.  

  • The rules of the Harvard style are quite similar to those of the APA style.

If not, you can use the author’s name in the narrative or add it with the year of publication in parentheses. If you used the name in the narrative, remember to add the year in parentheses when there’s a natural break.

Add page numbers to in-text citations for better referencing.

  • The rules remain the same when it comes to small or block quotations.
  • And again, the rules remain the same for the referencing list.
    • Single space between references with no indentation
    • Book, journal, and video titles must be italicized.
    • Put chapter or section titles in quotations.
    • The rules of capitalization are the same as that of the APA style.

Well, that’s all the space we have for this article. Hope it was informative enough. Try to be thorough with the rules of these three major referencing styles. And, if need be, ask professional assignment help tutors for aid.

Hi, I am Mark, a Literature writer by profession. Fueled by a lifelong passion for Literature, story, and creative expression, I went on to get a PhD in creative writing. Over all these years, my passion has helped me manage a publication of my write ups in prominent websites and e-magazines. I have also been working part-time as a writing expert for for 5+ years now. It’s fun to guide students on academic write ups and bag those top grades like a pro. Apart from my professional life, I am a big-time foodie and travel enthusiast in my personal life. So, when I am not working, I am probably travelling places to try regional delicacies and sharing my experiences with people through my blog. 

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