MLA Style and Formatting Guide

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MLA Style and Formatting Guide

On December 20, 2017, Posted by , In MLA Citation, With No Comments

MLA (Modern Language Association) is the most common style for papers on humanities. We studied the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook, and wrote a guide for you, so you could know how to write citations (including in-text citations), according to MLA standards.

Works Cited List

Generally, MLA is a style based on one universal method. It can be used for different kinds of sources, and for various types of texts. However, now texts are mobile like never before, and a same paper can be found in many different databases, so rigid rules sometimes are not the best solution.

The latest version is based on several principles, not on a list of strict rules. The handbook still serves as a guide on citation writing, but it is based rather on features of the process of documentation, than on sources. Thus, writers get a universal and flexible method which can be used in any kind of paper, citing any sources, regardless of a topic.

First of all, we suggest you to note necessary elements which must be included in your Works Cited section. All the elements must be sorted in a particular order:

  • Author.
  • Source title.
  • Container title,
  • Contributors,
  • Version,
  • Number,
  • Publisher,
  • Date of publication,
  • Location.

Please pay your attention to punctuation, since it must look exactly like in the example. This is the latest version of punctuation, and it’s another feature that makes this MLA edition simpler. Previous editions included more complicated system, with colons, and parentheses.


First, write the author’s last name, then the first name, or initials. These names must be separated with a comma:

Smith, James J. The Title of the Book. Publisher, 2003.

Title of a Source

The title can be written either in italics, or in quotation marks, depending on the type of the source.

Citing a book, write it in italics:

Author’s Name. The Title of the Book. Publisher, 2003.

Citing a website, write it in italics:

Author’s Name. “The Title of the Source.” Website,

Always write articles from newspapers or magazines in quotation marks:

Author’s Name. “The Title of the Article.” The Name of the Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, 2003, pp. 38-41.

You also must write titles of songs the same way:

Artist. “Song Title.” Album, Label, 2003,

Title of a Container

Another distinctive feature of the 8th edition is that it refers to containers. Containers are locations of sources, and this information makes searching for sources easier. For example, if you want to cite a certain novel, which is included in the collection of novels, the novel itself will be a source, and the collection will be the container. Titles of containers are written in italic, and separated from additional information with commas.

Smith, James J. “The Title of the Novel.” The Collection of Novels, edited by John Brown, Publisher, 2003, pp. 38-41.

The same method is used if you have to include a citation from a certain TV show or series, as well as for websites:

“Episode.” TV Series, created by James Smith, performance by John Brown, season 3, episode 12, Production Studio, 2010.

Smith, James. Interview by John Brown. Magazine, 13 Apr. 2003,

Sometimes a container may be a part of a larger container. A vivid example of such a nested structure is TV series on Netflix, or Google Books database which contains a lot of short stories. In this case, you have to refer to a container within another container, since your readers must be able to find this source.

“Episode.” TV Series, season 3, episode 12, Production Studio, 13 Apr. 2003. Netflix,

Author’s Name. “The Title of the Story.” Journal, vol. 25, no. 1, 2003, pp. 116-24. ProQuest, doi:20.2017/S2518GU565328R2100897. Accessed 13 April 2003.

Other Contributors

Many sources may be created by a group of people. Authors often work in collaboration with translators, editors, or illustrators. You must mention their names in your references, in case their contribution is related to the topic of your research, or if they may help find a right source. Note that the 8th edition no longer supports abbreviations for specific terms, such as translator, editor, etc.

Author’s Name. The Title of the Book. Introduction by John Brown, Publisher, 2003.


If your source is a particular version of some work, you have to indicate version in your citation.

Author’s Name. The Title of the Source. 2nd ed., Publisher, 2003.


Sometimes we have to work with sources which are parts of a certain sequence. For example, it may be a book of several volumes, or a journal. The latter type may have a volume number along with an issue number. Prepare to mention these numbers in the citation.

Author’s Name. “The Title of the Article.” The title of the Journal, vol. 5, no. 1, 2003,

“Episode.” TV Series, created by James Smith, performance by John Brown, season 3, episode 12, Production Studio, 2003.


Sources are published or distributed by a certain publisher. If a source was published by two or more publishers, and they all are related to your research, we suggest you to indicate all publishers, like in the example below:

Smith, James and John Brown, creators. Title of the Documentary. Production 1 and Production 2, 2003.

Note that certain sources shouldn’t include publishers’ names. These are works published by an editor or author, websites with the same name as a publisher’s name, periodicals, and websites that don’t publish materials, just making works available to download (JSTOR, YouTube, or WordPress).

Publication Date

Sometimes sources may have several publication dates. For example, TV series may be broadcasted on one date, with a web version released on another date. In this case, you have to choose a date that fits your research. If you have no idea which date is better, just use the date of the original release.

If you need to consider the historical context of some source, we suggest you to write not only a year of publication, but a full date as well. Writing about TV series, you have to consider the network that broadcasted a certain episode, rather than a production company, since the date of airing is related to a particular network.

“Episode.” TV Series, created by James Smith, performance by John Brown, season 2, episode 1, Television Network, 13 Apr. 2003.


When it comes to locations, you have to be as specific as you can, because your main goal is to provide readers with all necessary information that can help them find your sources. We suggest you to always include page numbers, in case you’re citing an article or a book. Each time you need to cite a source that is available online, add direct URLs. If you write about a painting, or a sculpture, as well as about any other physical object, you have to include a location in your references:

Artist’s Name. Painting. 2003, Museum or Gallery, City.

Generally, the 8th edition became much more streamlined, and this system allows writers to include any necessary information that may help readers find sources. At the same time, you don’t have to include unnecessary facts that may distract your readers. We decided to write a list of additional elements that may or may not be included in your work.

Date of Original Publication

You can include this date, if it’s important for your work, and your source was published several times:

Author’s Name. The Title of the Book. 1963. Publisher, 2003.


Eighth and seventh editions differ regarding cities of publication. The seventh edition required including the city of publisher. The eighth edition has more flexible rules, since you must include cities only for sources which were published before 20th century. Before 1900s, most works were associated with cities where publishers were located, so we suggest you to include this information in case you cite such sources:

Author’s Name. The title of the Book. City, 1803.

Date of Access

This information may be necessary for some online sources, since some sources may be updated, or even removed.

Author’s Name. “The Title of the Article.” The Title of the Online Journal, 13 Apr. 2003, Accessed 6 June 2006.


What DOI is? This abbreviation stands for “Digital Object Identifier”, and it consists of letters and digits. DOIs help find a source even if URL was changed, so we suggest you to include DOI instead of URL in your references, if your source has it.

Author’s Name. “The Title of the Article.” The Title of the Journal, vol. 15, no. 1, 13 Apr. 2003, pp 12-13. Online Library, doi: 13.1332/tox.50122

In-Text Citations

Along with a separate page of references, MLA format implies short citations within the text. You must use such citations any time you write a direct quote from a certain source, or in case you are paraphrasing it, or referring to ideas from it. Usually in-text citations include only the page number, and author’s name. If the author’s name is mentioned in the text, you can indicate only the page number. All elements are written in parentheses:

“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.” (Smith, 22)


According to James Smith, “lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit” (22).

Works Cited

Smith, James. The Title of the Book. Publisher, 2003.

If you cite some media sources, you have to specify a time code, which consists of hours, minutes, and seconds. Just include a time range for mentioned scene, it will look like this: (01:56:37-02:01:34).

Let us remind you that your in-text citations shouldn’t distract your readers from your arguments. That’s why this format is so concise. You don’t have to provide your readers with unnecessary information, since you have the “Works Cited” section, where you can write all the detailed information about used sources.


The latest MLA guidelines provide writers with a universal approach. If you write Works Cited properly, you won’t feel any difficulties working with any kinds of sources. This method fits any types of papers, regardless of a topic. Of course, the handbook contains a lot more information, but now you don’t need to check it every time you want to include a citation in your research, since these rules are simple and clear. All you have to do is to write a list of basic elements, and sort them in a proper order. This will allow you to write the whole “Works Cited” section on your own, with no extra effort.

Enjoy our useful advice, and create your best papers!

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