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MLA Style and Formatting Guide

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MLA Style and Formatting Guide

We hope that the following guide will help you format your papers according to the 8th edition of MLA style, including proper in-text and works cited references.

MLA style can be used in different types of papers. Given that texts are more mobile than ever, you can often find the same documents in different places. As a result, strict rules no longer guarantee good results. Although the handbook still focuses on citations, the process of documentation is more important than the sources themselves. As a result, writers get a flexible method that can be used with any papers and with sources of any kind.

When deciding how to cite your sources, consider the list of core elements that MLA recommends to include in the Works Cited section. We recommend that you list the elements in the following order:

  1. Author.
  2. Title of the source.
  3. Title of the container,
  4. Other contributors,
  5. Version,
  6. Number,
  7. Publisher,
  8. Date of publication,
  9. Location.

As you can see, some elements are followed by periods, and others are followed by commas. You should use the same punctuation marks in your paper, as well. Previous editions of the handbook required other punctuation marks, such as colons and parentheses. Now, everything is simpler and you only have to provide the basic information about the source.

Author

First, provide the author’s last name and the rest of their name, separated by a comma:

Smith, Andrew S. The Book. Publisher, 1996.

Title of the Source

The title must follow the author’s name. In the previous example, the title was written in italics. However, you may also use quotation marks, depending on the type of source. Books must be written in italics, while web pages require quotation marks. In this case, the container should be written in italics:

Smith, Andrew S. “The Article.” The Website, www.thewebsiteaddress.com/thearticle

The same goes for periodical articles (magazines, journals, newspapers):

Smith, Andrew S. “The Article.” The Journal, vol. 23, no. 2, 2006, pp. 56-61.

When citing a song, put the title of the song in quotation marks, and write the title of the album in italics:

Singer. “My Song.” My Album, Recording Studio, 2013, www.singerswebaddress.com/album/song

According to the 8th edition of the handbook, you should include URLs for online sources.

Title of the Container

The 8th edition is different from the previous versions of the handbook because it introduces the term “container,” which means a place where the source is located. For example, when citing a poem that is included in a collection of poems, your source is the poem itself, while the collection is the container. Put your source in quotation marks, and italicize the container:

Brown, Cleveland. “The Poem.” Modern American Poets, edited by Stan Smith, Publisher, 2005, pp. 405-6.

When citing an episode of a TV series, the series is also the container:

“Jimmy Goes to School.” Jimmy’s Life, created by Cleveland Brown and Stan Smith, performance by James McDonald, season 3, episode 23, Production Studio, 2019.

Obviously, your container may also be a website:

Brown, Cleveland. Interview by Stan Smith. Interviews with People. 16 Apr. 2017, www.interviewswithpeoplesite.com/browncleveland

Sometimes, a container may also be in a bigger container. For example, you may cite a TV series on Netflix or a story from a collection of short stories on Google Books. In this case, don’t forget to include the larger container, as well:

Smith, Stan. “The Interesting Story.” The Journal, vol. 40, no. 2, 2015, pp. 120-21, ProQuest, doi:20.1016/df654dg6fdfgf6d5. Accessed 23 April 2017.

“Jimmy Goes to School.” Jimmy’s Life, season 3, episode 23, NBC, 30 Apr. 2017. Netflix, www.webaddress.com/watch/jimmyslife

Other Contributors

A source may have other contributors, besides the author. If their contribution is related to the specifics of your paper, you should credit them as translators, editors, illustrators, etc. The 8th edition of the handbook no longer supports abbreviations for translators, editors, illustrators, etc.

Brown, Cleveland. The Book. Translated by Stan Smith, Publisher, 1997.

Version

If your source is a certain version or edition of a work, you should also specify it in your citation:

Brown, Cleveland. The Book. 3rd ed., Publisher, 2017.

Number

If your source is a part of a sequence, such as a journal, a multi-volume book, or TV series, you should include its number in your citation:

Brown, Cleveland. “The Article.” The Journal, vol. 7, no. 3, 2006, www.thewebsiteaddress.com/thearticle

“Jimmy Goes to School.” Jimmy’s Life, created by Cleveland Brown and Stan Smith, performance by James McDonald, season 3, episode 23, Production Studio, 2019.

Publisher

A publisher may produce or distribute sources. If there is more than one publisher, include them in your citation, if they are relevant to your research. Multiple publishers should be separated by a slash (/).

However, you may not include the publisher’s name when citing works published by the author themselves, periodicals, websites that provide sources but don’t publish them, or websites that have the same name as the publisher.

Publication Date

Keep in mind that the same source might have been published more than once. For example, you may work with an online version of an original source. A TV series may be broadcasted on one date and become available on Netflix on another date. You should always specify the relevant date. If you’re not sure what date to use, we recommend that you use the original date.

Here is what your citation should look like. It includes the production company and the year the TV series was released.

“Jimmy Goes to School.” Jimmy’s Life, created by Cleveland Brown and Stan Smith, performance by James McDonald, season 3, episode 23, Production Studio, 2017.

However, when writing about this TV series in the historical context, you need to cite the full date when this episode was originally aired. In this case, you should also include a television network that aired this episode, instead of the production company:

“Jimmy Goes to School.” Jimmy’s Life, created by Cleveland Brown and Stan Smith, performance by James McDonald, season 3, episode 23, WB Television Network, 15 Apr. 2018.

Location

Be specific when providing information on the location of the source. When dealing with a journal article or book, make sure to include page numbers.

Smith, Andrew S. “The Article.” The Journal, vol. 23, no. 2, 2006, pp. 56-61.

You should also include URLs for online sources. However, you must remove “https://” or “http://” at the beginning.

When citing physical objects, include the place of location:

Smith, Stan. My Painting, 1934, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Optional Elements

The 8th edition of MLA rules is straightforward. It must help everyone find the necessary source and doesn’t provide any unnecessary information. However, there are some additional elements that you can include if you need.

The original date of publication

If a source has been published several times, you can include more than one date if this information is valuable in the context of your research.

Brown, Cleveland. The Book. 1982. Publisher, 1998.

City of publication

Although the 7th edition of the handbook required you to provide the city where the publisher is located, now you only need to do this if your source was published before 1900, since old sources were usually associated with the city where they were published.

Smith, Stan. The Book. Boston, 1853.

Date of access

The MLA Handbook recommends that you include the date of access when citing online sources because online works often get updated.

Smith, Andrew S. “The Article.” The Website, 15 Apr. 2008, www.thewebsiteaddress.com/thearticle. Accessed 5 Aug. 2018.

URLs

The 8th edition recommends to include URLs but we suggest that you talk to your editor or instructor and ask them whether you should do it.

DOIs
“DOI” stands for “Digital Object Identifier.” A DOI includes numbers and letters. It helps locate the source even if its URL changes:

Smith, Stan. “The Interesting Story.” The Journal, vol. 40, no. 2, 2015, pp. 120-21, ProQuest, doi:20.1016/df654dg6fdfgf6d5. Accessed 23 April 2017.

In-Text Citations

In-text citations briefly indicate the source in the text. The main purpose of in-text citations is to attribute ideas to the source and to show where this source is located in the Works Cited section. You should include the author’s name and the page number in parentheses. However, if you’ve mentioned the author in the sentence, you should only include the page number:

“The secret of the perfect cheeseburger is high-quality beef” (Brown, 10).

or:

According to Cleveland Brown, the secret of the perfect cheeseburger is high-quality beef (10).

When including in-text citations for movies or podcasts, you should also specify hours, minutes, and seconds (for example, 00:03:16-00:05:34).

Keep in mind that your goal is to provide the necessary information without distracting your readers with any unnecessary information.

Final Thoughts

MLA guidelines apply to a vast range of works. Follow our tips and you will create documentation for sources of any kind. Although the handbook includes many helpful examples, you won’t need to check them every time you need to include a citation. Just include the basic elements and use the right punctuation. Having enough practice, you’ll be able to cite your sources on your own.

MLA Style and Formatting Guide
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