The Modern Language Association citation standard is commonly used in the humanities and is the standard taught in our Composition sequence. Standards like MLA, Harvard, APA and others give uniformity to academic work, encourage and promote clarity, and carry visual information on the nature of the work one is reading.
Learning such standards is tedious work, but respecting these practical rules is expected and required. Just like one is rarely granted a second chance to make a first impression, your writing will be evaluated, first, by its look. Your ability and willingness to follow rules and pay attention to detail is also the first indication of the kind of student, scholar, or employee you are likely to be. This may sound unfair; in fact, this is often the product of very practical considerations.
Imagine an Editor looking at dozens of articles submitted for publication in a newspaper or magazine, or a Human Resources officer evaluating hundreds of applications and CVs submitted in response to a job ad; they will have limited time to choose the more likely candidates that will end up in a shortlist, so separating those who, at first look, seem to know what they are doing from those who clearly do not will be the first step. Article submissions that do not follow editorial guidelines, or letters and CVs that appear unprofessional and haphazard, will be the first to fall into the dustbin. So pay attention to detail, and give yourself a chance. Once you pass this first scrutiny, then, perhaps, you will get a chance to demonstrate your unique personality, skills, and talents.
With MLA and other standards, the point is not to learn all formatting rules by heart, but to know that they exist, what they are about, and where to find them. Here, you will find examples of the most commonly used forms in formatting, quoting, and citing.
Quoting and Citing
Like other academic standards, MLA requires you to add an in-text citation right after a quote to help the reader identify the source in the Works Cited, and find the quoted passage in the original, if they are interested. MLA helps you cite any source, from single to multiple authors, to authorless sources.
The basic format is comprised of a parenthesis, the author’s last name followed by the page number. Note that there is no comma after the author’s last name, only a space. More complex citations build on this model by adding more elements without, however, changing this part of the format.
This example includes a lead-in sentence before the quote that names the speaker. Quotes introduce someone else’s voice in your writing, so telling the reader who that is expected. It also includes a follow-up sentence that paraphrases from the same passage. Always surround quotes with your own text.
Watch punctuation around quotes. The period goes after the in-text citation. Drop any punctuation at end of the quote, except for question marks and exclamation marks.
Note that you do not have to quote full sentences; you may begin and end a quote anywhere you like, provided this does not change the meaning of the sentence or misrepresent the original author’s thoughts.
Single author with page number:
According to Orit Kamir, “An honor society entails a structured hierarchy and strict social roles, encouraging assertive competition among men and sexual constraints among women” (Kamir 196). Honor cultures, Kamir continues, reward conformity and punish deviance.
Two authors with page number (add “and” before the second author):
(Kamir and Johnson 196).
For three or more authors add “et al.” ( short for et alia – “and others”) after the first author.
(Kamir et al. 196).
For more options, please visit the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL); an excellent resource on all things related to writing: MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics.