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. Once you pass this first scrutiny, then, perhaps, you will have an opportunity 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.
MLA Style, developed by the Modern Language Association (hence the name), is one of many rulebooks utilized in university research centers and academic associations to help writers in academia present their ideas in a clear and effective manner. Whether you are a professor publishing an article in a specialized journal or a student writing a class paper, we are all expected to abide by sets of rules that will make our work look neat, communicate efficiently, and show its academic lineage. The latter, especially, is meant to be a guarantee of rigor and intellectual honesty, as well as a desire to inform, educate, and enable, rather than just persuade.
MLA, Chicago, Harvard, APA, all share the same fundamental structure, and differ in emphasis, detail, and implementation. All these styles provide citation and formatting guidelines
- Citation rules are about giving proper credit for the opinions and discoveries of others that we use in our own work;
- Formatting rules are meant to ensure a common style and to convey meaning through form. The role of style is far from superficial. From looks alone one may recognize the academic provenance of a book or article, identify the discipline it belongs to (history, literary criticism, sociology), pick out quotes and sources, immediately see if a mentioned source is a book (title will be in italics) or an article (title will be in “quotation marks”), and so on and so forth.
Unlike other publications, scholarly papers and books are not flashy; they will not try to dazzle the reader using colors, catchy graphics, or inviting pictures. The focus is kept on the concepts and ideas, without distractions. In other words, reading academic work is very much like watching a film without a music soundtrack; it can be unsettling at first, and it takes some getting used to, but there are no gimmicks to manipulate our emotions and keep us watching/reading if the argument is not convincing. Everything rides on words, with style of form and style of writing working together to favor understanding.
The form of an MLA paper
The MLA Style website provides very concise instructions how to format an MLA paper. Just follow this link: https://style.mla.org/formatting-papers/.
Please note that you have free access to Microsoft Word (and Office 365) through your AUR account. To install office for free on up to 5 computers (PC and Mac), first login to your AUR email from the Web Browser (CLICK HERE); click on OFFICE 365 HOME PAGE near the top left corner; follow the App icons to the right side of the page and click on Install Office Apps.
In a nutshell, you must make YOUR paper look exactly like the sample paper. This means:
- Use the same font type and size for everything, including the title. Good fonts are Times New Roman or Palatino, size 11.
- 1-inch/2.5cm margins on all sides
- Half-inch/1.25cm indentation for first line of every paragraph
- Last name and page number in top right corner, in the document header. For how to do this in Microsoft Word CLICK HERE. First, insert the page number; then, type your last name next to it. Remember to leave a space between last name and page number.
- Center your title
- Start Works Cited on a new page. Use Insert Page Break function (not paragraph returns) to make sure the Works Cited will always begin on a new page. For how to do this in Microsoft Word CLICK HERE.
- Use hanging indentation for works cited entries (first line all the way to the edge, following lines indented half-an-inch/1.25cm. For how to do this in Microsoft Word CLICK HERE.
How to cite in MLA
In-text citations in MLA and other styles tell the reader where to find the full citation in the Works Cited. For this reason, in-text citations always show the first element in your works cited entry. Usually, that is the author’s last name, but, for sources with no author, the title will appear first. In such cases, a short version of the title (one or two words) will be used in the in-text citation in place of the author’s last name. Hanging indentation in Works Cited helps the reader scroll through the sources and quickly find what they are looking for.
Some examples of in-text citations in MLA style:
Single author and page number: (Smith 105)
Two authors and page number: (Smith and Riley 105)
More than two authors: (Smith et al. 105)
Online/Web source without page numbers: (Smith); (Smith and Riley); (Smith et al.)
Corporate author: (Commission 105)
Book with no author/Entire website: (Pokemon); (Harper’s)
For the authorless book Pokemon: Official Nintendo Players Guide. The text inside the citation is in italics to indicate a book title (always in italics in MLA).
Any source with no author: (“Rehab”)
For the YouTube video “Rehab: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO).” YouTube, Last Week Tonight, 20 May 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWQiXv0sn9Y. Use this format also for other sources with no author like newspaper and magazine articles, online articles, etc. Note that the quotation marks around the text indicate this is an article within a larger container (book, newspaper, magazine, website). If more than one of your authorless sources begin with the same word, add more words to the in-text citation to differentiate).
Multiple sources by the same author: (Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms 105); (Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro 53”.
Add the work’s title next to the author’s name, after a comma. If the work is a book, put the title in italics, if it is a short story, an essay in a collection or anthology, or an article, put the title in “quotation marks”.
The MLA Works Cited
The MLA Style website provides a Practice Template [CLICK HERE] with all the fields in the proper sequence, with the proper punctuation. All explanations to examples below reference the fields in the template. To better understand how MLA works, open the template page and/or print a copy.
Books are easy to cite. Pick up a book and it’s self-explanatory: lots of pages between two hard or soft covers. Typically, a book contains a single work by a single author. Sometimes a book will have more than one author but will still be a single work written in collaboration; in these cases, the reader cannot tell who wrote what and it does not matter. Collections or anthologies, on the other hand, contain more than one work either by the same author (collections) or by multiple authors (anthologies), and will have one or more editors. Still, a book’s a book. Easy.
Fields 1, 2, 7, 8 of template. This is the simplest form.
Smith, Phillip. Cultural Theory: An Introduction. Blackwell, 2001.
Fields 1, 2, 5, 7, 8 of template. Note that field 5 (Version) adds information about the new edition (which adds one author).
Three or more authors:
Authors are Fields 1, 2, 5, 7, 8 of template. Note that field 5 (Version) adds information about the edition. The authors are Clifford G. Christians, Mark Fackler, Kathy Brittain Richardson, Peggy Kreshel, and Robert H. Woods, shortened to “et al.” after the first author, meaning “and others”
Corporate author (organization):
Fields 1, 2, 7, 8 of template.
Fields 2, 7, 8 of template.
Edited book (anthology or collection):
Fields 1, 2, 5, 7, 8 of template.
An individual work in an edited book (anthology or collection):
Fields 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 of template. Note that now the first element is the author of the contained work. The editors of the container have now moved to field 4 as “Other contributors” and are listed by first name then last name. For more than two editors, list only the first and add “et al.”. Also note the addition of the page range for the work at the end, in field 9 (Location).
Fields 1, 2, 4, 7, 8 of template. Note that field 4 adds the information about the translator or translators as “Other contributors”
Articles are more complicated than books. They appear in newspapers, magazines, or journals. Newspapers and magazines are easy. They are thin (except for the Sunday edition of the New York Times), with soft covers, full of short articles. Journal articles are more complicated. They are longer than newspaper or magazine articles, usually between 10 and 30 pages; they appear in collections called journals that look more like books than magazines. Think of scholarly journals as books that get published periodically with same title (but different volume and number) and that contain a collection of works by different authors.
Article in a scholarly journal:
Fields 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 of template. Note that the journal title is in italics – it is treated like a book title.
Article in a scholarly journal with two or more authors.
For the author field (Field 1) follow the same rules as for books.
Article in a special issue of a scholarly journal:
Fields 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 of template. Note that this is identical to the standard article form, except for the highlighted part which contains the title of the special issue and the descriptor “spec. issue of”.
Article in a scholarly journal retrieved from an online database:
Fields 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 of template plus fields 3 and 9 of container 2. The journal (College Literature) is “container 1” while the database (Jstor) is container 2. Jstor offers a stable link, so it makes sense to cite it. Note that, except for the highlighted part, this is identical to the standard article form.
Article in a magazine or newspaper:
Fields 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 of template.
Article in a magazine or newspaper retrieved from an online database:
Fields 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 of template plus fields 3 and 9 of container 2 (highlighted). Note that the link is embedded in the text between square brackets. This is non-standard in MLA. Ask your professor if this solution is acceptable for links that are exceedingly long and complicated. The embedded link is: https://ezproxy.aur.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgao&AN=edsgcl.452586258&site=eds-live. To embed a hyperlink in Microsoft Word, select the text, right click on the selection, select Hyperlink in the pop up menu, and past the copied link in the Address field. Press ok. To edit a hyperlink, right click on it and select Edit Hyperlink.
A Marketline Report directly from Marketline:
Fields 2, 7, 8 of template plus 3, 9 of container 2. Avoid indicating Marketline as author, especially if you reference more than one Marketline report. Doing so will make in-text citations unnecessarily long since they would all have to indicate author AND title to differentiate between sources.
A Marketline Report from a different database:
Fields 3 and 9 of container 2 change to match the appropriate online database.
A page on a website:
Fields 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 of template.
Fields 3, 9 of template.
A video on YouTube (no author)
Fields 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 of template.
A video on YouTube (with author)
Fields 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 of template.
A video on YouTube (no author with uploader information)
Fields 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9 of template. Note that field 4 (Other contributors) is a descriptive field and can be very useful to convey information about your source that may not fit anywhere else. For example, “recorded by…” or “filmed by …”
Including interviews in your research papers as evidence, either from experts or as informed parties, witnesses of, or participants in a phenomenon you are observing. When you conduct interviews, make sure to keep detailed notes, or a transcript. Also, obtain permission from the person interviewed to mention them by name, and not anonymously, in your paper.
Fields 1, 2, 8 of template. Note that “Author” in field 1 is the name of the person interviewed.
Fields 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 of template. Note that to cite the album alone, and not a specific song, the album title would move from field 3 (Title of container) to field 2 (Title of source). Everything else stays the same.
Fields 2, 4, 7, 8 of template. Note that field 4 (Other contributors) includes the director and the performers.
Fields 1, 2, 7, 8 of template. Use this format to emphasize the director’s authorship. The two formats are equivalent.
Series or series episode
Fields 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 of template.
Fields 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 of template. Use this format to emphasize the writer’s or creator’s authorship. The two formats are equivalent.
van Gogh, Vincent. The Starry Night. 1889, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
For more examples and source types refer to the University of Purdue OWL web pages [CLICK HERE]