How to cite sources in MLA

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Used primarily in humanitarian areas, MLA (Modern Language Association) is a highly popular writing style.

It is crucial to cite the sources you used in your MLA paper correctly to avoid plagiarism. Here are some basic guidelines and rules that you should follow.

The citation guide we offer in this article is based on the latest MLA version: The 9th edition of the MLA Handbook (2021).

How to do in-text citations

In-text citations are short references containing information about the sources you used in your body pages.

It is crucial that you always give a reference every time you paraphrase or quote from another person’s ideas in your essay or research paper; otherwise, it is considered plagiarism.

The page number leads the reader to the original place of the information you quoted or paraphrased. For example: (Johnson 7). Here are examples of wrong and proper in-text citations.

Citing one or more authors

When citing a source with one author, add the author’s last name. If your source has more than one author, add “and” to separate the last names.

In case there are three or more authors, just add the first author’s last name and the abbreviation “et al.” to indicate the other authors.

1 Author 2 Authors 3 Authors
(Johnson 73)
(Johnson and Garcia 73-75)
(Johnson et al. 73, 45)

As you might have noticed, we use dash (-) to indicate a page gap while using comma (,) to point out different pages.

What is a citation combination?

When a sentence can be found in more than one source, combine the two sources in one parenthesis.

Citation combination example

Every year, thousands of animals are killed by the fashion industry (Yang 82; Yourofsky 56). Citation combination example

When you cite the same source repeatedly, you don’t have to mention the author’s name after the first one. Just provide the page number.

Same source repeated citation example

Climate change impacts the lives of endangered animals worldwide (Jackson 67). Same source repeated citation example The number of endangered animals decreases day by day (69). Same source repeated citation example

Use this technique as long as you are citing the source subsequently. Just make sure that there is no other source in-between.

Citing an unknown author

In case your source has an unknown author, the in-text citation should include the shortened version of the title or the first entry (e.g., organization name) on the works cited page (if the title is also unknown).

Source Title or Organization Name In-Text Citation
The Ranidae: How to Breed, Feed and Raise the Edible Frog
(Ranidae 55)
“Internet Speed in Developing Countries”
(“Internet Speed” 4)

Citing a source with no page numbers

Sometimes a source lacks page numbers and have numbered parts instead. Numbered parts can include sections, scenes, and timestamps from audiovisual works, book chapters, articles of a country’s constitution, or verses from religious books.

If your source doesn’t have page numbers or numbered parts, only include the author’s name (or the first information on the source in the works cited page) in your in-text citation.

Citing a source with no page numbers example

According to John Smith, author of 'The History of the World,' the event occurred in the year 1492 (Smith). Citing a source with no page numbers example

What to do in different source types

As you might guess, you don’t have to do parenthetical citation if you already provided the author’s name in your sentence and there are no numbered parts in the source.

Citing more than one source by the same author

If this is the case, do not forget to include a shortened version of each title in your in-text citation to help your reader distinguish the sources.

Citing more than one source by the same author example

According to John Smith, Author effective research necessitates a clear thesis statement and a comprehensive evaluation of relevant literature. Smith contends in his article "The Importance of a Strong Thesis" that "a well-crafted thesis statement defines the course for the entire dissertation" ("The Importance of a Strong Thesis" 5). First source He also mentions that "a thorough literature evaluation aids in establishing the relevance of the findings" ("Literature Review and its Importance" 8). Second source By following these criteria, a researcher may guarantee that their report is well-organized and simple to read.

Citing different authors with identical last names

If two authors have the same last name, add the authors’ initials or their full first names (if their initials are also identical) in your in-text citation.

Citing different authors with identical last names example

Recent research has demonstrated that using technology in the classroom improves student engagement and achievement (J. Smith 20). First author Furthermore, incorporating technology in education leads to enhanced student participation and teamwork (B. Smith 35). Second author These findings imply that technology might be a helpful tool for improving classroom learning.

Citing indirect sources

You should always try to find the primary source in which your quote or paraphrase takes place. However, if you fail to access the original source and have to in-text cite a secondary source:

Citing indirect sources example

Johnson believes the healthcare system in the United States is in dire need of fundamental changes (qtd. in Garcia 26). Citing indirect sources example

Citing electronic sources

As technology is improving by each day globally, more and more information can be easily accessed by electronic sources within seconds. Therefore it is crucial to know how to properly cite electronic sources, as in APA format.

Citing electronic sources example

Smith, John. "The Impact of Social Media on Modern

Society." The Journal of Technology, vol. 5, no. 2, March 2018, pp. 1-15. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23456789

Many things changed regarding citing electronic sources with the 9th edition of the MLA Handbook.

What is the date of access?

It indicates the exact date that you found the source and was mandatory to add after the URL. However, with the latest editions of the MLA Handbook, you don’t necessarily have to write the access date. Still, if you want to add it, write it as Accessed Day, Month, Year

Citing a web page with access date example

Doe, Jane. "The History of Chocolate." Chocolate Museum,

The Chocolate Association, n.d., www.chocolate.com/history.html Web. 8 May 2021. Access date

Works cited page

Your works cited page is the last page of your research paper in which you direct the reader to every source you used in your paper.

Works cited page example

Below is an example of a Works Cited. Since each source is from a different category (a journal article, a serial, a document, an image, a book, and a book chapter), you can observe the different ways to cite during your writing process.

mla works cited

Abbreviations

mla abbreviations

Essential elements

There are some essential elements to keep in mind when writing your works cited page.

A hanging indent creates a 0.5-inch indent between two lines. To create a hanging indent in Microsoft Word, highlight your list and open paragraph options by clicking right. Then follow Indentation > Special > Hanging and set the indent to 0.5 inches.

When creating a citation for your works cited page, follow this order:

Author. “Title of the Source.” Title of the Container, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location.

Author

You must invert the author’s name with a comma and follow it with a period. When there is more than one author, do not invert the name.

Title of the source and container

If the title of your source is a part of a larger work, use quotation marks and add the larger work’s name in italics after it. If you are directly quoting a whole work, just include its name after the author’s name in italics.

Other contributors

If your source has other contributors such as translators, editors, or directors, don’t forget to add their names. For example: edited by Rick Burnham

Publisher

Only specify the publisher for books and movies; you don’t have to add it for newspapers, journal articles, and websites.

Publication date

If there is an exact date, write the whole date abbreviating the month. For example: 23 Jul. 2021

Location

This is not necessarily a geographical place. It indicates where your reader can retrieve your work. It can either be a DOI of a journal article, the URL of a website, or a page range of a chapter or an article.

Order of your works cited page

You should list your works cited page alphabetically by the authors’ last name. However, there may be different cases that you have to deal with, such as:

Using more than one source by the same author

If you used more than one source by the same author, order the entries alphabetically by the title of the source. 

You don’t have to write the author’s name again in the subsequent citations. Instead, add three dashes (-) for each entry. Here is an example:

Using more than one source by the same author example

Smith, John. "The Importance of Exercise." Journal of

Physical Health, vol. 5, no. 2, 2010, pp. 1-5.

---. "Long-term Effects of Exercise." Journal of

Cardiovascular Health, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013, pp. 3-9.

You can use three dashes if there is more than one author too. However, make sure that the authors mentioned with “et al.” are identical with each source before mentioning them with three dashes.

Citing the same author with different co-authors

You may encounter several entries that have the same author in collaboration with different coauthors. In that case, you should first place the works by one author, then two authors, and lastly three or more authors.

When alphabetizing works by two authors, use the second author’s last name. However, when alphabetizing works by three or more authors (in which you add “et al.” after the first author’s name), use the title of the source to order your works cited page properly. Here is an example:

Johnson, Rick…

Johnson, Rick, and Kyle Jackson…

Johnson, Rick, and Matthew Riordan…

Johnson, Rick, et al. “Food Addictions”…

Johnson, Rick, et al. “Global Warming”…

No author

As you should do in your in-text citations, in case you can’t access the author, alphabetize the source by its title.

However, don’t include the articles a, an, and the in the order of your works cited page.

When you don't need a citation

Sometimes, you might wonder if you should find a source for every information that you provide in your paper; whether you found it on a source, or you already knew it. If this is the case, use your common sense and follow ethical rules to determine it.

What has changed since the 8th edition?

Modern Language Association published the 9th edition in May 2021. Here are some changes since the 8th edition version:

It is vital to give credit to the original authors of ideas and quotes. If you follow these common tips, it is not difficult to cite in your MLA-styled paper.

Ibrahim Akturk
Ibrahim Akturk
Content editor at Tamara Research. Translation major, huge coffee and baking nerd. Addicted to good music and great articles.

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