How to cite sources in MLA

Are you struggling to properly cite your sources in MLA format? Look no further! In this article, we’ll guide you through the essential steps to ensure your MLA citations are accurate and professional.

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

MLA In-text citation guide

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

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

First let’s have a look at MLA in-text citation examples below. 

Most basically, you need to add author’s surname and page number when making in-text citations in MLA.  If you provide the name of the author in your sentence, only include the page number in parenthesis.

The page number leads the reader to the original place of the information you quoted or paraphrased. For example: (Johnson 7). 

What is a citation combination?

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

MLA citation combination example

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

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.

Citing the same source repeatedly

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 you might use a source without page numbers. In this case, 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

Citing a source with sections

You might use a source without pages but has numbered parts or sections. These include sections, scenes, and timestamps from audiovisual works, book chapters, articles of a country’s constitution, or verses from religious books.

If your source is divided into numbered parts, add a comma and give chapter (ch.), paragraph (par.), or section (sec.) number after the author’s name: (Smith, “The Middle East,” sec. 2).

Citing a source with sections example

The article argues that "the current political situation in the Middle East is complicated and multifaceted" (Smith, "The Middle East," sec. 2). Citing a source with sections

Citing a source from audiovisual works

If your source is from audiovisual works, provide the specific time range: (Attenborough 00:23:15-00:23:22) .​​

Citing a source from audiovisual works

In the television series "Planet Earth," narrator David Attenborough states that "over half of the world's wetlands have been lost in the last century" (Attenborough 00:23:15-00:23:22). Citing a source from an audiovisual source

If your source is a play, separate the act, scene, and line numbers with a period and write it after the author: (Marlowe 1.3.70).​​

Citing a source from a play example

Lady Macbeth urges her husband to "look like th' innocent flower, / But be the serpent under ’t" (Macbeth 1.5.66-67). Citing a source from a play

Citing multiple sources 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 multiple sources 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. 

Citing electronic sources without an author

The Pew Research Center reports that "nearly two-thirds of American adults get their news from social media" ("Social Media Fact Sheet"). Citing electronic sources example

Citing electronic sources with an author

The Pew Research Center reports that "nearly two-thirds of American adults get their news from social media" (Johnson). Citing electronic sources with an author

Date of access for electronic sources

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 follows: 

Citing a web page with access date example

The Chocolate Association, n.d., Web. 8 May 2021. Access date

MLA 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.

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 page

Abbreviations for MLA style

mla abbreviations

How to create MLA Works Cited page

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

works cited mla title
MLA Quick Citation Guide (In-text Citation & Works Cited)

Make use of online tools!

You don’t have to manually enter all the elements of Works Cited page, instead make use of free online tools available that both guide and provide you a well-set templates. 

Simply try one of the recommended tools above: 

How to list sources in Works Cited

The most important thing is that 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 face cases 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 citation

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.

Key takeaways for MLA Citation

By following the guidelines outlined in this article, you’ll be well on your way to mastering MLA citation style and impressing your professors with accurate and professional citations.

Don’t let incorrect citations bring down your grades – start citing like a pro today!


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