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ENGL 205G American Literature I & ENGL 255G American Literature II: Citing Sources with MLA

This guide is for students in either American Literature course.

Learn why it's important to cite your information sources, review the basics of MLA citation style, and see suggested citation help resources. 

Check your professor's instructions first! If they've given specific instructions about the citation style you should use or how citations should be formatted for their assignments, always follow those instructions. 

Why and When to Cite

Through research, you will gather information that supports your ideas about your topic, which you find in sources created by others. A citation gives your reader the information needed to locate these works. Citing these sources is important because:

  • it shows your professor that you actually did research on your topic and gained new knowledge
  • anyone reading your work can check to see if they agree with your interpretation of the information
  • acknowledging other people's ideas is academically honest, helps you avoid plagiarism, and ensures you are using information ethically

If you don't credit the authors of your sources by citing them in your paper, you are committing plagiarism, which is not acceptable at Northampton Community College. Failure to identify specific sources is considered to be a theft of intellectual property and may result in a failing grade for the assignment, a failing grade for the course, or even expulsion from the college. Whether or not the plagiarism was intentional or you even realized you were plagiarizing when you did it may not matter.

You need to cite:

  • anytime you use someone else's ideas
  • when you summarize or paraphrase text from a source
  • when you directly quote information that you took from a source 
  • if the information is highly debatable

You don’t need to cite your own opinions and insight, and you don’t need to cite facts that are common knowledge (information repeated in multiple sources that is widely known or accepted as a fact by your audience).

If you are in doubt about whether or not you should cite the information you are using, it's best to cite.

Basics of MLA Citation

MLA Style is the citation style of the Modern Language Association. 

In MLA citation style, there are two aspects that work together: 

  • in-text citations (sometimes known as parenthetical citations) within the paper
  • a list of sources known as a Works Cited at the end of the paper

In-text citations identify the source of the information you include in your paper and lead your reader to the corresponding complete citation for that source in your Works Cited. The citation on your Works Cited gives your reader information they may need to find the source, and the information from it, in it's original form.

Each entry in the list of Works Cited is composed of facts common to most works—the MLA core elements. They are assembled in a specific order and followed by specific punctuation:

  1. Author.
  2. Title of source.
  3. Title of container,
  4. Contributor,
  5. Version,
  6. Number,
  7. Publisher,
  8. Publication date,
  9. Location.

Working with this template and the information indicated on your source, you should be able to create an accurate works cited entry for almost any source you use. 

MLA Works Cited List Checklist

Thinking you might be ready to submit your paper or project? Review your works cited using the following criteria to make sure it's complete:

     Work(s) Cited is capitalized correctly and centered at the top of the page.

     Entries appear in alphabetical order.

     Hanging indents are used consistently and appropriately.

     Names are capitalized and the capitalization of titles is consistently correct throughout.

     Formatting of titles (italics, quotation marks) is consistently correct throughout.

     Punctuation within each entry is consistently correct throughout.

     Spelling of all words, names, and titles is consistent throughout, and no inaccuracies are apparent.

     Entries are sufficiently complete to give a clear idea of the source and how to find it and do not appear to lack necessary information.

     Each entry includes the author (core element 1) and/or the title of the source (core element 2), and any additional containers include either a title or description of the work.

     The list of works cited contains only sources that are cited in the paper.

     No sources cited in the paper are absent from the list of works cited.

 Nora Carr, published by the Modern Language Association (STYLE.MLA.ORG).

MLA Citation Resources

Ready to cite your sources? The following are some of the best resources to use as you do so.

The NCC Libraries and Learning Center provide a quick guide that shows you how to cite common types of sources in-text and on your Works Cited, and how to format your paper. 

The MLA Style Center website has a variety of useful resources to help you with your MLA citations:

The OWL (Online Writing Lab) at Purdue University have almost as much expertise with MLA as the Modern Langauge Association itself and is another great resource for citation help and answers. Their annotated sample paper is great way to see what in-text citation, the works cited, and your paper itself should look like: 

Still not sure about your citations?

You can work with a librarian on quick citation questions, troublesome sources, or ask us to review your works cited for major errors. Connect through the Ask the Librarian chat, by emailing askthelibrarian@northampton.edu, by leaving a message at (610) 861-5359, or scheduling a Book a Librarian appointment. 

Want more intensive help or want to work side by side with someone as you create your citations from the start? Work with a learning center tutor. Start at the Learning Center's website to make an appointment.