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Citing Sources: MLA

NCC Library and Learning Center MLA Handout

MLA Handbook

Find the complete MLA Handbook in the library collections.

Basics of MLA Citation

MLA format, the citation style created by the Modern Language Association, is used often in English, in other language studies, and in the humanities. It requires in-text citations (sometimes known as parenthetical citations) within the body of your paper, and a Works Cited list that includes all your sources at the end of the paper. 

In-text citations identify the source and lead your reader to the corresponding complete citation for it in your Works Cited. Typically, they consist of the author's last name and a page number. The citation on your Works Cited gives your reader additional information they may need to find the source in the form you found it. 

MLA also has specific rules related to capitalization, abbreviations, the appearance of dates, and punctuation in citations that are unique to this style and help distinguish it from others.

 

Core Elements for All Works

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. Contributors,
  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. 

In-text Citations: (Author Page) Format

MLA uses the (author page) format for in-text citations.  Please see the examples below for examples with one author, two authors, three or more authors, and short quotations.

One Author:

An in-text citation for a work with one author consists of the last name and page number:

The kid enjoys violence and retains innocence throughout his journey (McCarthy 24). 

Two Authors:

An in-text citation for a work with two authors consists of the last names of both authors and the page number:

Scholars of the period agree that the battle of Philippi took place in 42 B.C. slightly west of the ancient city (Batura and Sears 359).

Three or more authors:

An in-text citation for a work with three or more authors consists of the first author's last name followed by et al. and the page number:

Objective assessment of the effects of marijuana use in comparison with other drugs is necessary (Sledzinki et al. 65).

Short Quotations:

Place the in-text citation directly at the end of the sentence in (author page) format:

A theme often discussed in historical and literary works is that "men of God and men of war have strange affinities" (McCarthy 103).

Works Cited Citation Examples

Book - one author:

McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West. Penguin Random House LLC, 1985.

Journal article - two authors:

 Butera, C. Jacob and Matthew A. Sears. “The Camps of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, 42 B.C.” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, vol. 86, no. 2, 2017, pp. 359–377. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.2972/hesperia.86.2.0359.

Journal article - three or more authors:

Śledziński, Paweł, et al. “The Adverse Effects of Marijuana Use: The Present State and Future Directions.” Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, vol. 28, no. 2, Mar. 2019, pp. 65–72. EBSCOhosthttps://doi.org/10.1080/1067828X.2018.1561580.

See the NCC Library & Learning Center's MLA Citation handout at the top of this page for more in-depth information and examples of MLA in-text citations and examples of Works Cited list entries.

Inclusive Language Principles

Using inclusive language in your writing acknowledges that your audience may include people with several or many different backgrounds and experiences. Inclusive language avoids bias and respects individual and group identities.

Generally, you as a writer should be wary about making assumptions about your audience and should not assume that they share your own identity, background, geographic location, culture, or beliefs. Ask yourself if your language makes it clear who is included and whether any readers are excluded.

In addition, MLA provides the following principles to help writers choose inclusive language, however, writers should also consider the context and audience they are writing for.

Make reference to identity relevant. 

Indicate a subject's ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, or economic or social status only if it is meaningful to the context, as including this information may imply that this characteristic is outside the norm. Consider especially if gender-specific terms can be reworded to express neutrality, such as using human-made instead of man-made or police officer instead of policeman). 

Be precise. 

When discussing diverse populations, avoid generalizations. Broad terms may require more specificity to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and sharing inaccurate or conflated ideas. If possible, use the subject's preferred term. Do not assume your reader shares your understanding, especially of religious terms. 

Choose terms of identity that respect your subject.

Both people-first language (which does not define a person by a single aspect of their identity) and identity-first language may be appropriate to use, but your choice should always reflect the preferences of individuals or groups if their preferences are known.  

Be thoughtful about capitalization and styling.

While proper nouns that denote identity are capitalized, other terms of identity are acceptable in either capitalized or lowercased form. Choose a form and be consistent. Always follow the preferences, if known, of the author or subject you are discussing. Avoid language or punctuation that undermines a subject's identity, such as using quotation marks or italicization for chosen names or pronouns or identity terms that are not yet recognized in dictionaries. 

Minimize pronouns that exclude. 

In situations where sex or gender is not relevant or to avoid the assumption that all individuals identify as male or female, eliminating pronouns or using plural pronouns is the best solution. They, their, or the term hir may be used as non-gender-specific pronouns. 

If known, use the personal pronoun of the subject or individual you are writing about. If unknown or not relevant to the context, they or them may be used.

Avoid negatively judging others' experiences.

When writing about individuals who have a disability, health condition, or who has experienced trauma, avoid descriptions like suffers from, afflicted with, prisoner of, or victim of. Such language can evoke emotions or imagery that may not be accurate to their experience. 

Use a dictionary to check for offensive terms. 

While language is constantly changing and connotations can change over time, an updated dictionary will note if a term is considered offensive or is questionable. Even if used in a work you are discussing, you should not repeat offensive terms as your own. If quoted from your source, it may be appropriate to include a note indicating the term is offensive, or to add a dash after the letter to avoid reproducing it fully. Often, a respectful alternative can be found and used for your discussion instead. 

The above is an abbreviated version of the principles that appear in the MLA Handbook, 9th edition. See 3: Principles of Inclusive Language in the Handbook, pages 89-93, for the MLA's full guidance on inclusive language.