Williams Libraries

Citing Your Sources: MLA

The Williams Honor System requires you to properly acknowledge sources you have used in course assignments. This guide provides basic information on how to cite sources and examples for formatting citations in common citation styles.

MLA

About MLA

Developed by the Modern Language Association, this style is most widely used for research papers in the humanities.

Citing sources in this style consists of two parts:

  1. In-text citations
  2. A works-cited list

See How to Format Works-Cited List and How to Format In-Text Citations

With the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook, the approach to citing sources shifts from creating entries based on the type of source cited (books, articles, etc.) to recording common features of the work. While this approach is more flexible for new media, it may be challenging for you to know which core elements are relevant to the source you are citing. Thus, this guide also provides some examples of commonly cited sources.

How to Format In-Text Citations

For more detailed information see MLA Handbook, 54-58, 116-128.

An in-text citation provides your reader with two pieces of information:

  1. The first element from the corresponding works-cited list entry, usually the author's last name
  2. The location of the cited information in the work, usually a page number

Standard Formatting of the In-Text Citation

  • Put the page number in parentheses
  • Include the author's name (or the title for works with no author) in the sentence or in the parentheses before the page number.

    Said makes a similar argument (3-4).

    This point has been argued previously (Said 3-4).

    The article "Black Workers Matter" links racism and union representation (18).

    The link between racism and union representation is important ("Black Workers Matter" 18).

  • If it is clear from the context which work you are citing, use only the page number.

    Later, the protagonist of Jane Eyre proclaims, "I would always rather be happy than dignified" (413).

  • Place the parenthetical reference at a natural pause in the text or after the quotation marks for direct quotations.
     
  • Multiple authors: 2-3 authors use the last names of each. For more than 3 authors, use the first author's last name and et al.

    (Smith, Jones, and Brown 323)

    (Bia et al. 161)

  • For authors with the same last name, include their first initial.

    (K. Shepard 36)

    (J. Shepard 212)

  • For multiple works by the same author, include a shorten form of the title.

    We should all try to "live in the Past, the Present, and the Future" (Dickens, A Christmas Carol 95).

  • For works with no page numbers, use explicitly numbered parts of the work (paragraphs, sections, chapters). Use author (or title) alone if there are no numbered parts.

    (Pushkin, ch. 5)

    According to the Human Rights Campaign's map of state laws and policies ....

  • For time-based works, use a time stamp in the form of hh:mm:ss.

    ("Hell Hath No Fury" 00:15:23-00:18:58)

How to Format the Works-Cited List

The "Works Cited" list provides details on all sources you used in your paper. If you include other sources consulted during your research, title the page "Works Consulted."

Core Elements

The menu below lists the core elements in a works-cited entry with its associated punctuation mark. Use information found in the source itself; do not use information about the source found on websites or in library catalogs. If an element does not exist for the source you are citing, skip it. For further details on an element, open the menu item.

For more information see: MLA Handbook, 21-25.

The author is the person or group responsible for creating or producing the work.

  • Begin the entry with the author's last name, followed by a comma and the rest of the name as listed in the work.
    • Alvarez, Julia.
  • No author: skip element and begin with title, but also see below for corporate author. 
  • Corporate author: If you don't find a personal author, determine whether it was created by an organization, institution, government agency.
    • If published by the organization: skip the author element and put the organization's name in Publisher.
    • If published by a different publisher: enter the organization's name as the author.
  • Two authors: list them in the order they appear. Invert the first author's name, followed by a comma and word "and" and the second author's name in normal order.
    • Dorris, Michael, and Louise Erdrich.
  • Three or more authors: invert the first author's name, follow it with a comma, and et al.
    • Manigault-Bryant, LeRhonda S., et al.
  • Editors and translators, follow their names with their role. Use the editor as the author if your focus is on the entire work and translator as author if your focus is on the translation.
    • Goldstein, Darra, editor.
    • White, Alan, translator. 
  • Performers, directors, conductors, etc.: if you are focusing on the contributions of a specific individual, begin your entry with that person's name with a descriptive label.
    • Smith, Will, performer.
    • Lee, Spike, director.
  • Pseudonyms, online usernames: Enter like regular author names. If the name takes the form of a traditional first name and last name, start the entry with the last name.

For more information see: MLA Handbook, 21-25.

The title of the source is often located near the author's name and prominently displayed.

  • Enter the title exactly as it appears in the source, except for standardizing capitalization and punctuation.
  • Place the title in quotation marks if the source is part of a larger work. For example:
    • article
    • essay, poem, short story
    • television episode
    • blog posting
  • Italicize the title if the work is self-contained and independent, such as books and films.
  • Untitled works: Give a generic description in place of the title. Do not use italics or quotation marks.

For more information see: MLA Handbook, 30-36.

A container is the larger work in which the source appears.

  • Examples of containers include:
    • journals, magazines, newspapers
    • books containing collections of essays, poems, or short stories
    • television show
    • blogs
  • Italicize the title and follow it with a comma.
  • A source can have more than one container. For example:
    • an article from a journal available through a library database.
      The first container is the journal and the second is the database.
    • a television episode watched online.
      The first container is the television show and the second is the online provider (Hulu, Netflix, etc.).
  • In order to have a complete citation, you should add the core elements from "Title of Container" to "Location" to the end of the entry for each container.
  • No larger container: skip this element.

For more information see: MLA Handbook, 37-38.

Other contributors are other people credited for the work.

  • If a person other than the author is important to what you are researching or for identifying the work, include their name in this element.
  • Precede the name with a description of their role. Some common ones are:
    • Edited by
    • Translated by
    • Introduction by
    • Directed by
    • Performance by
    • Adapted by
    • Illustrated by
  • For works with many contributors, such as film and television, include only those people most relevant to your research.

For more information see: MLA Handbook, 38-39.

Version indicates that there is more than one form of the work.

  • For books there may be numbered editions (1st ed., 2nd ed., etc.) or revised editions (rev. ed., updated ed., etc.)
  • Other possible versions include:
    • unabridged version
    • director's cut
    • software versions
  • The version information is written in lowercase, unless the previous element ended in a period, in which case the initial word is capitalized.

For more information see: MLA Handbook, 39-40.

Number refers to works appearing in a numbered sequence.

Instances where the number element is used include:

  • Using one volume of a multi-volume set: indicate which volume you used, using abbreviation vol. and the number.
  • Journal volumes and issues: indicate volume with abbreviation vol. and the number, followed by a comma, and issue number with the abbreviation no. and the number (e.g., vol. 7 no. 4).
  • Television series and episodes: record the season number and the episode number (e.g., season 5, episode 20).

For more information see: MLA Handbook, 40-42.

Publisher is the organization responsible for making the content publicly available.

  • If two or more organizations are equally responsible for the work, separate their names with a forward slash (/) with spaces before and after the slash.
  • Books: look for the publisher on the title page or copyright page.
  • Film and Television: cite the company that had the primary responsibility for the work.
  • Web sites: look for a copyright notice in the footer or an About Us page.
  • Omit business words such as Co., Corp., Inc., and Ltd. from the publisher's name.
  • Abbreviate University (U) and Press (P) in the names of academic publishers.
  • Publisher is not included in the following instances:
    • Journals, magazines, newspapers
    • Works published by its author or editor
    • Web sites whose title is essentially the same as the name of its publisher
    • Web services not involved in producing the works it makes available. For example, YouTube, JSTOR, ProQuest. These services are containers.

For more information see: MLA Handbook, 42-46.

Publication date documents the date of the work you used.

  • Multiple publication dates: for some sources there may be a print publication date and an online date. Cite the date for the format you used only.
  • Works developed over time: cite the range of dates.
  • Issues of a journal, magazines, newspapers: Indicate year (e.g., 2012), month and year (e.g., Oct. 2012), season and year (e.g., Fall 2012), or full date (e.g., 18 October 2012) as indicated on the work.
  • Online comments: Record time stamp using 12-hour clock format ( e.g., 18 Oct. 2012, 8:58 a.m.)

For more information see: MLA Handbook, 46-54.

Location specifies where you found the item within a larger container.

  • Print works: indicate the page number or range of page numbers, preceded by p. or pp. (e.g., p. 6 or pp. 6-10).
  • Online sources: provide the URL, stable URL (also called permalink), or DOI (digital object identifier).
  • Episodes on DVD: indicate disc number (e.g., disc 4).
  • Physical object: give name of the place that holds the object and the city (e.g., Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA).
  • Archival material: provide name of repository, city, and collection locator (e.g. Williams College Special Collections, Williamstown, MA, Hopkins Family Papers).
  • Performances: indicate the venue and city (e.g., '62 Center for Theatre and Dance, Williamstown, MA).

Formatting and Ordering the Works-Cited List

For more information see: MLA Handbook, 111-116.

  • Place the works-cited list at end of the paper.
  • Use hanging indent feature of your word processor to indent the second and subsequent lines of the entry .5 inches from the left margin.
  • Arrange entries in alphabetical order by the first element, usually the author. If there is no author, use the title.
  • Alphabetize letter by letter of the author's name before the comma. Letters after the comma are used only when authors have the same last name.
  • For multiple works by the same author, alphabetize by title. Also, replace the author's name with three hyphens on the second and subsequent entries.
  • Alphabetize titles letter by letter ignoring initial articles (A, An, The, and foreign equivalents).

How do I deal with ___?

Missing citation elements

In general, if one of the core citation elements is missing, you may skip that element in the works-cited entry.

  • No author:
    • Determine whether an organization is responsible for the content. If so, use that organization's name as the author. (MLA Handbook 25, 55-56)
    • For unknown author, start the works-cited entry with the title, and use the title in place of the author in the in-text citation. (MLA Handbook 24, 55-56)
  • No page number: For the in-text citation use explicitly numbered parts of the work (paragraphs, sections, chapters). Use author (or title) alone if there are no numbered parts. (MLA Handbook 56)
  • Use square brackets: if you know information, such as publisher or date, that doesn't appear in the source, enclose the information in square brackets.
    • Use "circa": if you supply a date that is approximate. Example: [circa 2014]
    • Use ?: if you are uncertain about the information you provide. Example: [2014?]

More than one author

  • List authors in order they appear on title page
  • Use the word "and," not an ampersand (&)
  • For works with three or more authors:
    • For the in-text citation: use the first author's last name followed by et al. (Smith et al. 23). (MLA Handbook 116)
    • For the works-cited list: invert the first author's name, follow with a comma and et al. Smith, John, et al. (MLA Handbook 22)

Using a source quoted in a secondary source

It is always better to consult the original source, but if it cannot be obtained, cite the secondary source in the works-cited list. If you are citing a quotation, use "qtd. in" (quoted in) in the in-text citation.  Example: (qtd. in Smith 22). (MLA Handbook 124)

Examples: Books, Chapters

Generic Citation Format

Author Last Name, First Name. Title of Source. Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication Date, Location.

For further details on the core elements, see How to Format the Works-Cited List.


Book

Perle, George. Serial Composition and Atonality: An Introduction to the Music of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. 6th ed., U of California P, 1991.

Feder, Ellen K. Family Bonds: Genealogies of Race and Gender. Oxford UP, 2007. ProQuest ebrary, site.ebrary.com/lib/williams/docDetail.action?docID=10194201.

Note: ProQuest ebrary provides a Williams-specific URL as the permalink. To make the "location" element more universal, replace the URL with docID 10194201. 


Edited Book

Higonnet, Margaret R., and Joan Templeton, editors. Reconfigured Spheres: Feminist Explorations of Literary Space. U of Massachusetts P, 1994.


Translated Book

García Márquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Translated by Gregory Rabassa, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.

Note: if your focus is on the translation of the text, move the translator's name to the Author position, and the main content author's name to the Other Contributors position.

Rabassa, Gregory, translator. One Hundred Years of Solitude. By Gabriel García Márquez, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.


Chapter or Essay in Book

Roell, Craig H. "The Piano in the American Home." The Arts and the American Home, 1890-1930, edited by Jessica H. Foy and Karal Ann Marling, U of Tennessee P, 1994, pp. 193-204.


Introduction, Preface, Foreword, Afterword

Knox, Bernard. Introduction. Metamorphoses, by Ovid, translated and edited by Charles Martin, W. W. Norton, 2004, pp. ix-xxiv.

If the introduction, preface, foreword, or afterword has a title, include it in quotation marks before the descriptive term (Introduction, Preface, etc.) (MLA Handbook 106).

Examples: Articles

Generic Citation Format

Author Last Name, First Name. Title of Source. Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication Date, Location.

For further details on the core elements, see How to Format the Works-Cited List.


Journal Article

Wolff, Larry. "‘The Boys are Pickpockets, and the Girl is a Prostitute’: Gender and Juvenile Criminality in Early Victorian England from Oliver Twist to London Labour." New Literary History, vol. 27, no. 2, Spring 1996, pp. 227-249. Project Muse, muse.jhu.edu/article/24302.

Smith, Matthew J. "God's Idioms: Sermon Belief in Donne's London." English Literary Renaissance, vol. 46, no. 1, Winter 2016, pp. 93-128. Wiley Online Library, doi: 10.1111/1475-6757.12061.


Magazine Article

Erdrich, Louise. "The Flower." The New Yorker, 29 June 2015, pp. 56-61.

Erdrich, Louise. "The Flower." The New Yorker, 29 June 2015, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/29/the-flower.


Newspaper Article

Byatt, A.S. "Harry Potter and the Childish Adult." The New York Times, 7 July 2003, p. A13. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times, search.proquest.com/docview/92581320?accountid=15054.

Byatt, A.S. "Harry Potter and the Childish Adult." The New York Times, 7 July 2003, www.nytimes.com/2003/07/07/opinion/harry-potter-and-the-childish-adult.html.

Examples: Web, Blogs, Social Media

Generic Citation Format

Author Last Name, First Name. Title of Source. Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication Date, Location.

For further details on the core elements, see How to Format the Works Cited List.


Web Page

"Maps of State Laws and Policies." Human Rights Campaign, 2016, www.hrc.org/state_maps. Accessed 21 August 2016.

Note: Access date is not a core element, but it can be included if it helps to identify the version of the page you consulted or when there is no specific publication date.


Blog

Stewart, Jenell. "Natural Hair Creates a More Inclusive Standard." My Natural Hair Journey, Huffington Post, 12 July 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com/jenell-stewart/natural-hair-creates-a-more-inclusive-beauty-standard_b_10949874.html.


Blog Comment

Silver H., Comment on "You Are Triggering Me! The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma," Bully Bloggers, 16 Aug. 2014, 3:17 p.m., bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/you-are-triggering-me-the-neo-liberal-rhetoric-of-harm-danger-and-trauma/#comment-9001.


Social Media

@POTUS (President Obama). "Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else. #LoveWins." Twitter, 26 June 2015, 7:10 a.m., twitter.com/POTUS/status/614435467120001024.

For untitled short works, such as tweets, use the entire tweet without changes as the title (MLA Handbook 29).

Examples: Music, Film, TV, Images

Generic Citation Format

Author Last Name, First Name. Title of Source. Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication Date, Location.

For further details on the core elements, see How to Format the Works-Cited List.


Music Score

Schoenberg, Arnold. A Survivor from Warsaw For Narrator, Men's Chorus, and Orchestra. Op. 46, Bomart Music Publications, 1949.


Music Recording

Bernstein, Leonard. Candide: Opera House Version, 1982. Performance by the New York City Opera Chorus and Orchestra, NW 340/341-2, New World Records, 1986.

Beyoncé. "Sorry." Lemonade, Parkwood Entertainment, 2016, www.beyonce.com/album/lemonade-visual-album/.

NW 340/341-2 in the first example is the record label's catalog number for the album.


Film

Peck, Raoul. L'homme sur les quais [The Man by the Shore]. 1993. Velvet Film, 2013. DVD.

The date of original release (1993 in this example) is an optional element. Include it when it gives your reader insight into the creation of the work. While MLA Handbook, 8th edition, does not require "DVD" to be included in the citation, you can add it to help your reader know how you accessed the film.


Online Video

"TNC:172 Kennedy-Nixon First Presidential Debate, 1960." YouTube, uploaded by JFK Library, 21 Sept. 2010, www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbrcRKqLSRw.


Television

"Chapter One: The Pilot." Jane the Virgin, created by Jennie Snyder Urman, season 1, episode 1, Poppy Productions, 2014. Netflix, www.netflix.com/watch/80060553.

Rodriguez, Gina, performer. "Chapter Forty-Four." Jane the Virgin, created by Jennie Snyder Urman, season 2, episode 22, The CW, 16 May 2016. www.cwtv.com/shows/jane-the-virgin/.

Jane the Virgin: Season 1. Created by Jennie Snyder Urman, performance by Gina Rodriguez, Warner Home Video, 2015. DVD.

If you are writing about a television episode without focusing on a particular individual's contribution, start the entry with the title. If you are focusing on the creator or performer, start with their name and role.

In the examples above, the first example is writing about the first episode in general and it was watched on Netflix. The second example is writing about Gina Rodriguez's performance in a particular episode that was watched online during the season. The last example is writing about the first season in general, watched on DVD. While MLA Handbook, 8th edition, does not require "DVD" to be included in the citation, you can add it to help your reader know how you accessed the film.


Image

Degas, Edgar. The Dance Class. 1874, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Degas, Edgar. The Dance Class. 1874. The Met, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/438817.

Degas, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar. The Dance Class.1874. ArtStor, library.artstor.org.

Degas, Edgar. The Dance Class. 1875-1876. Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 12, 1974-February 10, 1975, edited by Anne Dayez, Michel Hoog, and Charles S. Moffett, [Metropolitan Museum of Art], 1974, p. 105.

In the examples above, the first one is seeing the artwork in person, the second is accessing the image from the museum's website, the third is accessing it through the library database ArtStor, and the last is using an image from a book.

Examples: Government Documents

Generic Citation Format

Author Last Name, First Name. Title of Source. Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication Date, Location.

For further details on the core elements, see How to Format the Works-Cited List.


Congressional Hearing

U.S. Congress, House, Committee on International Relations. The Threat from International Organized Crime and Global Terrorism: Hearing before the Committee on International Relations. Government Printing Office, 1997. 105th Congress, 1st session.

You may end entries for congressional documents with the number of the Congress, session, and the type and number of publication (if applicable). If you are using many congressional publications, consult the Chicago Manual of Style for more specialized guidelines (MLA Handbook 105.).

Examples: Unpublished/Archival

Generic Citation Format

Author Last Name, First Name. Title of Source. Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication Date, Location.

For further details on the core elements, see How to Format the Works-Cited List.


Interview/Discussion

Falk, Adam. Interview by author, 15 May 2016, Williamstown, MA.


Manuscript/Archival

Hopkins, Mark. Letter to Jaime Margalotti, 22 March 1861, Williams College Special Collections, Williamstown, MA, Hopkins Family Papers.

Need More Info?

What Needs to be Cited?

  • Exact wording taken from any source, including freely available websites
  • Paraphrases of passages
  • Indebtedness to another person for an idea
  • Use of another student's work
  • Use of your own previous work

You do not need to cite common knowledge.