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MLA Citation & Style Guide

Guidance for citing sources in MLA style.

Background Information

"I've heard some people say citation, and other people say works-cited list or entry. What's the difference?"

Citations and works-cited lists are linked to each other. When you cite a source, you're providing credit for that source in two different places: a citation and a works-cited list.

  • The citation is placed within the text where you refer to the source. (It's also called an "in-text citation" for this reason.) This is a short version of information about the source. It could be a parenthetical citation: (Bradbury 21). Or, it could be an endnote or a footnote: 2.
  • The works-cited entry is placed in the works-cited list at the end of your paper. This is the longer version of information about the source, and it looks something like this:

    Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Ballantine Books, 1970.

The citation should always match the works-cited entry. That way, if a reader wants to find more information about a source while reading your work, s/he can just flip to the back to locate the source in your works-cited list according to the information you provided in your citation.

It's also a good idea to double-check that all of the sources in the in-text citations are in the works-cited list, and vice versa. In other words, don't include sources in your works-cited list that you didn't quote or paraphase; that's called "bib padding."

These are the programs sorted according to most commonly used style.

APA Style Chicago Style MLA Style
  • Business
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Education
  • Health Care Administration
  • Homeland Security
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • History
  • Theology
  • English
  • Humanities
  • Literature

Citations perform very important roles in research, both at an academic and a professional level.

  • They tell your readers where you located your information.
  • They tell your professors what kind of research you performed.
  • They connect your research to the work of other researchers and scholars.
  • They give you authority as a writer and researcher.

Why Should I Cite?

Citing your sources

  • provides credit to the original authors,
  • prevents plagiarism, and
  • meets requirements of assignments.

When Should I Cite?

You should use citations whenever you quote, paraphrase, or summarize someone else's work.

  • Quotations are exact duplicates of other people's words.
  • Paraphrases are other people's ideas rewritten in your own words. They're usually about the same length as the original material.
  • Summaries are other people's ideas that you've shortened to highlight the main ideas. They're always shorter than the original material.

You should cite your sources whenever you write ideas that aren't your original ideas. For specific situations, take a look at: Plagiarism Resources.

Citation Basics

Matryoshka dolls. By Amanda Er
Er, Amanda. Matryoshka Dolls. 2010, March 13, Flickr,

The new MLA 8th Edition focuses on the concept of "containers" instead of formats.

For example, a book is a container. If it's a print book, then it just has one container. But if it's an e-book, then it has two containers (the e-book itself, and the database or e-reader that you used to access the e-book.)

The same thing happens with articles from journals. The journal is the main container of the article, but if you found the journal article from a database, then the database is an outer container for the journal.

MLA provides examples of using the container structure on their website.

All works-cited entries provide the same types of information, what MLA calls the Core Elements:

MLA core elements: 1. Author. 2. Title of source. 3. Title of container. 4. Other contributors, 5. Version, 6. Number, 7. Publisher, 8. Publication date, 9. Location.

It might help to think about how these core elements fit within a who, what, where, when format

  • Who. Who's responsible for writing the source? (1) Author, (4) Other contributors.
  • What. What's the name of the source? (2) Title of source, (3) Title of container.
  • Where. Where in a container is a source located? Who produced the source? What is the page range or the URL? (5) Version, (6) Number, (7) Publisher, (9) Location.
  • When. When was the source published or produced? (8) Publication date.
  • MLA Style also wants to know when you accessed online material (webpage, websites, etc.).

While there are different citation styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.), they all serve the same purpose. And they all have similar fill-in-the-blank properties. Think of them like jigsaw puzzles. You just have to put the pieces together. And just as different jigsaw puzzles are completed in different ways, different citations have different orders of placement.

book citation jigsaw puzzle
citation jigsaw puzzle solved

book citation jigsaw scatter

citation jigsaw puzzle pile

Also, syntax and punctuation matter in the creation of citations. If you place the citation elements in the wrong order with incorrect punctuation, the citation won't work — just as the jigsaw pieces wouldn't fit together if the shapes or edges weren't exact matches.

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