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MLA 9th Edition

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So you've been assigned a project using MLA...

MLA can be confusing and overwhelming, but we've got you covered. This guide breaks down the process of an MLA assignment into manageable steps using a checklist. Follow the links in the checklist to learn about each section.

Just need an example to follow for a specific source? Skip straight to the Citation Examples page. 

Understanding the Why of Citations

Entering the Academic Community

It's important to understand the context of communication in college. A group of professors talking in community in front of a chalkboardWhen you started college, you entered the academic community. And like all communities, academia has values that hold it together. Some of the foundational values held by the academic community include:

  • Generating new knowledge through constructive debate
  • Acknowledging and building upon the voices of those who came before in the conversation
  • Forming viewpoints out of deep research, experience, or thought rather than only opinion
  • Ensuring people’s freedom to evaluate and make their own decisions about the same information

As a college student, you’re here to learn. You aren’t expected to be an expert in the field you’re studying yet. So when you’re asked to prepare a research project or enter into a discussion, you will be relying on sources and other authors’ ideas to help inform your thinking, develop an argument, and learn the nuances of the topic. It is important to distinguish between your original thoughts and opinions and those you’re basing on the ideas of other authors or thinkers. In any field you pursue, you will be acquiring and developing new understanding at each step.


Joining the Scholarly Conversation

There are different expectations for conversation within the academic community. Take this example between an informal conversation and an academic one - at the dinner table with your family or out with your friends, it is perfectly acceptable to simply state how much you love or hate the idea of universal healthcare and tell a story about a friend you know who was hurt or helped by the current system. In an academic paper or discussion, research into how different universal health care systems have played out in other countries, statistics on the effects of universal health care, or a scholarly discussion by political and economic scholars on the cost to benefit of implementing different policies would be more appropriate.

In the academic community, other’s voices and ideas are acknowledged through citation. Citing sources combines the academic values of intellectual freedom, constructive debate, and acknowledging the voices that have come before us. In the academic community, freedom to make your own evaluation and decisions about the same information is highly valued. Without that freedom, there is no room for the creativity that comes out of it or the constructive debate that comes from a variety of viewpoints. New knowledge cannot be generated without that creativity and debate, and that debate can’t happen if people engaging in it don’t know where the information is coming from.

Citations within a paper and the corresponding references at the bottom provide a visual representation of the scholarly conversation and also make it clear which parts are the words and thoughts of the author and which are the thoughts and ideas of others.

Formatting Your Document

Pro TipPro Tip: You can save yourself time by starting your paper in a document already formatted for MLA. Download the MLA 9th Edition Paper Template to get started.

Already started your paper? No problem! Here are the requirements for MLA formatting:

  • Times New Roman 12 point font (or other easily readable font 11-13 points)
  • Double spacing throughout
  • 1 inch margins
  • A running head with your last name in the top right corner
  • Page numbers to the right of your name in the running head
  • Heading with your name, your professor’s name, the class, and the date formatted Day Month Year
  • Paper Title underneath the heading
  • Works Cited page in hanging indent format and in alphabetical order by the first element in the citation

Check out the Formatting Your Paper in MLA video for step-by-step instructions on how to set up these requirements.


MLA citations in the Works Cited list are in hanging indent format. That means the first line goes all the way to the left and subsequent lines start .5 inches to the right. You can create a hanging indent by highlighting the citation, right clicking on the highlighted portion, choosing Paragraph, and then choosing Hanging Indent in the Spacing section. 



Identifying the Core Elements

Along with showing your knowledge of the subject and credibility as an author, the point of providing a reference is to allow a reader to look up the source for themselves. So you need to provide as much information as you can. MLA Works Cited citations are made up of core elements based on a single template you can apply to any source. If you learn to identify the elements and put them into the template's formatting, you'll be able to create a citation for anything without needing to find just the right example to follow. We'll come back to the template in Creating Your Works Cited Page, but for now, let's identify the 9 core elements.

There are MLAs 9 basic elements:

""1. Author: The person, group, or organization responsible for the intellectual or creative work of a source.

2. Title of Source: The title of the specific piece of information you’re looking at.

3. Title of Container: The larger work that contains the smaller bit of information that you’re focusing on.

4. Contributor: Other people, such as editors, translators, directors, etc. who have put creativity and thought into the work.

5. Version: Indicates which variation of a source you are using, such as edition or director’s cut.

6. Number: Indicates where in a series your source is found.

7. Publisher: Who prepared and distributed the source to a wider audience.

8. Publication Date: When the source was published in print or online.

9. Location: Where in the source you found the information, such as page numbers of a book chapter or the url of a website.

Pro TipMost sources don't have all the elements. The idea is to include as many as the source has. Also, if the source has more than one container, such as a journal article contained in a journal contained in a database, elements 3 through 9 will appear more than once. Each source will be slightly different.

Creating Your Works Cited

The Works Cited page is where you put all the core elements you identified together into a formatted reference so that a reader can look up the source for themselves. Every work you will refer to in your assignment need to be in this list.

A Works Cited list can also help you organize your research as you prepare for your paper. If you create it as you find sources or determine which you are going to use, then no sources will be lost and you'll be less likely to accidentally plagiarize. And with so much information out there while you're researching, it's easy to lose track of where your sources came from, and you'll need to take extra time to track them down again. So a Works Cited page can help both you and your reader find the sources again. 

The Works Cited page should be it's own page in your paper or project. The heading, Works Cited, should be centered at the top of the page, and your sources should be included in alphabetical order by the first element in the reference.

Remember that MLA has one template that can be applied to every source. If you've done your due diligence to find an element, but the source doesn't have that element, it's okay to skip it.

Check out the video for using the template to create a complete journal article citation. Then review the formatting rules that make up MLA's template.

One author is formatted last name, first name. Middle names are included after the first name.

Shakepeare, William.

Two authors are formatted last name, first name and first name last name.

Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner.

Three or more authors are formatted last name, first name, et al. Et al. stands for “and others.” Whether you have three authors or ten, all you need to cite is the name of the first author followed by et al.

Murphy, Ryan, et al.

Contributors in the Author Element space: Contributors are those who have creative responsibility besides writing. If you are citing a contributor in the author element space, include their contribution after their name separated by a comma.

McKellen, Ian, performer.

Contributors in the Contributor Element space: Format the contributor(s) with their role first – translated by, directed by, performed by, etc.

edited by Kelly J. Mays,

Multiple Works by the Same Author

Works Cited

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. The Committed. Grove Press, 2021.

---. Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. Harvard UP, 2016.

---. The Sympathizer. Grove Press, 2015.

  • Titles of whole works, such as books or websites, are italicized. For example, The Norton Introduction to Literature is a whole work -an anthology- containing many smaller works - short stories, poems, plays, etc..
  • Titles of containers are always italicized because they represent a whole work. Titles of sources are italicized only if you are citing a whole work.
  • Titles of sources are put in quotations if the source is a smaller piece of the larger whole. A chapter in a book or an article in a journal are two examples. So the play, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the book The Norton Introduction to Literature would be in quotations.
  • Titles in MLA need to be in title case. Title case means that all the beginnings of important words are capitalized. Prepositions, conjunctions, and articles don't need to be capitalized unless they appear first or after a colon (:). This rule applies no matter the capitalization you see in the source itself.


Dates, whether they are in your citation or the heading of your paper, should be formatted as day month year with no commas. Months longer than 4 letters can be abbreviated. You should include as much detail about the date as your source provides. This includes if a source gives a season instead of a month. Seasons are formatted as season year with no commas.

1 Aug. 2016,

Spring 2016,

Access dates are an optional element at the end of your citation for an online source. Some instructors prefer that you include an access date for websites and other electronic      sources. Make sure to check with your professor for their preferences.

Accessed 2 Mar. 2018.

Volumes and issue numbers are also abbreviated. They are formatted as vol. for volume and no. for number. Separate the two with a comma.    

vol. 19, no. 4, 

Pages are abbreviated as p. for a single page and pp. for multiple pages.

p. 17.

pp. 17-21.

Editions are abbreviated as ed., and numbered editions are represented with numerals.

5th ed.,  

Publishers with the words University Press in their name are abbreviated as UP. If University is not in the publisher's name, keep the full word Press.

Oxford University Press would become Oxford UP

State University of New York Press would become State U of New York P

  • The citation template does a nice job of illustrating where punctuation goes in your citation. The elements Author and Title of source are followed by periods. Periods also go after the end of the elements describing a Container.


  • The last element in a container is always followed by a period, even if it is not the location element.
  • If you use a period between core elements, the word following the period is always capitalized.

Works Cited

Murphy, Ryan, et al. “Showmance.” Glee, season 1, episode 2, 9 Sept. 2009. Netflix, tctx=0%2C1%2C2e351d08-66da-4a28-b3a4-69e787fd8a77-7492535.

If you prefer using examples for each of your sources, you can find them on the Citation Examples page. Keep in mind that if you use the examples, you may need to combine several of them to get the best citation for your source. For example, if you have an edited book with an edition and several authors, you may need to look at the edited book example, a book with multiple authors example, and the book with an edition example. 

Incorporating In-Text Citations

The Basics

(Author Last Name Page Number).

(Phillips 162).

Any time you quote, paraphrase, summarize, or use an idea from a source within the text of your project, you must give credit to the source by using an in-text citation. Usually, in-text citations go at the beginning or end of a sentence. The information found in an in-text citation includes the last name of the author(s) and the page number. 

In-text citations are a visual cue for readers showing which sections are your own thoughts and which belong to someone else. They also point a reader to the full citation on the Works Cited page. 

Scroll down for examples.

De Souza 3

We should not forget that the Migration series made a big impact when it was first exhibited in 1941. It was part of the first major exhibit of African American art in a downtown New York gallery (Phillips 162). Part of his series was published in Fortune magazine, and Lawrence sold the series in halves to two major museums before it went on a national tour (163). Why was it so popular? One art historian writes, “The series De Souza 4 appealed broadly to critics and viewers alike because it embodied American ideals about individual good fortune” (Patton 156). That is, individual panels showed hopeful actions by different African Americans. But it is interesting to notice that the series is different from previous ones he painted, like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, which focused on a hero or heroine. Patricia Hills points this out, and she states that “the people as a whole—acting with a collective will—take on a heroic dimension beyond distinctions of class or gender” in the Migration series (146). There is possibly a tension between these two views. 

De Souza 11
Works Cited

Adams, Luther J. “Great Migration, Causes Of.” Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration, edited by Steven A. Reich, vol. 1, Greenwood Press, 2006, pp. 504-06.

Hills, Patricia. “Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series: Weavings of Pictures and Texts.” Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, edited by Turner, Elizabeth Hutton, Rappahannock Press, 1993, pp. 141-53.

Patton, Sharon F. African-American Art. Oxford UP, 1998.

Phillips, Stephen Bennett. “Chronology: Jacob Lawrence and the Migration Series.” Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, edited by Turner, Elizabeth Hutton, Rappahannock Press, 1993, pp. 161-64.

These examples come from a Student Paper Sample. For the complete paper, check out this PDF from MLA:

Parenthetical Example:

When all of the citation information is put in parenthesis at the end of the sentence.

"A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge" (Martin 103).

Narrative Example:

You can also put the name of the author in the sentence and include only the page number in the in-text citation. 

George R. R. Martin writes through the character Tyrion, "A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge" (103). 

Works Cited

Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones. A Song of Ice and Fire, vol. 1, Bantum Books, 29 Oct. 2013.

Parenthetical Example:

“A demon can get into real trouble, doing the right thing” (Gaiman and Pratchett 5).

Narrative Example:

As Gaiman and Pratchett note, “A demon can get into real trouble, doing the right thing” (5).

Works Cited

Gaiman, Neil and Terry Pratchett. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, William Morrow, 2006.

When three or more authors are listed, only include the first author followed by the abbreviation et al.

Parenthetical Example:

The unholy trinity were initially let into the glee club when they sang ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ (Murphy et al. 00:36:00-50).

Narrative Example:

Murphy et al. decided to have the unholy trinity join the glee club with the song "I Say a Little Prayer' (00:36:00-50).

Works Cited

Murphy, Ryan, et al. "Showmance." Glee, season 1, episode 2, 21st Century Fox, 9 Sept. 2009. Netflix,

  • If no author is given or the source is anonymous, use the first core element in the citation to identify it. Usually this is the Title of the source.

  • If the title is a single noun phrase, do not abbreviate the title. A noun phrase is a noun and and all the words that describe it. For example, in the title Arabian Nights, Arabian is an adjective describing the noun nights. However, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has two noun phrases connected by a conjunction. It would be abbreviated to the first noun phrase, Sir Gawain, in an in text citation.

  • If your source has no page numbers, leave that information out.

Parenthetical Example:

Biomedical engineering requires at least a bachelors degree with some jobs requiring a graduate degree (“Biomedical Engineers”).

Narrative Example:

"Biomedical Engineers" states that a bachelors degree is the minimum for the field with some jobs requiring a graduate degree.

Works Cited

“Biomedical Engineers.” Occupational Outlook Handbook. 2016-2017 ed., United States Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 Dec. 2015, 


A summary takes a large chunk of content and condenses it into a small form. Use this technique when you are talking about broad aspects of a whole work, chapter, or character:

Hamlet is either pretending to be mad to drive forward his revenge or has truly lost his mind in pursuit of revenge; even he seems unsure at times throughout the play (Shakespeare).


A paraphrase puts a specific line or section in your own words. Use this technique on smaller chunks of a work when the author's exact words are not important to your analysis:

In his famous soliloquy opening Act 3, Hamlet talks about the conflict in his mind between continuing and dying (Shakespeare, act 3, scene 1).

Direct Quote

A direct quote expresses the idea EXACTLY the way the author did. Use this technique when the way the author expresses the words is central to your analysis or point:

Hamlet's proclamation, “To be, or not to be," is arguably the most famous line of Shakespeare's works, but it takes reading further into the soliloquy's metaphors to truly understand the meaning (Shakespeare, act 3, scene 1, line 1). Soon after this famous line Hamlet expounds, "Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;" comparing sleep to death and giving us the first hint that Hamlet is considering whether it is better to live or die. (Shakespeare, 3.1.4-5).