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MLA Citation Guide

MLA Core Elements

List of MLA core elementsThis page contains general information about the core elements of an MLA citation. The pages for each source type have more specific information about what you will need to fill out your citations.

Fig. 1. Core elements of an MLA citation: (1) Author. (2) Title of source. (3) Title of container, (4) Contributor, (5) Version, (6) Number, (7) Publisher, (8) Publication date, (9) Location. From "Works Cited: A Quick Guide," The MLA Style Center.

Citations for all sources follow the core elements in the order listed by MLA (fig. 1):

Author. Title of source. Supplemental element 1 (only when needed). Title of container, Contributor, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location. Supplemental element 2 (only when needed). 

A container has all of the information about where you found your source - for example, a website or database. Some works are self-contained, meaning that the only container elements used would be the publisher, publication date, and sometimes location. An example of this is a physical printed book. Sometimes you will need two or more containers. A good example is a journal article (your source), which is published in a scholarly journal (first container), and which you are likely to find in a database (second container). 

For some sources, not all of the information listed in the MLA core template will be available. Only include information that is relevant to the source you’re citing, and do not include placeholders such as “n.d.” (no date). When creating your citation, your goal is to give your reader enough information to find the source online or in a library. ‚Äč

Definitions of MLA Core Elements

Author

The writer, editor, director, or other creator(s) of a work. This can be one or more people, a government organization, or a company.

Title of Source

The title of the book, article, chapter, movie, podcast, etc., that you used. Shorter works or episodes are in “quotes.” Longer standalone works are in italics. Some sources, such as maps, artifacts, and social media posts, do not have titles. When this is the case, create a short description to use in the Title element (do not put the description in quotes or italics).

Supplemental Element 1

Use this for information relevant to the work that is not relevant to the container. Usually this would be additional contributors or an original publication date.

  • Examples of additional contributors include translator, editor, narrator, and guest director.
  • Original publication dates are used when a date only applies to the title of the source, not to the container. For example, if you view a Supreme Court decision online, you would use the original publication date (when the decision was issued), not the date it was uploaded online.

Title of Container

Only added to the citation if the work you used is part of a larger work (for example, a short story from an anthology, an article from a newspaper, or an episode of a TV show).

Other contributors

Editor(s), translator(s), performer(s), or other people who contributed to the work.

Version

Edition or version of a work, such as the 9th edition of the MLA Handbook, the King James Version of the Bible, or the director’s cut of Blade Runner.

Number

Applies to works in serial format, such as magazine articles or episodes of a TV show. Also applies to multi-volume works, such as encyclopedias.

Publisher

The company, organization, or government entity responsible for publishing or producing the work.

Publication date

The date the work was published, posted, or released.

Location

Where to find the work – for example, the URL or an article’s page numbers in a magazine.

Supplemental element 2

Used for information that applies to the entire work, including its containers. The second supplemental element slot can contain the following information (this is not a complete list –  for more, consult a librarian or see the MLA Handbook, 9th edition, pp. 208-217):

  • Date of access – Include when the source is a website without a publication date, or when you think an online source might have been changed or removed.
  • Medium of publication – Include when the format of a source is important or might be confusing, or when you use a source's supplemental material. Examples: transcript, EPUB, DVD, liner notes, PDF download, lecture. 
  • Government documents – Specifically for documents created by the United States Congress. Include: the number of Congress, the session of Congress, whether the document came from the Senate or House of Representatives, the type of document (bill, resolution, report), and the number of the document. If it was legislation that passed, also include the date. For example:  115th Congress, 2nd session, House Resolution 6147, passed 1 Aug. 2018.

Database as container

If you found your source in a database, you will need to repeat the following two elements at the end of your citation:

  • Title of container – The name of the database. It is italicized.
  • Location – If a DOI is given, use that for the location, in this format: https://doi.org/12345/abc12345. If no DOI is available, use the article’s URL (web address) instead.
    • A DOI is a digital object identifier – a unique ID for a digital item, like a VIN for a car. It is usually a string of numbers and sometimes letters.

Abbreviations

Publishers' Names

Remove the following words and abbreviations from a publisher's name:

  • Company / Co.
  • Corporation / Corp.
  • Incorporated / Inc. 
  • Limited / Ltd.
  • The, if it begins the publisher's name
    • For example, The Overlook Press becomes Overlook Press in your citation.

Academic Publishers

University is abbreviated as U, and press is abbreviated as P. Examples:

  • The University of Chicago Press becomes U of Chicago P.
  • Oxford University Press becomes Oxford UP.

Months

May, June, and July are not abbreviated. The other nine months are abbreviated as follows – January: Jan. / February: Feb. / March: Mar. / April: Apr. / August: Aug. / September: Sept. / October: Oct. / November: Nov. / December: Dec.

Works Cited List Formatting

When you create your Works Cited page, use the following format:

  • It should be double-spaced and in an easily readable font. (We suggest 12-pt. Times New Roman.)
  • The title Works Cited should be centered at the top of the page.
    • If you only cited one item, you have a Work Cited page.
  • Your citations should be left-justified with a hanging indent of 0.5 inches.
  • Capitalize the first word in each title. Also capitalize the main words: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions. Unless one of these words is the first word in the title, do not capitalize: articles, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, or the “to” in infinitives. For examples of these parts of speech, see the MLA Handbook, 9th ed., pp. 54-55.
  • Alphabetize your Works Cited page by the first word in the citation, usually author. If there is no author, use the first word in the title, but ignore articles (a, an, and the). If the title begins with a year or a number (for example, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus), alphabetize it as if the number/year is spelled out (“fourteen ninety-one”).

Example Works Cited List

Practice Template