MLA Citation Styles

Learning Objective:

  • Identify citation elements in MLA format.

At some point in college, you will have to write a research paperAn article that supplements the author's ideas or experiences with information gathered from other people and sources with knowledge of the subject. in which you will need to include sourcesA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information. to support your own ideas. When you do so, it is imperative that you do it correctly or you could be accused of plagiarismThe act of taking someone else's ideas, words, or work and pass it off as your own; copying without giving credit., which has sizeable consequences in the academic world. Many college classes use either MLAA grammar and reference guide used mainly by students and scholars writing about the humanities (languages and literature). or APAA set of guidelines for citing sources used in literary and academic writing. APA style is most commonly used in the social sciences. format to citeTo give credit to the source of ideas or information. sources. MLA refers to the Modern Language Association, and APA refers to the American Psychological Association. There are other citation A reference within a text to an outside source of ideas, quotes, or information. Citations can be placed within sentences or in a separate works cited or reference section, as specified by the style guide in use.styles, including The Chicago Manual of StyleA set of guidelines for grammar, punctuation, and citations, widely used by students, editors, and general interest publications. and Turabian, but this lesson will focus on MLA style. All citation styles share similar elements, so if you understand the major elements of any style, you will easily be able to adapt.

Major Citation Elements

Attributive Phrases

Whether you are summarizingTo give a short version of the main points of a text., paraphrasingThe use of different words to express the meaning of an original text or speech., or quotingTo use the exact words of someone else in a writing. Quotes are indicted in a writing using quotation marks and attributive phrases. a source, it is important to provide contextThe larger setting in which something happens; the "big picture.", so you should include an attributive phraseA short introduction to source material that identifies the author and often the title of a work that will be quoted or discussed in an essay or research paper. to indicate to the reader that you are incorporating a source. An attributive phrase gives credit to the author of the original work. It is used in tandem with an in-text citationInformation about a source, such as the author, date, and page number, in an essay or research paper that helps readers find the source in the works cited or references page. There are different rules for how to use in-text citations depending on the context of the citation and the style of formatting you are using., which is the information in parentheses.

MLA attributive phrases:

Thomas writes that Evans intended to "inspire a new generation of playwrights" (42).

According to Thomas, Evans wrote best at his home in Florida, "rising early and finishing late" (53).

In-text Citations

When you incorporate a source in your essayA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. , you need to include in-text citations in addition to attributive phrases. Together, attributive phrases and in-text citations give readers the necessary information to be able to find the original source listed in the works cited pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an MLA-formatted essay or research paper..

MLA style in-text citation requires the author's name and a page number (if the source has page numbers and a specific page is referenced).

Example of an MLA in-text citation without an attributive phrase:

Evans' work has been characterized as "masterful, but distinctly odd" (Thomas 45).

In MLA style, if the author's name is mentioned in the attributive phrase, the in-text citation should include the page number only.

Example of an MLA in-text citation with an attributive phrase:

Thomas characterizes Evans' work as "masterful, but distinctly odd" (45).

Longer quotations are formatted and cited differently than shorter quotations. MLA style requires that you use block quotationA copy of a long section of a text or speech, set off from the rest of a text. Block quotations, like direct quotations, are exact repeats of wording, but because of their length they are indented or printed in a different font rather than placed inside quotation marks. format (also called indented format) for quotations that run longer than four lines of proseWriting based on ordinary grammatical language, rather than the rhythms or rhymes used in poetry. text (or three of poetryWriting that relies on the sound, pattern, or rhythm of words to evoke vivid impressions and emotions. ).

You should indent every line of a block quotation from the left margin by one inch and maintain double-spacing. Quotation marksA set of single or double inverted commas (' ' or " ") that are placed around a word or passage to mark the beginning and end of a direct quotation or a title. are not required since indentation makes it clear that the material is quoted. Introduce the quote with an attributive phrase, and place an in-text citation after the period at the end of the quotation.

Example of an MLA block quotation format:

Jarvis mentions George's extreme attention to detail:

George would spend hours combing through his work for mistakes, long before submitting it to his editors. Pride apparently dictated that he present them with fully proofread copies. These hours of attention to minute discrepancies may have cost him his eyesight in the end. (14)

Works Cited Page

In-text citations do not include all of the information to find the original source, so writers include a list of citations at the end of the paper with all of the information needed to locate a source. MLA style refers to this list as a works cited page. The works cited page comes at the end of the work and includes all available information about a source, including article title, journal/book title, year published, the author's full name (unless there is more than one author; then first initials replace the first names), publisher, and place of publishing. These details vary by the type of source used and because there are about eighty-six different types of sources for MLA, you should refer to an MLA style guideA set of rules for punctuation, grammar, and other facets of writing, used to produce consistency and promote understanding. Different publications and types of writing often follow different style guides. Well-known style guides in the U.S. include The Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Style Manual, and the Associated Press Stylebook. to confirm the correct citation model to use. All sources on a works cited page should be listed in alphabetical order.

Comparing MLA and APA Styles

MLA style and APA style are two common systems of citation, that is, sets of rules for how to cite sources and how to format and punctuateTo use punctuation marks in a text. the various parts of a research paper. For most English and some humanities courses, you will be asked to use MLA style; for most social sciences and some other courses, you will be asked to use APA style. See the chart below for the major differences between MLA style and APA style.

Major Differences between MLA and APA Styles





Used in humanities

Used in social sciences


Last name and page number both on the right-hand side of the page

Title of paper on the left margin and the page number is on the right

Full citation

Type of media identified (print, web, email, etc.).  URLs not required for online sources.

No media identified. URL preceded by "Retrieved from" or "doi" (direct object identifier) required for online sources.

In-text citation

Author's last name and page number; no punctuation within the parentheses.

Author's last name, year published, and page number separated with a comma; precede page number with "p."

Long quotes

4+lines (prose)/3+ lines (poetry) indented 1-inch from margin

40+ words indented .5 inches from margin

End list of cited sources

Labeled "Works Cited"

Labeled "References"