Welcome to the MLA citation guide! Please note that this is not the official MLA guide. For that you will have to buy the MLA Handbook (9th ed.). However, we have done our best to cover the essentials, hopefully in a concise and interesting way.

In fact, one thing you will quickly notice is that most of our examples are made up. Don’t waste your time trying to find them!

Basic Principles

The MLA Handbook is primarily used in the Arts. Other disciplines use different style guides.

The focus of the MLA guidelines is on ease of reference. When you cite your sources in the body of your essay (what is called “in-text citation”), you most often have to provide only the author’s name and the page number. The rest of the bibliographic information is contained in your Works Cited page at the back of your paper.

When it comes to those final citations, there are typically three key sections for each entry:

1. Author
2. Title
3. Container

Each of these sections ends with a period. Within a section, you separate information with commas.

Here is a more detailed overview of the basic structure, along with a specific example:

Container Example

Once you have collected as much information as you can find, you can easily turn it into a complete entry:

Warbling, Wren. “The New Zealand Pigeon Revisited.” The Backyard Birder, vol. 3, no. 4, 1992, p. 9.

The Container System

(Photo by Flickr user Vanveen, with permission)

The last section of each entry is a bit like a shipping container. It holds the contents (the author and title), and is often the larger work in which the source is found. For example, an essay might be found in an academic journal, or a short story in a book.

It may even happen that one container is part of another container. For instance, a television episode might be part of a larger series, which in turn is found in an online streaming service (e.g., Netflix). Think of this second container as the container ship.

At other times, the container is not really a larger work but simply consists of some publication information. In that case it’s more like a packing label.

Whatever metaphor you prefer, the main point is that every entry consists of at most three parts. Fill in as much information as you find relevant.

How to Use this Guide

Often there are multiple correct ways to cite a source. This flexibility can be difficult to teach, so to make things easier, we have split our version of the MLA guide into three major parts:

  1. In-text citation (how you cite your sources in the body of your essay).
  2. The sections of each Works Cited entry (author, title, container).
  3. The type of publication (books, articles, electronic sources, etc.).

There is significant overlap between the last two sections. However, this structure will make it much easier to find what you’re looking for.

In addition to these three sections, we also share MLA guidelines on formatting your paper, alphabetizing entries, optional elements, and much more.

Further Resources

For more information about the MLA guidelines, please consult the following resources:

  • MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2021.
  • The FAQ section at the MLA Style Centre.
  • The OWL at Purdue MLA section.

In-Text Citation


When you cite your sources in the text of your writing project (what’s often called in-text citation), you need to give just enough information so that people can trace the quotation or image back to its source.

Usually that means providing the author and page number:

Boredom is sometimes seen as a threat to productivity in the work place. However, it has also been called the “single greatest cause of creativity and invention” (Jones 35).

The reader can then turn to your Works Cited page and find the complete citation:

Jones, Mark. “Boredom and Creativity.” The Causes of Boredom: A Collection of Essays, edited by Esther Yawn, Etcetera Press, 2017, pp. 34-49.

Of course, when the author and page number are not available, or you’ve used a source such as a play or poem, you will have to find other alternatives. Further down, we will review the options.

For now the main thing to realize is that the MLA guidelines promote an unobtrusive citation style. Your in-text citations should state only the most essential information. That way the reader can enjoy your writing without distraction.

How Much to Cite

When students first begin to do research, the tendency is to provide too much bibliographic information in the body of the text. Here is some advice about when to provide additional information.

First of all, try to keep page numbers inside the parentheses. There has to be a good reason to draw attention to a particular page. Here are some examples of where it makes sense to break the rule:

Pages 80-101 contain a beautiful series of photos of the author’s extended family.

For some reason, page 72 is missing in the manuscript

Yet just two pages further Susan Ballantyne argues the exact opposite.

The same thing is true for the title of your source. Don’t mention it unless you have a good reason. And here are some good reasons to include the title:

  • You are discussing a primary source (as opposed to a secondary source)
  • You are dealing with multiple works by the same author and need to differentiate them (e.g., in a comparative essay about two Shakespeare plays)
  • You want to discuss the wording of the title (perhaps the phrasing is problematic)
  • You want to focus more extensively on a particular source, or indicate a more extensive debt
  • The work has no author and is known primarily by its title

Otherwise you can typically leave out the source’s title. The same applies to the rest of the publication information. Save it for your Works Cited.

The Basic Rules

Author and Page

As mentioned, the normal procedure is to cite just the author and page number (with a space in between):

As has been observed, “The mating rituals of the Australasian gannet are a model for us all” (Quack 92).

If the author or page has been mentioned in the text already, there’s no need to repeat it in parentheses:

As Herman Kuiper writes, “Zimbabwean origami is deeply influenced by the shape of the Victoria Falls” (109).

When the name is provided in parentheses, omit the first name. In the body of the text it is customary to give the full name for the first citation. After that you can often use just the last name.

Finally, place your citation as close to the quotation as possible:

Hannah Patton deplores “the use of the coat rack as a fashion statement” (4), especially as it is usually covered with coats.

You don’t have to wait till the end of your sentence before giving the citation.

Authors with the Same Name

If you are citing from multiple authors with the same last name, you can add some clarity by adding an initial (or the full name if the authors share initials):

As has been observed, “The mating rituals of the Australasian gannet are a model for us all” (I. Quack 92).

Use the full name when including it in the text rather than in parentheses.

Multiple Works by the Same Author(s)

If you are citing multiple works from the same author(s), you can add a short version of the title, either in the text or in parentheses:

As Bledsoe and Smith argue in “Misogyny,” Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 cannot be rescued from “a charge of anti-feminism” (18).

It has been suggested that the phrase interpersonal relationships is “rife with redundancy, for when is a relationship not interpersonal?” (Funke, Communication 3).

Notice that the title is italicized or placed in quotation marks just as it appears in the Works Cited. Also, if the parentheses contain the author and title, then add a comma before the title, but not after.

To shorten a title, look for a key noun phrase, or, if there is none, use the opening few words.

Multiple Authors

If a work is published by two authors, cite both:

The distance between one’s toes “may have an effect on self-esteem levels, especially among surfers and swimmers” (Lovegood and Sorenson 55).

For three or more authors, use the abbreviation et al. (Latin for “and others”):

Jane Austen’s villains are “either superficial Romantics or dissipated boors” (De Bourgh et al. 98).

Avoid using the abbreviation if you cite the authors in the text rather than the parentheses. Either cite all the authors or use a work around (e.g., “De Bourgh and others”):

De Bourgh and others argue that Jane Austen’s villains are “either superficial Romantics or dissipated boors” (98).

No Author

If a source lacks an author, cite it by its title instead. In the body of your text, you may use the full title (at least the first time), but in parentheses a short version is required:

The Dakar Rally: The Greatest Race on Earth provides a riveting account of the famous race, but it lacks any reference to the death toll.

The Dakar Rally has long been “one of the most dangerous races on earth” (Dakar Rally 42).

If there is no title or author, then use whatever descriptive phrase you have used in the Works Cited.

Missing Page Numbers

If a source has no page numbers, try use an alternative label. Here are some sample abbreviations you can use:

par. or pars. for paragraph or paragraphs

sec. or secs. for section or section

ch. or chs. for chapter or chapters

Here is what that looks like in practice:

Only one critic noted that “the most prominent aspect of Rostropovich’s playing was his baldness” (Baldwin, ch. 3).

As this example shows, if you provide both the author and label in parentheses, then separate them with a comma.

On the other hand, if your source has no numbers whatsoever, then leave out all numerical references:

This effect has been called the “Disneyfication of Winnie the Pooh” (Smith).

Don’t feel bad about giving only the author’s name (or a short title), and don’t start counting paragraphs or line numbers yourself.

Other Citations

For some sources you will want to provide a different numbering. Here are the most common examples:


Cite plays by act, scene, and line number:

1.2.15-16 (refers to act 1, scene 2, lines 15-16)

If the play is in prose and lacks line numbers, you may cite it by author and page number.

Audio and Video

Cite time duration in hours, minutes, and seconds:

02:03:27-29 (refers to 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 27-29 seconds)


Cite poems by line numbers:

lines 9-14

After the first citation, you may omit the descriptive label (“line,” “scene,” etc.). Avoid abbreviations (e.g., ll. for lines)


If a source is published in multiple volumes, and you cite only one volume, you need provide only the page number. However, if you borrow from multiple volumes by the same author, provide the number of the volume as well as the page number(s):

It was the dreaded black fly that “did them in” (Irigano 4: 89-90).

This citation refers to pages 89-90 in volume 4. Make sure to add a space after the colon.

Common Prose Works

Let’s say you’re quoting from a famous novel like Brave New World. There are so many editions in print that your reader may have a difficult time finding a passage based on a page number alone. In such cases you can add more information at the end of your citation:

Huxley 87; chapter 8

If the source uses other numbering (e.g., sections), you can use that instead.


If you borrow an idea and put it in your own words, you are paraphrasing. In such a situation you may need to cite multiple authors whose work you have summarized. Separate them with semi-colons:

Some researchers believe that optimism can help patients heal faster, but that telling people to be happy is more likely to leave them depressed (Bile 59; Choler 44-46).

Indirect Quotations

Sometimes you find the perfect quotation—the only problem is that it’s already a quotation in your source. In such cases you can use the description “qtd. in” (quoted in) to show where you found the passage:

As Ariana Humboldt notes, “a phobia of spiders can suggest an underlying fear or trauma” (qtd. in Kidney 221).

However, avoid using this method too frequently, or it will seem that you get all your best ideas second hand.

Repeated Use

Should it happen that you repeatedly use the same source, you can slack off in how much you cite. In the following example, both quotations are from the same source. Since they come in quick succession, the author has decided to cite just once.

As Herman Kuiper writes, “Zimbabwean origami is deeply influenced by the shape of the Victoria Falls.” Kuiper sees the frequent origami reproductions of the famous waterfall as a paradoxical attempt to “capture what cannot be contained in art–namely, a flowing, ever-changing process” (109, 112).

This method is especially handy if an entire paragraph is indebted to a single source. Even if you do decide to provide a separate page number after each citation, you do not have to give the author’s name each time.

On the other hand, if another source intervenes, be sure to provide more clarity:

As Herman Kuiper writes, “Zimbabwean origami is deeply influenced by the shape of the Victoria Falls” (109). In fact, most scholars agree that such paper reproductions represent “the archetype of African origami” (Sinderbad 24). Nevertheless, the shape or image is hardly static. Kuiper sees the frequent origami reproductions of the famous waterfall as a paradoxical attempt to “capture what cannot be contained in art–namely, a flowing, ever-changing process” (112).

In this example, the quotation from Sinderbad comes in between the two passages from Kuiper.

In summary, the basic rule is that if you think a reference is clear enough then you can give less information about its source.


This page does not cover every single rule for in-text citation. When you work with particular texts you may come across other ways of citing information (e.g., cantos, chapter and verse, etc.). Part of learning the rules for citation is about adapting to the customs of your discipline.

Now that you know the basic rules for in-text citation, you may want to check out our more extensive guide to integrating quotations (part 1 and part 2). It follows the MLA guidelines and will teach you everything from citing poetry to using ellipses and block quotations.

For more information about in-text citation, see chapter 6 of the MLA Handbook (9th ed.).

Footnotes and Endnotes


The MLA Handbook (9th ed.) discourages extensive use of footnotes and endnotes. After all, the whole point is to cite your source in the body of the text.

However, sometimes a note may be helpful to provide some information without adding a digression or interrupting the flow of the argument. You can use notes for all kinds of reasons, including explaining what edition of a text you used, listing additional citations when there are a lot of sources, or simply providing more information.


To add a note, place your cursor in the text (typically at the end of a sentence or unit of thought). Then go to the References panel in MS Word and insert either a footnote or endnote. Whichever option you choose, don’t mix and match. The note(s) will show up as a superscript number in your text:

Dietitians are still divided on some key questions. Should the job title be spelled “dietitian” or “dietician”?¹ Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?² When does obesity become morbid? However, everyone does agree that forcing children to eat Brussels sprouts is immoral.

Here are the corresponding notes:

¹Like most practitioners (which is also spelled without a “c”), we prefer “dietitian.”

² While the issue appears to be settled in favour of the fruit camp, Olaf B. Ferguson notes that “some Transylvanian critics remain stalwart holdouts” (44). For a fruitful discussion of the issue, see especially Legume and Leek 79-99.

Unless you are publishing online, make sure you indent the first line of each note. Place your cursor before the number and press “Tab.”

Here is another example, for good measure:

³ The same observation is found in subsequent textbooks (e.g., Emerald 101, Luxemburgher 22). Only recently has there been some questioning of the traditional paradigm. See Islander 44 for some probing questions.

When a note primarily adds more references, it is called a bibliographic note, whereas if it consists mostly of added commentary then it is termed a content note.

Formatting Notes

Notes should use Arabic numbering (1, 2, 3, etc.). In addition, text in footnotes is usually in a smaller font (e.g., Times New Roman size 10).

It is up to you (or your instructor) whether you use footnotes or endnotes. If you choose the latter, place them after the text and before the Works Cited. Adding a title such as “Notes” would be a nice touch.

For more information, see chapter 7 of the MLA Handbook (9th ed.).



While abbreviations are rare in academic prose, they are perfectly common in citations.

Punctuating Abbreviations

Abbreviations that consist mostly of capital letters don’t need periods or spaces:


However, for people’s initials you can add periods and spaces unless the entire name is abbreviated:

C. S. Lewis
R. A. Shoaf

You’ll find though that the spaces between initials are often omitted, as anyone researching G.I. Joe would soon discover.

Lowercase abbreviations usually end in periods:


Lowercase abbreviations of multiple words may contain extra periods:


This rule does not apply universally. An exception would be mph (miles per hour), which does not need extra periods.


Any months longer than four letters can be abbreviated:


Common Abbreviations

Here’s a list of other abbreviations used in MLA citations:

ch. = chapter
dept. = department
ed. = edition
e.g. = for example (from the Latin exempli gratia)
et al. = and others (from the Latin et alii)
etc. = and so forth (from the Latin et cetera)
i.e. = that is (from the Latin id est)
no. = number
P = Press
p. = page
pp. = pages
par. = paragraph
qtd. in = quoted in
rev. = revised
sec. = section
trans. = translation
U = University
UP = University Press
vol. = volume

For more information on abbreviations, see Appendix 1 of the MLA Handbook (9th ed.).

MLA Quick Guide


Welcome to our quick guide for citing sources following the guidelines set out in the MLA Handbook (8th ed.). Scan the list for the type of citation you need and click on the link to find detailed instructions.

All Citations


Book (basic format)
Book with multiple authors
Book with no author
Book with editor
Book with author and editor
Book with other contributors
Essay collection or anthology
Book with introduction or afterword
Comic book
Reference work
Edition of a book
Multi-volume work
Book with original publication date
Book with city of publication


Article (basic format)
Scholarly article
Scholarly article from a database
Special issue
Article in a book
Magazine article
Newspaper article
Editorial or letter to the editor
Article with unusual page numbering

Electronic Sources

Entire website
Page of a website
Online article
Video on a website
Comment on a web page

Other Sources

TV show
Audio recording
Musical score