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.


Container Example Faded

Container Title

Container Title

A container is a larger work in which the author’s work may be included.

There are many types of containers:

television series
journal database

Here is an example of a story in a local newspaper (with a location in brackets):

Dougherty, Jack. “Heffalumps Win State Championship.” Chuggington Post [Feuilleton City, CA], 9 Apr. 2016, F1.

In each case, italicize the container title and follow up with a comma. If the container lacks a title, provide a description in regular font.

Sometimes one container is found inside another container. In the following example, a print journal article has been accessed through a journal database:

Sanchez, Alfie. “A Freudian Analysis of Don Quixote’s Tilting at Windmills.” Journal of Windmill Architecture, vol. 33, no. 1, 1973, pp. 1-18. Journal Pod,

Fortunately, every container follows the same format, so find whatever information you can and plug it in!

Of course, many works are not found inside another container. In that case, skip the container title but still provide other relevant information (as with this stand-alone book):

Foresight, Cassandra. Jobs and Jabs: The Economic Ramifications of Mass Vaccination Efforts. Side Effect Press, 2021.



In addition to the author of a work, other people may be recognized for their contribution. Use a description such as the following:

adapted by
directed by
edited by
illustrated by
introduction by
narrated by
performed by
screenplay by
translated by
uploaded by

Here are some examples of what this looks like in practice (a Youtube video and an introduction to a conference presentation):

Schadenfreude, Edgar.  “My Favorite Epic Fails.” Youtube, uploaded by Immature98, 19 Aug. 2008.

Flytrap, Venus. “The Science behind Trigger Warnings.” Mental Health and the Return to Nature. Peruvian Pavlovians Convention, introduced by Florence Wheelock, 3 July, 2009, Universidad Nacional Toribio Rodríguez de Mendoza de Amazonas, Chachapoyas.

Since an entry may have multiple containers, contributors can be listed for each one:

Lascaux, Yves. Caveman. Illustrated by Bertha Bush, lettering by Jean Old, no. 1, Old Time Comics, 2002. Neolithic Comics, edited by Frank Fly, vol. 1, Renaissance Reprints, 2011-15.

This way you can link the contributors to the specific project they worked on. Note too that if you start a container with the contributors, you must capitalize the first letter.

Introducing some contributions with by sounds awkward. Common examples are general editor and guest editor. Place these after the name:

Rudimentri, Dimitri. “Eastern Europeans and the Fear of Washing the Baby Away With the Bath Water.” Fear and Courage, special issue of Studies in the History of Emotions, Shirley McCormack, general editor, vol. 9, no. 3, 1988, pp. 55-69.

On the other hand, you can also be selective about which contributions you want to recognize. In particular, films have numerous contributors, and it wouldn’t do to list them all:

Saws. Directed by Bruce Amblin, screenplay by Sara Tomlinson, Nightmare Studios, 1975.



You can note what version or edition of the work you have used.

If this is the first information for the container, start with a capital:

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Edited by Ivan Hadinov, abridged version, Pocket Book Press, 2009.

Shackleton, Kitty. Fifty Great Hikes in and near Antarctica. 22nd ed., Edgeworth Press, 1999.

Note that the word edition is always abbreviated (ed.).

Here are some other descriptions:

special ed.
extended ed.
collector’s ed.
expanded ed.
updated ed.
e-book ed.
unabridged version
director’s cut
rev. ed.

Normally you would not write 1st edition or signed edition. However, there are exceptions, particularly if you are an antiquarian or book dealer…

Indicating which version you are using is important when citing the Bible:

The Bible. New Emphatic Diaglot Version, Wilson Press, 2015.

Common Bible translations include the New International Version, the New King James Version, and the English Standard Version.



Often a source is part of a longer series such as a set of volumes, the pages of a periodical, or the seasons of a television show.

Here are some descriptive words we can use for this information:

season and episode


A work may be published in multiple volumes. Typically you would cite just the single volume you have consulted.

If this is the first information you have for the container, start with a capital:

Devereux, Bob, editor. The Secret Correspondence of Elizabeth I. Vol. 5, Essex Press, 1991.

Fielding, Annabel, editor. Famous Defamation Suits from Britain and France. Revised ed., vol. 7, Subpoena Press, 2001.

If you want to indicate the complete number of volumes in the series, you can add this at the end of the entry:

Devereux, Bob, editor. The Secret Correspondence of Elizabeth I. Essex Press, 1991. 6 vols.

This information is optional, but may be especially useful if you have cited multiple volumes. If the individual title has its own title, you can provide the series title as supplemental information:

Wigeon, Brenda. The Antagonistic Evolution of Mallards. Northern Shoveler Press, 2006. Vol. 2 of The Evolution of Ducks.

Volume and Issue

Journals (or periodicals) are usually organized in volumes and issues.

In any given year, a journal might publish a number of issues. For instance, many academic journals publish on a quarterly basis—so four issues per year. All the issues in a year are called a volume.

Cite as much of this information as you can find:

Chuckle, Hillary. “Ventriloquizing the Belly Laugh: An Ethnographic Perspective.” ROFL, vol. 5, no. 1, Dec., 2005, pp. 1-14.

If the journal does not use volume numbering, provide only the number:

Groom, Edward. “Changing Attitudes to Wacky Hair Day.” Coiffure, no. 59, 2017, pp. 7-8.

Comic Books are often also numbered:

Splash, Paige. A Trail of Slime. Slugman, no. 8, Gutter Press, 2016.

Season and Episode

This is how you would cite a television show that is part of a longer series:

“The Shish Kebab Murder.” Inspector Grilling, directed by Emma Killjoy, performance by Quentin Gifford, season 2, episode 3, Feel Good Films, 2008.

Finally, if you come across some other descriptive term for the numbering, use that instead.



The publisher is the organization that prints, produces, funds, or distributes the work.

If multiple organizations have cooperated on a project, separate them with a slash (/):

Zen, Iris. “Black Jellybean.” The Happiness Project, Museum of Possibility / The Jellybean Centre, 28 Feb. 2012. Photo.

Most often, however, you should cite only the main publisher.


For books, the publisher’s name is typically found on the title page or copyright page. Often books are published by a division of a parent company, in which case you need cite only the division.

You can leave out business lingo such as Inc. (incorporated) or Ltd. (limited):

Naylor, John. The Complete History of Baseboards. Thumbnail Press, 2015.

Flagstone, Ed. The Joys of Exam Writing. Honour Roll Press, 1992.

Note that you always capitalize the publisher.

In the case of books published prior to 1900, you may substitute the city of publication for the publisher:

Murdoch, William. Four Constabulary Cases Selected for the Edification of the General Public.  Toronto, 1897.

University Press

If a publisher’s name includes the words University Press, you may shorten it as follows:

Oxford UP

U of Toronto P

If the name of the academic press includes another word that is similar to university, then shorten just the word Press:

Saint Sebastian College P

Brain Trust Institute P

For all other publishers, spell out all the words (including Press).

Films and Television Series

For works produced by media companies and their subsidiaries, cite the organization that is primarily responsible for production and distribution:

Mortimer, Ravi, director. Dessert in the Desert. Performance by Sarah Sand, Dromedary Films, 2011.

If in doubt, cite multiple organizations involved.

No Publisher

If the author or editor of a work is also the publisher (e.g., in the case of a personal web site), don’t cite the name again. The same rule applies if a website title is similar to the publisher’s name.

In fact, for many of your sources you do not need to provide a publisher. This includes articles or essays published in a journal, magazine, or newspaper. It also includes organizations that distribute work (e.g., Youtube) but do not produce it.

Nevertheless, such organizations often do contribute their own content. A good example is Netflix, which creates many of its own shows.

Publication Date

Publication date

Most publication dates contains at least the year of publication.

For some sources, that is all you need. Books are a good example:

Tobago, Winnifred. The Towering Kauri. 2nd ed., Tane Mahuta Press, 2017.

If a book’s copyright page contains multiple dates, try pick the one that belongs to your edition. Usually that would be the most recent date.

For other sources, follow whatever dates they provide. This can be the date of composition or last revision, or you may use a label such as forthcoming.

The basic pattern for citing the publication date is either day-month-year or season-year. Here are some examples:

18 July 1993
winter 2003
Sept. 1963

Notice that the last example is of a multi-year project: in such cases, cite both the first and last date. For abbreviations of months of the year, please see the MLA Abbreviations Page.

In some case you may have a choice of dates. For instance, for a television show, you may pick between the date when it first aired and the date of release on DVD.

The same thing goes for publications that appear both online and in print. Try to cite the date of the version you have used.

Please note that the date of publication is not the same as the date of access. The latter refers to when you looked at the material and is a supplemental element.

Missing Date

If the date is an estimate, you can add circa (around) or a description:

Scarface, Richard. Ye Olde Style Guide. Boston, circa 1709.

Inari, Irene. Voyage to Lapland. Helsinki, late eighteenth century.

If you are unsure, add a question mark:


These examples assume that your source or its description contains some information to go on. If, however, you are supplying your own information, use square brackets:


And if you are really uncertain, just omit the date altogether.



A location can be one of a number of things, including the following:

A page range
A city
A disc number
A conference venue
An archive number or code

Since the location is the last element in the container, be sure to end it with a period.

Page Numbers

The page range shows the first and last page where the text may be found:

Maestro, Julia. “Beyond Beyonce’s Booty-full Body: How I Got My Teenager Listening to Classical Music.” Sharp and Natural, Dec. 2014, pp. 1-3.

If the text is found on only one page, use a single p. (for page). If the page number is not continuous, use a plus sign after the starting page (e.g., p. 1+).

In addition, when a source uses a different type of numbering, follow that. For example, newspaper sections are usually identified by letter (e.g., E5).

For self-contained works (like most books), you do not need to provide a page range.

URLs and DOIs

For online sources, you may want to provide a link.

If your works cited page is in print form, make sure that the link is not a clickable hyperlink. If the link is underlined, right click it and select “Remove Hyperlink.”

When you copy the URL, you may omit the http:// or https:// (unless you want to create a hyperlink):

Schadenfreude, Edgar. “My Favorite Epic Fails.” Youtube, uploaded by Immature98, 19 Aug. 2008.

When the URL is a really long string, shorten it (look for a slash close to the beginning and delete after that). Super long URLs look ugly in your Works Cited.

Since URLs are likely to change, databases often provide a stable or persistent URL. If you find such a permalink, use it instead.

However, even better than a permalink is a DOI, or digital object identifier. Here you do want to provide the proper https:// beginning:

Zinzendorf, Obadiah. “George Herbert’s Visual Poetry: Hidden Easter Eggs in ‘The Easter Bunny.’” The Shapely Poem, vol. 88, no. 5, 2000, pp. 90-105. Journal Pod,

If you have a choice, use a DOI instead of a URL. In fact, the MLA Handbook notes that long URLs tend to clutter up the page and that they are not always necessary. So check with your instructor!

City or Place

Another common location is the city or place where the work is found or was performed. For example, the following presentation was given at a university in Chachapoyas (Peru):

Flytrap, Venus. “The Science behind Trigger Warnings.” Mental Health and the Return to Nature. Peruvian Pavlovians Convention, introduced by Florence Wheelock, 3 July, 2009, Universidad Nacional Toribio Rodríguez de Mendoza de Amazonas, Chachapoyas.

Locations can be museums, art galleries, archives, conference venues, and so forth. If the city name is already part of the place name (e.g., The Hong Kong Stock Exchange) then you can omit it.

Other locations include disc numbers (e.g., disc 2) and archive numbers (e.g., Library of Alexandria, papyrus roll 19022).

For more information on Containers, see chapter 5 of the MLA Handbook (9th ed.).