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MLA Style Guide: General Guidelines

This Guide covers the basics of the 8th edition of the MLA Style Manual and includes sample citations and additional resources.

What is a CITATION?

A citation is a listing of a book, journal article, web resource, or other document in such a way that the user can identify it and find it.  They are found in:

  • Online Database, such as Academic Search or JSTOR
  • As References in a Journal Article or a Book

Students regularly create citations when they provide a bibliography or Works Cited list for a research essay.

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General Guidelines

Author and page number are the two basic elements of MLA in-text citations. In cases where there is no named author, the title (often shortened) of the work is used. These citations are brief and are meant to allow the reader to find the full details in the Works Cited list at the end of the paper.

The same format is used for paraphrases or quotes from books and articles. You cite print and online sources in the same manner.

Citations should be placed within the text as close as possible to the end of the quote or idea. All parenthetical citations must connect to entries in your Works Cited list.

If you have questions, consult the books and websites listed in this guide or talk to a librarian. We're glad to help!

How To Read Citations

Search for specific jounal titles using Publication Finder.

What is a container?

Containers are the larger wholes in which a source is located. Here are some examples: 

Source Container
Individual poem Collection of poems
Article  Journal
Article Magazine
Individual episode TV series

The title of the container is usually italicized and followed by a comma because the information that follows next describes the container. In the following examples, the containers are in bold. 

Kincaid, Jamaica. "Girl." The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolff, Vintage, 1994, pp. 306-07.

Bazin, Patrick. “Toward Metareading.” The Future of the Book, edited by Geoffrey Nunberg, U of California P, 1996, pp. 153-68.

MLA Style Basics

Use these basic guidelines when preapring your final draft:

  • Paper: Prefer white, 8-1/2 by 11-inch paper.
  • Margins: Use one-inch margins all around.
  • Spacing: Double-space throughout.
  • Paragraphing: Indent the first word of each paragraph 5 spaces (1/2 inch) from the left margin. Indent long quotes (those more than 4-lines/40 words) 5 spaces from left margin.
  • Font: Choose a clean 12-point font.
  • Titles (books, periodicals, films, etc.) are italicized.

Additional TIPS

Titles of books, periodicals, art works, reports and Web sites are italicized. Check the appropriate sample citation in this guide to make sure you are using italics correctly.

The date is written in a day-month-year order. 

With the exception of May, June, and July, the names of the months must be abbreviated in MLA works cited lists as follows:

January = Jan.
February = Feb.
March = Mar.
April = Apr.
August = Aug.
September = Sept.
October = Oct.
November = Nov.
December = Dec.

Undated Sources:
If there is no date for your source, leave it blank. You no longer need to use placeholders like n.d. for “no date." 

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