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Macdonald DeWitt Library at SUNY Ulster

MLA Style 8th Edition: General Format of Citations

A brief introduction to MLA Style adapted from the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Eighth Edition.

MLA Style 8th Edition

With the latest edition of MLA Style, the old rules of a specific format for each type of source have been revised. Instead, a set of guidelines for any type of source is provided.

The format of a research paper is not explicitly spelled out. With the growing range of research-based projects, a single format does not (can not) work. The format of your assignments is left to the discretion of the individual instructor. You can review general guidelines for formatting a research paper from the MLA Style Center.

This guide attempts to break down the basic guidelines provided by the Modern Language Association. For more specific questions, please see the handbook in the Reference Collection.

MLA Style: the Basics

The Modern Language Association (MLA) Style is a set of rules for citing sources and formatting papers. The purpose of this guide is to serve as a ready reference tool for formatting your papers and citations in MLA Style.

In general, MLA Style is used in the Humanities and Liberal Arts.

Check with your professor to be sure you are using the correct Style.

Core Elements of a Citation

Do your best to identify the following core elements of each of your sources. Not every source will have a listed author, a version, or other contributors. You can leave out any of the elements that are not relevant to your source. Be sure to list the elements in the correct order. Select an element to view more details. Jump to Examples.

1. Author.

The first author should be listed as Lastname, Firstname. Additional authors will be Firstname Lastname. If there are more than three listed authors, list the first three followed by a comma and et. al.

For an edited work, place a comma after the editor's name followed by the word editor.

Sometimes the author of a work is not the main person whose contribution you are discussing, e.g., a performer, writer, creator, or director. In that case, list the contributor you are discussing as the author followed by a comma and their role in the creation of the work.

Do not list a corporate author if it is the same as the publisher.

Use a pseudonym, handle, username if that is what is listed on the source. When listing your sources in alphabetical order in your Works Cited, disregard any special characters like the "@" symbol that appear at the beginning of an author's name.

2. Title.

Standardize the capitalization of titles. Capitalize each word except for articles like the, an, or, of (unless they are the first word of the title or subtitle).

Put quotation marks around the title if they are part of a larger source like, e.g. a journal article, chapter title, or a short story in a collection.

Italicize titles of larger or self-contained works, e.g. book titles, movie titles.

Italicize the title of any work that would normally be self-contained but appears in a collection and follow it by the italicized title of a collection, e.g. a novel that appears in a collection of an author's complete works.

3. Title of Container,

A container refers to anthologies, collected works, journals, tv series, websites, etc.

It is possible for a container to be nested inside another container. A journal article (source) appears in a journal (container) which is housed in a library database (container). List subsequent containers after providing the details for the previous containers.

4. Other Contributors,

This is where you list others who contributed to a work if they are important to your discussion, e.g. adapted by, edited by, illustrated, etc. followed by the contributor's name.

Not all contributors fit that format. You can also have the noun (description of contribution) followed by a comma and the contributor's name, e.g., General editor, Firstname Lastname.

It is important to list an editor or translator when available.

In the case where the contributor does not relate to the entire work (e.g., a translator of a single poem in an anthology), list the contributor after the title of the part that relates in order to be clear where they contributed.

5. Version,

If there is a version listed, include it. Types of versions include revised edition, unabridged version, director's cut.

6. Number,

This can be a volume number, series, issue number, season, episode.

Use the appropriate term to identify the meaning of the number.

7. Publisher,

Publisher refers to whomever is responsible for producing the content.

When to exclude listing the publisher: periodicals (newspapers, magazines, journals); self-published works; a website that has the same title as the publisher, work appears on a website that isn't responsible for publishing the content, e.g. YouTube, Wordpress, Twitter.

8. Publication Date,

If there is more than one date listed, choose the one that is most relevant to your situation.

Can be a date range if applicable.

For books, be sure to check the book itself (title page or copyright page) instead of relying on a bibliography from another source or a commercial website like Amazon.

9. Location.

Location most commonly refers to page number(s) reflected as p. or pp.

It can be a URL, or web address - this is optional. Ask your instructor if they require it. Use a stable or permalink for the URL. If available, use the DOI (digital object identifier) instead of a URL.

It can also mean a physical location like a disc or track number or museum, location of event, institution, or venue and city (unless the city is part of the venue's name).

The 8th edition of MLA is based on the concept of containers. Each source has a container. For example, the container of a journal article is the journal. The container of the journal is a database. Another example is an article in an online encyclopedia that is also in a database. In this case, the containers are the encyclopedia and the database. See the example below for a breakdown of containers. 

Examples

The order of elements is as follows:

Author(s). Title. Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location.

Note: Not all elements are required and some repeat. For example, there can be more than one container listed (articles appearing in a journal housed in a library database have 2 containers: the journal and database). 

Some elements (usually titles and containers) should be in quotes or italicized depending on the source information. Generally, long titles (titles of books, databases) are italicized and short titles (article and chapter titles) are put in quotation marks.

Book Typical Format:
Lastname, Firstname. Title. Publisher, Publication Date.
Example:
Smith, Elena, James M. Whitaker, and Jonathan I. Harper. History of Crime and Justice in the United States. Texas UP, 2010. 

eBook Typical Format:
Lastname, Firstname. Title. Publisher, Publication Date, Title of Container, URL or DOI.
Example:
Keith, Heather and Kenneth D. Keith. Intellectual Disability: Ethics, Dehumanization and a New Moral Community. Wiley-Blackwell, 2013, ProQuest Ebook Central, ezproxy.sunyulster.edu:2048/login?url=http://site.Ebook Central.com/lib/sunyulster/Doc?id=10674805.

Chapter of a Book/Work in a Collection/Anthology/Specialized Reference Work:
Lastname, Firstname. "Title of Chapter/Essay/Novel." Title of Book/Collection/Anthology, Edited by Firstname Lastname, Publisher, Publication date, Location.
Examples:
Dobak, William A. "Fort Riley's Black Soldiers and the Army's Changing Role in the West, 1967-85." Buffalo Soldiers in the West: A Black Soldiers Anthology, edited by Bruce A. Glasrud and Michael N. Searles, Texas A&M UP, 2007, pp. 35-50. ProQuest Ebook Central, ezproxy.sunyulster.edu:2048/login?url=http://site.Ebook Central.com/lib/sunyulster/reader.action?ppg=44&docID=10436033&tm=1466623284856.

Al-Fasi, Ahmad. "She and the Light." Translated by Bassam al-Hilu with Alan Brownjohn, Beyond the Dunes : An Anthology of Modern Saudi Literature, edited by Ezzat Khattab and Salma Khadra Jayyusi, 2nd ed., vol. 2, I.B. Tauris, 2006, p. 58. ProQuest ebook Central, ezproxy.sunyulster.edu:2048/login?url=http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sunyulster-ebooks/reader.action?docID=676407&ppg=63.

Literary Criticism in a Multi-Volume Reference Work (eg, Short Story Criticism):
Lastname, Firstname. "Title of Chapter/Essay/Novel [usually listed at the end of the entry]." Title of Collection, edited by Firstname Lastname, vol. #, Publisher, date, pp. #-##. Originally published in Title of Original Publication, edited by/by Firstname Lastname, Publisher/Journal Name, vol. #, issue # [if a journal article], date, pp. #-##.
Examples:
Ginsberg, Lesley. "'I Am Your Slave for Love': Race Sentimentality, and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Fiction for Children." Short Story Criticism, edited by Jelena Krstovic, vol. 159, Gale, 2012, pp.321-30. Originally published in Enterprising Youth: Social Values and Acculturation in Nineteenth-Century American Children's Literature, edited by Monika Elbert, Routledge, 2008, pp. 97-113.

Aizenber, Edna. "Mi Buenos Aires Herido: Borges and Landscapes of Fear." Short Story Criticism, edited by Jelena Krstovic, vol. 159, Gale, 2012, pp.157-61. Originally published in Variaciones Borges, vol. 25, 2008, pp. 69-78.

Journal Article Typical Format:
Lastname, Firstname. “Title of Article.” Title of Container (Journal), vol #, issue #, publication date, Location, Title of Container (Database), URL or DOI.
Example:
Douglass, Sara, et al. “‘They Were Just Making Jokes’: Ethnic/Racial Teasing and Discrimination Among Adolescents.” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Pscyhology, vol. 22, issue 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 69-82. PsycArticles, dx.doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000041.

Website Typical Format:
Lastname, Firstname. Title of Website. Publisher [Omit publisher if it is the same as the title], Publication date, URL. Date of access [optional but recommended when website does not provide a date].
Example:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, www.cdc.gov. Accessed 5 Dec. 2016.

Optional Elements

When listing an optional element, place it at the end of the citation or after the element to which it relates.

Examples of optional elements:

  • Original publication date
  • City of publication
  • Number of volumes in a set
  • Series name (no quotations or italics)
  • Date of access 
  • Format

Should you italicize it or put in quotation marks?

Standardize the capitalization of titles. Capitalize each word except for articles like the, an, or, of (unless they are the first word of the title or subtitle).

Put quotation marks around the title if they are part of a larger source like, e.g. a journal article, chapter title, or a short story in a collection.

Italicize titles of larger or self-contained works, e.g. book titles, movie titles.

Italicize the title of any work that would normally be self-contained but appears in a collection and follow it by the italicized title of a collection, e.g. a novel that appears in a collection of an author's complete works.

Italicize titles of databases and journals.

Series names are not italicized or put in quotation marks.