What Is MLA Style

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What Is MLA Style? A Brief Guide

All fields of research agree on the need to document scholarly borrowings, but documentation conventions vary because of the different needs of scholarly disciplines. MLA style for documentation is widely used in the humanities, especially in writing on language and literature. Generally simpler and more economical than other styles, MLA style features brief parenthetical citations in the text keyed to an alphabetical list of works cited that appears at the end of the work.

MLA style has been widely adopted by schools, academic departments, and instructors for over half a century. The association's guidelines are also used by over 1,100 scholarly and literary journals, newsletters, and magazines and by many university and commercial presses. The MLA's guidelines are followed throughout North America and in Brazil, China, India, Japan, Taiwan, and other countries around the world.


Quoting Material in Your Essay

You are required to include direct quotes and paraphrased material.

Direct quotes are words and phrases taken directly from a text, put in quotation marks, word for word, and restated in your own paper. This requires a citation at the end of the quoted material.

In Sam Hamlin’s article, “Bussing to the Other Side of the Street,” he explains the complicated and emotional aftermath of being forced to attend school in “a district other than your own” (45).


The article discusses the aftermath of being forced to attend school in “a district other than your own” (Hamlin 45).

Paraphrased quotes are when you interpret material from a text in your own words, without losing the original meaning. Paraphrased material does not require quotation marks, but does require a citation.

The first gambling Web site appeared in 1995, and online gambling has since become the most

lucrative Internet business (Will 92).


George Will reported that in 2002 Internet gambling surpassed pornography to become the

Internet's most lucrative business (92).

Using Direct Quotations or Paraphrases …….Make certain that all direct quotes or paraphrases you use contain these three things: 1) proper quote attribution (simple, partial, or formal), 2) a parenthetical citation with author’s name and page number, and 3) commentary in your own words about the quote to form a transition between it and the rest of your text.

Quote Attribution……..Quote attribution is the way you transition from your own writing into a direct quote. There are three types of attribution:

·        simple attribution: this is a simple way to introduce the quote with a short phrase and a comma. Example: Lasn writes, “each little fix means not just getting what you want, but power” (53).

·        partial attribution: using only specific words and phrases from the text and integrating it with your own writing. Example: Kalle Lasn makes clear that consumerism is as much about “power” as it is “getting what you want” (53).

·        formal attribution: using a complete sentence and a colon to introduce a direct quote. Example: Kalle Lasn writes extensively about the power that advertisers have on our everyday lives and the ways they encourage us to purchase their products: “each little fix means not just getting what you want, but power” (53).

Parenthetical Citation………You include parenthetical citation to demonstrate to the reader where you found the information you are using. Parenthetical citation guides the reader to an entry on your Works Cited page and should usually be placed at the end of the sentence so as to be unobtrusive. Generally, you will use the author’s last name and a page number (no comma needed) cite the quotation or paraphrase. Example: (Fitzgerald 27). Notice that the punctuation for the sentence comes after the parentheses.

·        If the author’s name is placed in the immediate text around the citation, you do not have to restate the author’s name. Example: Lasn writes, “each little fix means not just getting what you want, but power” (53).

·        If you don’t include the author’s name somewhere near the quote, make sure you use his or her last name in the citation. Example: Many critics of advertising and consumer culture argue that buying “is not just getting what you want, but power” (Lasn 53).

·        If the source includes no author’s name, use a shortened version of the title or a main word to demonstrate the source. Example: (“Cult” 53).

Commentary……….Always follow up a direct quotation or paraphrase with commentary of your own. This will help your reader see the significance of the quote and will help you transition from quote to your own writing in your paper. Example: Lasn writes, “each little fix means not just getting what you want, but power” (53). Here, Lasn discusses how both materialism and a need for power are equally important in our consumer tendencies.

The Works Cited (or Bibliography)

there are several kinds of entries, from online journals, to magazines, etc. The key to MLA documentation is to learn what kind of text(s) you’re working with in order to properly format your Works Cited page. Everything’s An Argument, for example, is a text with more than one author. In addition, treat this as if it were an anthology.

A Work in an Anthology, Reference, or Collection

Works may include an essay in an edited collection or anthology, or a chapter of a book. The basic form is for this sort of citation is as follows:

Lastname, First name. "Title of Essay." Title of Collection. Ed. Editor's Name(s). Place of Publication: Publisher, Year. Page range of entry. Medium of Publication.


Rich, Adrienne. "Living in Sin." The Treasury of American Poetry. Comp. Nancy Sullivan. New York: Guild America, 1978. 721-724. Print.

Poem or Short Story Examples in an Anthology

Burns, Robert. "Red, Red Rose." 100 Best-Loved Poems. Ed. Philip Smith. New York: Dover, 1995. 28-29. Print.

An Introduction, Preface, Foreword, or Afterword

When citing an introduction, a preface, a foreword, or an afterword, write the name of the author(s) of the piece you are citing. Then give the name of the part being cited, which should not be italicized or enclosed in quotation marks.

Farrell, Thomas B. Introduction. Norms of Rhetorical Culture. By Farrell. New Haven: Yale UP, 1993. 1-13. Print.

Article in a Magazine

Cite by listing the article's author, putting the title of the article in quotations marks, and italicizing the periodical title. Follow with the date of publication. Remember to abbreviate the month. The basic format is as follows:

Author(s). "Title of Article." Title of Periodical Day Month Year: pages. Medium of publication.

Poniewozik, James. "TV Makes a Too-Close Call." Time 20 Nov. 2000: 70-71. Print.

An Article in a Scholarly Journal

In previous years, MLA required that researchers determine whether or not a scholarly journal employed continuous pagination (page numbers began at page one in the first issue of the years and page numbers took up where they left off in subsequent ones) or non-continuous pagination (page numbers begin at page one in every subsequent issue) in order to determine whether or not to include issue numbers in bibliographic entries. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 7th edition (2009) eliminates this step. Always provide issue numbers, when available.

Author(s). "Title of Article." Title of Journal Volume.Issue (Year): pages. Medium of publication.

Bagchi, Alaknanda. "Conflicting Nationalisms: The Voice of the Subaltern in Mahasweta Devi's Bashai Tudu." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 15.1 (1996): 41-50. Print.

Use of URLs in MLA

MLA no longer requires the use of URLs in MLA citations. Because Web addresses are not static (i.e., they change often) and because documents sometimes appear in multiple places on the Web (e.g., on multiple databases), MLA explains that most readers can find electronic sources via title or author searches in Internet Search Engines.

For instructors or editors who still wish to require the use of URLs, MLA suggests that the URL appear in angle brackets after the date of access. Break URLs only after slashes.

Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. S. H. Butcher. The Internet Classics Archive. Web Atomic and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 13 Sept. 2007. Web. 4 Nov. 2008. ‹›.

An Image (Including a Painting, Sculpture, or Photograph)

Provide the artist's name, the work of art italicized, the date of creation, the institution and city where the work is housed. Follow this initial entry with the name of the Website in italics, the medium of publication, and the date of access.

Goya, Francisco. The Family of Charles IV. 1800. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Museo National del Prado. Web. 22 May 2006.

Klee, Paul. Twittering Machine. 1922. Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Artchive. Web. 22 May 2006.

Films or Movies

List films (in theaters or not yet on DVD or video) by their title. Include the name of the director, the film studio or distributor, and the release year. If relevant, list performer names after the director’s name. Use the abbreviation perf. to head the list. List film as the medium of publication. To cite a DVD or other video recording, see “Recorded Films and Movies” below.

The Usual Suspects. Dir. Bryan Singer. Perf. Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin, and Benecio del Toro. Polygram, 1995. Film.

Recorded Films or Movies

List films by their title. Include the name of the director, the distributor, and the release year. If relevant, list performer names after the director’s name. Use the abbreviation perf. to head the list. End the entry with the appropriate medium of publication (e.g. DVD, VHS, Laser disc).

Ed Wood. Dir. Tim Burton. Perf. Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette. Touchstone, 1994. DVD.

Recorded Television Episodes (e.g. DVD, Videocassette)

Cite recorded television episodes like films (see above). Begin with the episode name in quotation marks. Follow with the series name in italics. When the title of the collection of recordings is different than the original series (e.g., the show Friends is in DVD release under the title Friends: The Complete Sixth Season), list the title that would be help researchers locate the recording. Give the distributor name followed by the date of distribution. End with the medium of publication (e.g. DVD, Videocassette, Laser disc).

Note: The writer may choose to include information about directors, writers, performers, producers between the title and the distributor name. Use appropriate abbreviations for these contributors (e.g. dir., writ., perf., prod.).

"The One Where Chandler Can't Cry." Friends: The Complete Sixth Season. Writ. Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen. Dir. Kevin Bright. Warner Brothers, 2004. DVD.

Sound Recordings

List sound recordings in such a way that they can easily be found by readers. Generally, citations begin with the artist name. They might also be listed by composers (comp.) or performers (perf.). Otherwise, list composer and performer information after the album title.

Use the appropriate abbreviation after the person’s name and a comma, when needed. Put individual song titles in quotation marks. Album names are italicized. Provide the name of the recording manufacturer followed by the publication date (or n.d., if date is unknown). List the appropriate medium at the end of the entry (e.g. CD, LP, Audiocassette). For MP3 recordings, see the “Digital Files” section below.

Note: If you know and desire to list the recording date, include this information before the manufacturer name. Use the abbreviation for “recorded” (Rec.) and list the recording date (dd mm year format) before the manufacturer name.

Foo Fighters. In Your Honor. RCA, 2005. CD.

Nirvana. "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Nevermind. Geffen, 1991. Audiocassette.

Beethoven, Ludwig van. The 9 Symphonies. Perf. NBC Symphony Orchestra. Cond. Arturo Toscanini. RCA, 2003. CD.

MLA Format for Content and Works Cited


Except for page numbers (see below), leave one-inch margins all around the text of your paper -- left side, right side, and top and bottom. Paragraphs should be indented half an inch; set-off quotations should be indented an inch from the left margin (five spaces and ten spaces, respectively, on standard typewriters).


The MLA Guide says that "the research paper must be double-spaced," including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited.

Heading and Title:

Your research paper does not need a title page. At the top of the first page, at the left-hand margin, type your name, your instructor's name, the course name and number, and the date -- all on separate, double-spaced lines. Then double-space again and center the title above your text. (If your title requires more than one line, double-space between the lines.) Double-space again before beginning your text. The title should be neither underlined nor written in all capital letters. Capitalize only the first, last, and principal words of the title. Titles might end with a question mark or an exclamation mark if that is appropriate, but not in a period. Titles written in other languages are capitalized and punctuated according to different rules, and writers should consult the MLA Guide or their instructors.

Page Numbers:

Number your pages consecutively throughout the manuscript (including the first page) in the upper right-hand corner of each page, one-half inch from the top. Type your last name before the page number. Most word processing programs provide for a "running head," which you can set up as you create the format for the paper, at the same time you are establishing things like the one-inch margins and the double-spacing. This feature makes the appearance and consistency of the page numbering a great convenience. Make sure the page-number is always an inch from the right-hand edge of the paper (flush with the right-hand margin of your text) and that there is a double-space between the page number and the top line of text. Do not use the abbreviation p. or any other mark before the page number.




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