Citing sources in MLA style

MLA style is a standard for formatting citations that is overseen by the Modern Languages Association and is used for citing sources in many disciplines in the humanities. All items cited in a paper should contain both a brief in-text citation at the point of use in the body of the paper and a full citation, listed in the Works Cited page at the end.

In-text citations

In-text citations are enclosed in parentheses and should include the last name of the author(s) and page number from where the information came. For example:

(Smith 54)

Works Cited list

The 9th edition, published in 2021, is the most recent MLA handbook. This edition retains the concept of containers established in the previous (8th) edition, which are the larger wholes that contain the smaller parts (e.g., a journal is a container for an article; a database is a container for a journal).

When citing works in the most recent style, you must first identify the format of your source (book, article, blog post, PDF, etc.). Citations generally follow the order below. Each major element is separated by a period.

Author. Title of the specific source. Title of the “container” which includes additional information such as version, number, publisher, publication date, etc. separated by commas. Title of the bigger “container” which includes additional information such as version, number, publisher, publication date, etc. separated by commas.

Example of a citation for a source from two containers:

Smith, Sam. “How I Taught an Old Dog New Tricks.” Journal of American Pie, vol. 20, no. 7, Spring 2016, pp. 54-65. Academic Search Premier,

In the example above, the article, “How I Taught an Old Dog New Tricks,” was published in the first container, the Journal of American Pie, which was located in the second container, the database Academic Search Premier.

Keep these tips in mind when compiling your works cited list:

  • Start the references list on a new page after the text and before any tables, figures, etc.
  • Alphabetize and double space all entries.
  • Use hanging indents (i.e., all lines except the first of each citation should be indented).
  • Capitalize the first letter of all major words in article, book, and journal titles.

More information

To see more examples and other situations of citing sources in MLA style, see the library's online MLA Citation guide. You can also find the most recent (9th) edition of the MLA Handbook in the Knowledge Center’s reference collection and the Book Stacks.  Purdue’s Online Writing Lab also contains many examples of different formats you may need to cite.