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MLA Format Lesson

When writing research papers, students often find the task of working with sources to be overwhelming due to the many requirements for documentation and integration of resources into their own work. However, properly acknowledged and documented resources enable students to work with the ideas of other writers in their own work, and incorporate facts that lend credibility to their assertions. The documentation of resources also allows a reader to verify an interpretation of original material and, of course, prevents accusations of plagiarism.

In this module students will learn to

  • correctly format an essay using MLA style
  • document resources using the Modern Language Association style (MLA)
  • Write in-text citations
  • Identify models that illustrate correct in-text citations
  • Create a works-cited page
  • Identify models that illustrate correct works-cited page citations

MLA Essay Format

MLA documentation for essays may seem overly prescriptive; however, having a common format for essays allows readers to process information quickly.  Below are the rules for formatting your essay:

Paper:  8 1/2 x 11, white
Font: use a common, easy to read 12-point font such as Times, Verdana, Arial, or Geneva.
Margins: 1" - 1 1/2" on all sides of your essay
Paragraphs: Indent the first line of every paragraph 5 spaces (1/2")
Spacing: Double-space everything! Even your header and block quotes. Do not skip extra lines before block quotations.

Leave one space after a period before the beginning of the next sentence.
Numbering: Your header should include page numbering in the upper right hand corner of every page, 1/2" from the top of the page and right-adjusted with the right margin.
Name, Course, etc. Your identifying information goes in a header on the first page only.  The first line should include your name, on the next line give your professor's name, on the next line give the name of the course, on the last line write in the date.  This header is double-spaced like everything else in your essay.
Titles: Center your title. Only put the titles of short works mentioned in your title in quotes and long works in italics or underline; do not quote, italicize, or underline your own title.

Below is a sample of an essay in MLA format:

MLA format sample essay: shows style



In-text Citations

Basic form:
An in-text citation is designed to identify a quoted or paraphrased source and to tell the reader where to look for the source information in the Works Cited page (which is organized alphabetically by the author's last name).  MLA format for in-text citations is designed to be as clean and practical as possible. An in-text citation should appear in parentheses in your text following a quotation or a paraphrase of an author's idea in the following format: author's last name followed by the page number.  If the work, such as a web page, is anonymous, write a few identifying words of the document title instead of the author's last name): For example, the in-text citation

(Moscatello 40)

would correspond to the following citation in the Works Cited page:

Moscatello, Caitlin. "Man with a Hammer." Sports Illustrated. New York: Apr 2, 2007. Vol. 106, Iss. 14; p. 40

A Repeat Reference to the Same Source:
You only need to give the page number in a repeated reference to the same source when there is no intervening reference to another source.

When You Have Only One Source in Your Essay:
Your instructor may still require a Works Cited page and in-text citations in MLA format even if you are only writing a response to an assigned reading. Be sure to check with your instructor, or to be safe, use MLA format.

Citing Indirect Sources:
When you want to use a quote that you found used in another source, the format is as follows: (qtd. in Anderson 299)

Citing A Web Page or Article on a Web Page:
If you have the author's name, then cite the author's name in the in-text citation by itself, since obviously you do not have a page number. If the information has no identified author, then use an abbreviated title of the web page corresponding to the title you will use on the Works Cited page to identify the web site:



Works Cited Page Format

The Works Cited page follows the same basic format as the rest of the essay: 1 - 1 1/2" margins, 12 point font, pagination (continued) in the upper right hand corner, 1/2 inch from the top, right-adjusted, double spacing.

The Works Cited page should begin on a new page with the title, "Works Cited," centered near the top of the page (no underlines or italics).

All entries should be listed alphabetically by the author's last name.  Citations identified by titles should be listed alphabetically according to the title.

No extra lines between citations.

Citations should be flush with the left margin on the first line; any subsequent lines should be indented 5 spaces.



Works Cited Page: Basics

The first time students are called upon to write a Works Cited page, they are typically seized with panic. Actually, however, writing a good Works Cited page is just a matter of following prescriptions for each type of text one is using, and today, there are many excellent sources online detailing each of these formats. Most have excellent models for every type of citation one might need.  In addition, citation engines, such as CitationMachine, are out there online to automatically format a citation in MLA, APA, Chicago, and other formats. One simply enters the information in a form like the one below, and the citation is formatted for you:

Citation Machine Form Example


Links to excellent resources for formatting citations are included in the Learning Resources section of this module.


Authors' names should be entered in the following format, no matter the type of publication you are working with.

Single author: last name first, first name, period

Smith, Michael.

Multiple authors: The first author's name is written last name first, but subsequent author names are entered with first name first:

Thompson, David, and Petra Richards.

If, however, there are more than three authors, only the first author's name is listed along with the Latin phrase "et. al. (meaning "and others"):

Thompson, David, et. al.

No named author: If the author is unnamed, as is typical in an encyclopedia entry or on an internet page, for example, leave the author's name off of the entry, and begin the citation with the title of the work.



Book Citations

The basic form for book citations on the Works Cited Page is as follows: the author's last name followed by the first name, then the title of the article followed by the title of the book or larger work in which the article or other short work is found, followed by the place of publication, the name of the publisher, and the date of publication.

For example,

Atkinson, Wilcox. The Modern Metropolis. Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 2004.

Note that each element of information in the citation—author's name, book title, and publishing information—is separated from the next element by a period.

An Article in a Newspaper or Magazine

Entering the title and publisher information for an article in a newspaper or magazine gets a bit tricky.  The format for popular newspapers and magazine is as follows:

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

Peterson, Matt. "The Scenic Route." Times. 2 Oct. 2002: 66-70.

For an article in a scholarly journal, the following format should be used:

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

Altieri, Miguel. "Sophisticated Wines," The Wine Reporter 12:2 (2006): 24-25.

Note that a period is placed between the title of the article and the title of the journal.  No punctuation is placed between the title of the journal or newspaper and the rest of the publishing information. 

Citing Information From the Web

An article on a web page:

Author(s). "Title of Article." Title of Web Site. Date of posting or most recent revision. Name of institution or organization affiliated with the site. Date you accessed the site <site address>.

Bell, Melanie. "Life and Times of a Chicago Reporter." Crosswire. 2002. Chicago City Arts. 12 May 2003. <http://www.crosswire.com/bell.html>

A Page on a Web Site:

You may need to cite information acquired from an online encyclopedia like Wikipedia, or a site offering extensive coverage of a topic such as global warming.  In this case, you should refer to the specific page on the site in your citation as follows:

"Title of web page." Title of Web Site. Date of posting or most recent revision. Name of institution or organization affiliated with the site. Date you accessed the site <site address>.

"Pogo Stick." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 15 April 2007. 14 April 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pogo_stick>

A web site:

Crosswire. 2002. Chicago City Arts. 12 May 2003. <http://www.crosswire.com/bell.html>

A blog, or an article on a blog:

Blogs and articles on blogs are treated just as articles on web sites and web sites are treated on the Works Cited page. 

An Article in a Web Magazine:

Author(s). "Title of Article." Title of Online Publication. Date of Publication. Date of Access <electronic address>.

Fitzgerald, Nellie, et. al. "American Idol? Really?" Rewired. No. 50 (22 Dec. 2005). 12 April 2007. <http://www.rewired.com/articles/Fitzgerald/idol.html>

An Article in an Online Scholarly Journal:

Morgan, Lee. "Hocus Pocus." Jazz Reader. 2.9 (2006): 12 pars. 17 April 2007 <http://www.jazzreader.com/vol2num9/morgan.htm>.

Note: all of the information in the above online scholarly journal reference is available in online journals.  Include the volume and issue information and the number of paragraphs in the article when that information is available.

An Article from an Electronic Database:

When citing material accessed via an electronic database, such as ProQuest or InfoTrac, you will need to indicate that you have used this resource to obtain the information. Cite the name of the article as usual, but add on the name of the database, the name of the library (or institution) that holds the database subscription, the city and state where the library is located, and the date the information was accessed. Finally, include the url of the home page of the database. For example:

Larson, Megan. "No joke: Comedy Central's Hilary to leave the network." Mediaweek 14.23 (June 7, 2004): 6(1). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. Santa Rosa Junior College Library. 18 Apr. 2007. <http://www.gale.com/>




Additional Sources

Occasionally, you may need to cite relatively unusual sources such as interviews, email, images, film, cd's, or even a conversation. The proper way to cite almost any source can be found quickly online by "googling" the key words of your citation.  For example,

mla format works cited film dialogue

mla format works cited personal conversation

Moreover, owning a recent copy of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is a good idea if you know you will be writing research papers for a few years.




Video Lesson

mla format video lesson


1. MLA essay format

2. In-text citations

3. Works cited page format

4. Works cited page basics

5. Book citations

6. An article in a newspaper or magazine

7. Citing information from the web

8. Additional resources

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