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MLA Format Citation – A Complete Guide for Students

MLA Format Citation

The Modern Language Association also known as MLA is a referencing style that establishes standards for accrediting the sources employed in a paper. The MLA format citation has a two-part parenthetical documentation format for citing sources: Parenthetical or In-text Citations and Works Cited which is a list of references that is attached at the end of the paper. These references together identify and acknowledge the sources employed in the paper and allow others to access and retrieve the material.

In April 2021, the Modern Language Association revised its style manual which is the 9th and the latest edition of MLA. The MLA Handbook is a document that seeks to satisfy the ever-changing requirements of writers while also creating uniform documentation standards. The 9th edition focuses on the elucidation, guidance, and extension of the 8th edition. The use of principal elements for Works-Cited was developed to be more adaptable, with built-in flexibility which allows authors to cite their references the way that works best for their particular assignments. This formatting style is mostly adopted by researchers and scholars in the humanities fields such as languages, literature, and philosophy for formatting a research paper because it makes the assignment readable.

According to PenMyPaper, authors who correctly use MLA format citation also establish their credibility by representing accountability to their sources. Most importantly, using the MLA format will prevent authors from the consequences of plagiarism, as that is the inadvertent or intentional uncredited use of sources created by other authors.

1. Paper Formatting

Here are some fundamental rules for formatting a paper in MLA format citation:

1.1 General Guidelines for Formatting

  • The paper must be written using double spacing and 12-point font size in Times New Roman.
  • The size of the paper should be 8.5 x 11-inch and the margins should be set to 1-inch on all sides.
  • Only a single space is to be left after a period or other punctuation marks.
  • The content should be left-aligned and the first line of every paragraph should be indented with a half-inch.
  • The use of a header is compulsory and the page numbers must be placed serially in the upper right-hand corner, and flush with the right margin, leaving one-half inch from the top.
  • While using headers in MLA, headline the main sections (Level 2 headers) in a different font style than the title of the paper.
  • Use italics to specify the titles of longer works throughout your paper and provide emphasis only when it is necessary.
  • For any endnotes, assimilate them on a fresh page prior to the Works-Cited page. Give the title to the section: Notes (center-aligned, unformatted).

PenMyPaper suggests going through the official handbooks for understanding all the nitty-gritty of the MLA, Harvard, or APA referencing style.

1.2 General Rules for Heading

[Heading 1] Bold, flush left

Heading 1 must be left-aligned with 12-point Times New Roman in bold. Each word must be capitalized excluding articles and conjunctions.

[Heading 2] Italics, flush left

Heading 2 should be left-aligned with italics 12 font size in Times New Roman. Except for conjunctions and articles, each word must be capitalized.

[Heading 3] Bold, center-aligned

Heading 3 must be center-aligned with bold 12 font size in Times New Roman. The first letter of each word should be capitalized excluding conjunctions and articles.

2. MLA Referencing Basics

MLA format citations can be divided into two categories: Parenthetical or In-text citations and Annotated bibliography.

2.1 Basic Parenthetical or In-Text Citation Guidelines

According to the MLA referencing style, the parts of the sentence that are paraphrased or quoted from works of others should be appropriately referred to with in-text citations. In the MLA format citation, referring to others’ works in your paper can be done using parenthetical citations. This requires providing relevant sources in parentheses whenever you use a paraphrase or quotation in a sentence. These parenthetical references must be kept as clear and concise as possible. The MLA format of referencing a source within the texts should be as follows: author (s) or editor (s) followed by the page number.

Below are some guiding principles for in-text citations:

  • Only provide the information required for identifying a source. Typically, the last name of the author and a page number will be sufficient.
  • The reference must precede the punctuation mark which concludes the sentence, phrase, or clause that comprises the cited material.
  • The parenthetical reference should be placed as close as possible to its source.
  • The online and electronic sources are cited the way the print resources are cited in parenthetical references. In case of the online source does not have page numbers, then the numbers must be omitted from the parenthetical references. On the other hand, if an online source has fixed page numbers such as the numbering of paragraphs, then the relevant numbers should be cited.

2.2 Basic Guidelines for Works-Cited

According to the 9th edition of MLA format, the reference list is titled ‘Works-Cited’. Following are the basic guidelines to adhere to while formatting the Works-Cited page:

  • Commence the Works-Cited List on a new page at the end of the document.
  • It should have 1-inch margin and the second and succeeding lines of the source should be indented 0.5 inches from the margin.
  • If there are several works by the same author then they should be included according to date. If the works are done in the same year, they are to be arranged alphabetically by the title.
  • It must be arranged alphabetically by the first author’s name.
  • All the entries must have double spacing.
  • For citing several works done by the same author, the first reference should contain the full name and subsequent references should have the name of the author replaced with ‘- – -’
  • It should contain complete references for all in-text citations used.

PenMyPaper suggests going through some examples to understand the format of citation in MLA.

3. MLA Referencing for Different Sources

For Books

Works-Cited Format:

The general format for citation for books should be as follows:

Author. Title. Title of Container, Other contributors (editors or translators), Version (edition), Number (no. or vol.), Publisher, Date of Publication, Location (paragraphs, pages, URL, or DOI).

  • Books composed by a single author:

Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. City of Publication, Publisher, Publication Date.

Carter, William. The Gray and Guilty Sea. Flying Raven, 2010.

  • Books composed by two authors:

Last Name, First Name, and First Name Last Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Date.

Pratchett, Terry, and Neil Gaiman. Good Omens. Workman, 1990.

  • Books composed by two or more authors:

Clayton, Dhonielle, et al. Blackout. Quill Tree Books, 2021.

In-text Citation Format:

  • One Author:

Direct Quotation: Gilbert (201) states that

The section that is paraphrased: (Gilbert 201)

  • Two Authors

Direct Quotation: Wilson and Scott (300) state that

The section that is paraphrased: (Wilson & Scott 300)

  • Three or more Authors

Citing three or more authors, et al. will follow the surname of the first author.

Direct quotation: Wilson et al. (300) opine that….

The section that is paraphrased: (Wilson et al., 300)

  • Sources without any author

In case there is no author, the title should be included within the quotation mark followed by a bracket.

Direct Quotation: “The Impacts of Global Warming” states that….

The section that is paraphrased: (“The Impacts of Global Warming”)

For Periodicals

Periodicals include newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals.

Works-Cited Format: Author. Title. Title of Container, Other contributors (editor or translator), Version (edition), Number, Publisher, Publisher Date, Location (pp.). 2nd container’s title, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Date of Publication, Location (pp.).

  • Article in a magazine

Works-Cited: Author(s). “Title of Article.” Title of the Periodical, Day Month Year, pages.

Weinstein, Beckah. “Trying Before Buying.” Psychology Today, vol. 45, no. 3, May 2012, pp. 45-47

In-text Citation: (Author’s Last name page Number)

(Weinstein 45-47)

  • Newspaper Article:

Works-Cited: Krugman, Andrew. “Fear of Eating.” New York Times, late ed., 20 May 2007, p. A1.

In-text Citation: (Author’s Last Name Page Number)

(Krugman A1)

For Websites

Works-Cited: Last name, First name. “Document title.” Website name. Site publisher, Publication date. Access date.

  • A website Page

Works-Cited: Lindman, Susanne. “How to Make Vegetarian Chili.” eHow, Accessed 7 June 2017.

In-text Citation: (Author’s Last Name)


  • An E-Book (One Author/ from a website)

Works-Cited: Silva, Paul J. A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. E-book, American Psychological Association, 2007.

In-Text Citation: (Author’s Last name Page Number)

(Colbert 76)

For Interviews

Works-Cited: Last Name of the Interviewee, First Name. Interview. Interview Title. By Interviewer First Name Last Name, Day Month Year of interview.

  • Personal Interview

Samson, Cole. Personal interview. 9 May 2013.

  • Published Interview

Braine, John. “The Man at the Top.” Interviews with Britain’s Angry Young Men. By Dale Salwak, 1984.

In-text Citation: (Last Name of Person Who Was Interviewed)

  • Example: (Samson)

 Wrapping Up

By now, you must have got the picture of how to write a research paper in accordance with the MLA format citation. Feel free to get in touch with expert academic professionals if you want to know more about referencing styles. PenMyPaper has a team of skilled writers who will provide any kind of assignment help service. So, don’t hesitate and connect with us for academic support.

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