Learn and Generate Bibliographies, Citations, and Works Cited

MLA Format and Citations


Writing your first paper in MLA format can be a bit scary, to say the least. Use this simple yet comprehensive guide on all things MLA 8 style to take you through the step-by-step process of creating your MLA style paper and works cited, including proper MLA citations. The examples and illustrations will ensure that you don’t get led astray in your MLA essay.

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Deciding on MLA Format and Citations Made Simple

Your teacher didn’t tell you what format to use for your essay. Now, you feel lost. Deciding what style to use isn’t like trying to solve a complex math equation, even though it can feel like it. Rather, it comes down to the purpose of the paper.

When you are thinking of which style to use, think about what MLA stands for: Modern Language Association. The MLA style guide was created and designed for language and liberal arts. Unlike the American Psychological Association, which focuses on social sciences, MLA format and citations work to make liberal arts, humanities, language arts and cultural studies papers a breeze. If that is the topic of your paper, this is your style guide.

Why Use an MLA Style Guide at All?

You aren’t in Kansas anymore! Gone are the days of the five paragraph essay paper. For advanced work, your language arts papers are going to be 5-10 pages and use dozens of sources. This means that you are going to need to use some kind of organization system to keep everything straight. Rather than having to make it yourself, MLA took all the guesswork out of it and has a guide ready for your essay on Shakespeare.

MLA Version 7 or 8

Depending on your resources, you might see both the 7th and 8th edition MLA style guides. That is because MLA updated its guide in 2016. While that was a few years in the past, getting everything updated can take a bit of time. Since there are differences between the two editions, you’ll want to make sure that you are using the most up-to-date information. So, just for sanity’s sake, you’ll likely want to stick with MLA version 8 for your paper.

Developing Your MLA Thesis Statement

With your style guide ready, now it is time to research… or is it? Before you even begin researching, you’ll want to think of your MLA thesis statement. This is the argument or answer that you are going to develop or prove throughout your paper. While you need it to be strong and well-formed, this will come with time and research.

In the beginning, you need something to get going. Your thesis can then be modified and changed throughout the paper-writing process.

Research for Your MLA Format Paper

Writing MLA college papers, or even high school ones, are all about the research. You need to make sure that you are using good quality research to back up your statements and assertions. When it comes to research, it is important to understand that there are primary and secondary sources. Including strong, credible sources is pivotal to making sure your paper is factual and well rounded.

Creating an Outline

An outline is your choice. Well, unless a teacher mandates it. MLA, APA and Chicago styles don’t have a specific format for creating an outline. However, there is a basic format and set of guidelines you can follow for creating your outline to make it professional and presentable.

Writing an MLA Format Paper

You have done a lot of work already, but all that preparation will be worth it. With all your research at your fingertips, it’s time to start writing the actual paper itself. You can’t get all willy-nilly now, however. MLA format has a specific style. It’s called a style guide for a reason. And you’ll want to follow it to the letter… and period.

Formatting Your Research Paper

MLA format has basic requirements that you must follow when it comes to creating your paper. These include guidelines for margins, headers, tabs and hanging indents. While not an all-inclusive list, a few things that you need to keep in mind include:

  • Your name should be on the left.
  • The title of the paper is centered.
  • Include a header for the running name and page numbers.
  • Use a readable font in a standard size. Times New Roman in 12 pt. is recommended.

While MLA offers a lot of flexibility in their style, formatting it correctly is important.

Formatting an MLA Cover Page

An MLA cover page isn’t always required. When it is, though, you will want to get it perfect. Following a guide for formatting your cover page can make your world a whole lot easier. Make sure to follow all the margins, indents and text format recommendations. Remember, this is the first page that your teacher will see and it sets the tone for your entire work.


MLA formatting likes to keep things simple. And for that, you should be thankful. In terms of writing numbers using MLA style, depending on the number, you might be using Roman or Arabic numbers and writing them out in full or using numerical form. It is all going to depend on what the number is and where it is going. Technical reports tend to use numerals, while numbers that can be spelled in a word or two are typically written out in full.

Abbreviations and Acronyms

Abbreviations and acronyms also have a specific style in MLA style. This includes how you’ll abbreviate postal codes, names and even volumes. Just follow the guide, and you won’t have any issues.

Images and Tables

Images and tables are what will really make your paper shine. But, you can’t just place them anywhere.

As best you can, keep images reasonably close to the relevant text. This way, the images can work to really illustrate your point. Your image will be flush left and labeled with any notes. For example, Fig. 1: A research image. You’ll be more descriptive, but this gives you the general idea.

A Figure in a Research Paper

Tables will have a label that goes along with them, like Table 1, as well as a descriptive title. They will also be sourced with an explanation below, just like an image.

Table in MLA Format

Everything You Need for MLA Citations

High and middle school, college and professional level papers are going to need citations. No matter what style guide you use, you will typically use two types of citations. MLA format citations use the author-page format for in-text citations and the works cited at the back of the paper.

Why Are MLA Citations Important?

It is important to give credit where credit is due. If you don’t, then you are plagiarizing someone else’s work. To avoid plagiarism and a potential F, you need to make sure that you are citing any ideas that are not your own or aren’t common knowledge. Common knowledge is something like, “The president lives in the White House.” Everyone knows this, so it isn’t something that you would have to cite. MLA citations also allow readers to find and reference the sources you used to write your paper.

The Low-Down on In-Text MLA Citations

When you cite work in the body of your paper, MLA citations follow the author-page system. This tells you that you should include the author and page number in your in-text citations.

Setting Up In-Text Citations

When MLA keeps it simple, they keep it simple. For your in-text MLA citations, you are literally going to include the author and page number, separated by a comma. That’s it! Whether you are paraphrasing, using short quotes or even a long quote, you just need to put in who the author is and the page the information can be found on. This works for books like the Bible, along with magazines and websites.


The key to leash training a dog is a short tug on his leash (Cesar, 7).

Poems or Verse

MLA is designed for language arts. That means there’s a high likelihood you’ll need to include a poem or verse in your paper at some point. Thankfully, MLA citations are prepared for that. To keep everything all nice and tidy, include verse using the MLA block quote format. This will just make your text stand out.

MLA Style Citations: Works Cited Page

Hopefully, you’ve been keeping track of all those amazing sources you’ve being using to create your paper! And if you had trouble, consider trying note cards next time. It might seem weird in the digital age, but they can be helpful.

Now, the time to create an MLA works cited list is upon you. A works cited page is the MLA version of a bibliography. However, a works cited and a bibliography have a few key differences, like their titles, how they are set up, and what sources to include. Make sure you are setting up a works cited for your MLA paper.

Formatting an MLA Works Cited

Each element of a works cited list is broken down for you in the MLA style guide, including punctuation,  hanging indents,  alphabetizing and arranging numbers.

To make your life easy, the organization of an MLA works cited entry is broken down into several core elements. Having these nine elements clearly written out makes creating your works cited entry pretty easy. But, just to make it clear, sometimes it is easier to see a works cited example in action.

MLA Container Style

When creating your MLA format citations, you might notice the word “containers.” In an attempt to keep things simple, MLA created the core elements system. The third through ninth elements make up the containers in an MLA citation.

Containers are an easy way to account for how your source material may come in different formats with different elements. MLA was trying to make a format that could withstand the changing times, particularly for internet sources. The container elements include such information as the version number and publication date.

MLA Container Example

Examples of Common MLA Citations

While formatting MLA citations has been made easy for you, it is still nice to follow examples when creating works cited citations of your own.. Plus, you can use examples to make sure that the citations generator you used got everything right. While it isn’t possible to provide examples for every possible source you might come across, there are a few common ones that you’ll find yourself using over and over.

Citing Books in MLA

You’ve combed through volumes and volumes of books. You even checked out an anthology or two. When it comes to creating your works cited entry for books, you want to include the author’s name (last, first), the book’s title, publisher and publication date. You may also include the publication location, as appropriate.

This is also going to vary slightly depending on if your book had one author or multiple authors. The quick way to break this down is:

  • One Author: Last Name, First Name.
  • Two Authors: Last Name, First Name, and First Name Last Name.
  • Three or More Authors: Last Name, First Name, et al.

This can get a bit more complicated for works like the Bible with no author, as well as for anthologies, but this is the basic formatting of an MLA book work cited entry.

Example of Two Authors:

Kin, Jay and Gwen Loyt. Alcohol Addiction in America. St. Louis, Mosh, 2006.

MLA Periodical Citation

Books are one thing, but periodicals are a whole separate beast to tame. A periodical is anything that is published regularly, multiple times a year. This could be a magazine, newspaper or a monthly journal. Periodicals come in all shapes and sizes. You can even use the introduction of a scholarly journal article as a source.

When you are citing a magazine or newspaper, the container system of MLA really comes in handy. You can include anything from author, title source, container title, contributors, version, number, publisher, publication date, location, and page number. What you include is going to depend on what is available.

Newspaper Example:

Met, Theresa. “Local Boy Charged With Possession.” Albuquerque Journal, 4 Nov. 2020, A2.

MLA Citations for Shakespeare and Poems

It wouldn’t be an MLA paper without Shakespeare and poetry! The good news is that creating a citation for Shakespeare’s work isn’t difficult. However, it does get a bit tricky depending on what you’re citing. For example, if you are talking about Shakespeare himself, then you include his name first. But if not, then the work goes first.


Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Edited by Howard H. Furness, 6th ed., vol. 9, Classic Books Company, 2001, Google Books.

PowerPoint Citations in MLA Style

You wouldn’t think that you would include many PowerPoint presentations in your works cited, but it happens more often than you might imagine. With professors putting their lecture notes online, this can be a great way to get a good primary source. Remember to pay attention to the core elements and container system when citing a PowerPoint presentation.


Ren, Tor. “Capitalism a Tool.” Philosophy 101. 12 August 2016. Fictional University. Lecture.

Media and Digital Citations in MLA Format

When it comes to digital and media citations in MLA format, these come in all different types. You might include a website on literature, films, TV shows, movies and even online videos. When it comes to streaming videos, you might include ones you find on Vimeo or YouTube.

Just like anything else, the key to getting your citation right for websites, digital videos, films and movies is to use the containers that fit with your source. This means that each type of works cited entry is going to have a unique citation.

Website Example:

Marble, Dee. “Jealousy in Shakespeare.” Shakespeare Online. 15 Aug. 2020, shakespeare-online.com/quotes/shakespeareonjealousy.html.

Other MLA Citations

Some citations you will need to make might not fit into a typical category. Don’t be worried that you’ll get it wrong. Like you’ve learned already, MLA is flexible when it come to citing interviews and images. As long as you follow the rules of the core elements and the container system, you are golden.

Annotated Bibliography

Don’t worry! MLA uses a works cited list. However, there may come a time when you are asked to create an annotated bibliography in MLA format. Rather than start to sweat, know that you already have the basics in the bag. In addition to creating your normal citation, you will create either a summary annotation or evaluative annotation for each source. This just provides your professor a bit more information on your sources.

Getting a Handle on MLA Format and Citations

MLA format and citations offer a lot more flexibility than you might find in APA format or Chicago style. However, there are still rules you need to follow when creating your paper. As long as you are careful to mind your margins and indents, you are set to go.

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