What is MLA Style?

MLA is a documentation method based on the guidelines set by the Modern Language Association and laid out in detail in the MLA Handbook, 8th edition (2016).

NOTE: This site has been updated to reflect updates to MLA citation requirements, as prescribed by the 2016 release of The MLA Handbook, 8th ed.

MLA documentation style is commonly used in the humanities, especially in English literature, and in literatures of other languages, and in cultural studies, Indigenous studies, women’s studies, and Canadian studies, for example, when the focus is similar to literature. In interdisciplinary courses, ask your instructor which style is preferred.

Writing the English Essay: Substance and Style provides help with the essay-writing process specifically for English essays.

When and What to Cite in MLA

Review the rules of documenting for MLA style.

How to Create In-Text Citations for MLA

For those who are new to the MLA style of documentation, this page clearly explains the basics of creating in-text citations, including information about documenting various literary sources and integrating quotation.

How to Create a Works Cited Page in MLA

This page offers general rules of formatting for the works cited page, including details about line spacing, indenting, punctuation, and font style.

In-Text Citations/Works Cited by Source for MLA

Organized by five categories (Books, Sections of Books, Periodicals, Electronic Sources, andOther Sources), this page contains links to 29 examples of in-text citations and works cited entries, which demonstrate the detailed variance between types of sources often documented in academic work. 

MLA Formatting Guidelines and Sample

This page offers useful formatting guidelines about font size, margins, capitalization, line spacing, paragraphing, and more.  In addition, a pdf sample paper is available as an example of these guidelines.

Printable Guide for MLA (8th ed.)


When and What to Cite

In MLA, the citation is composed of parentheses that contain source information.

It is not always easy to know what needs to be cited: try to keep in mind the following guidelines.

Cite the following:

  • Someone else’s words (a word-for-word quotation)
  • Facts (statistics, findings) you learned from primary and secondary sources
  • Someone else’s ideas or opinions


The facts and ideas you come across in your research you may directly quote, but more often you will summarize; remember even summary needs to be cited if you found the content elsewhere.

Citing in Close-Reading-Based Essays

Many MLA essays are based on close readings of texts, for example, an English essay on a poem by Wordsworth. The primary source would be the poem, the work in question, and secondary sources are those other sources you might use for information or insight about the poem (books, articles, etc).

For close readings, quote the primary source as evidence for the claims or points you are making. Your supporting evidence may be directly quoted words, phrases, sentences, occasionally several sentences, showing details about character, plot, diction, imagery etc.

You may end up with an essay with more quotations than other kinds of essays. Don’t worry; the quoted words from the text are the support for the arguments you are making, and they show that your ideas came from somewhere.

Try to keep your quotations as short and pertinent as possible, using the quoted words to support points you are making yourself, not letting the quotations speak for you. 

Don't cite the following:

  • Your ideas or opinion.
  • Common knowledge in the discipline: it takes a while to get the feel for this. Often the original source of “common knowledge” is either unknown, widely known, or inconsequential. Common knowledge in English might be that Shakespeare wrote comedies, tragedies, and histories. If you are not sure if something qualifies as common knowledge in the discipline, go ahead and cite.

When in doubt, cite.