expand search

Academic Skills

A student studying on the floor

Academic Skills

MLA Style

Modern Languages Association, 8th ed. Citation Guidelines


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, native 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.

When to Include a Citation

MLA is a parenthetical style of citation, meaning that source information is placed in parentheses (brackets) following a direct quotation, a summary of ideas, or a statement of facts. MLA citations normally include the author's surname and a page number.

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. Be sure to include a citation for each quotation; citations for works of literature may include a number that refers to page, act, verse, or line.

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.

Read more about avoiding plagiarism.