MLA Style

If you are an English instructor or student, the MLA style applies to your papers and manuscripts. The MLA is the Modern Language Association. Most language and literature scholarship is published in MLA style.

Founded in 1883, the Modern Language Association of America provides opportunities for its members to share their scholarly findings and teaching experiences with colleagues and to discuss trends in the academy. MLA members host an annual convention and other meetings, work with related organizations, and sustain one of the finest publishing programs in the humanities. For over a hundred years, members have worked to strengthen the study and teaching of language and literature.

The Modern Language Association does not publish its documentation guidelines on the Web. For an authoritative explanation of MLA style, see the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (for high school and undergraduate college students) and the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (for graduate students, scholars, and professional writers). (May 2004)

We recommend most high school and college students purchase a “pocket guide” to MLA style, instead of the MLA Handbook. While the handbook includes a great deal of information, it is too complex and detailed for most students taking a class or two within language arts. If you are a language or writing student or instructor, then you need to own the MLA Handbook.

General Grammar

The MLA grammar guidelines appear in the MLA Handbook.

Verb Tense

Use present tense when citing a source or referring to another individual’s research. In the MLA format, even a dead author “writes” or “states” something.


MLA offers minimal formatting guidelines.


Though the MLA once insisted on monospaced fonts, today the MLA suggests any readable 12-point Times or Courier. Avoid “sans serif” faces, such as Arial or Helvetica.

Spaces and Punctuation

Use one space after punctuation unless preparing the manuscript in a monospaced font, such as Courier. Publications are to use one space.

Underlining, Italics, and Quotes

The “old-fashioned” approach of underlining still applies to titles of books.

The following types of works are underlined in MLA, italicized in APA: books, newspapers, magazines, plays, films, television shows, paintings, sculptures, and complete music albums.

As part of works, the following items are placed within quotation marks in MLA and APA: chapters, articles, essays, short stories, poems, television episodes, and song titles.

Citations within Text

Only the most common citation forms appear in this guide. Students need a pocket guide to the MLA Handbook.

All works referenced directly should be mentioned and cited within an MLA formatted text. If you consult a work while researching, but do not reference it then that work is not cited in the text nor in the bibliography.

MLA style calls for a single space between the author’s last name and the page number(s) cited. Do not include “p.” or any other abbreviation for “page” in citations. For page numbers within citations, you can abbreviate the end of a range. Always use at least two digits in MLA ranges: 110-15, 1005-15.

Brief Paraphrasing or Quote from a Work

Begin a brief paraphrase with the author’s name and a clear reminder to the reader of the work being cited. End with the page number enclosed by parentheses, inside any punctuation. Anything taken directly from a text should be enclosed in quotation marks.

Alan Author writes that “books are fun” (123). Amy Writer, in her essay on books, agrees they are fun to read (456).

If you do not begin with a reference to the author, you should enclose the author’s last name and a page number in parentheses, inside any final punctuation.

  • One author: (Lastname PG).
  • Two authors: (Lastname and Lastname PG).
  • Three or more: (Lastname et al. PG).

Long Paraphrase or Quote of a Book

Quotations longer than three lines should appear apart from the document body. Indent long quotations one inch on the left. MLA style does not indent long quotes on the right hand side, but many institutions indent both left and right margins for longer quotations. MLA also calls for the citation to appear after the final punctuation of a longer quotation. Some institutions prefer this citation appear on its own line without parentheses, but that is not an MLA format.

Quoted within Another Work

If a work or author is quoted within a secondary source, use the following format:

(qtd. in Lastname PG).

Several Works by the Same Source

Especially when writing about an author, you will have citations of several works by the same individual. To clarify sources, use a clear but shortened version of the title within citations. Choose two or three words that make the full title obvious when consulting the bibliography.

(Lastname, Short Title PG).


Reference the interview within the text.

Complete Web Site

Use “at” followed by the URL, unless instructed to use parentheses.


Only works directly cited in the text of an MLA formatted document should be included in the bibliography. Bibliographic entries should be as complete as possible to aid in the location of any external sources.


The bibliography in an MLA manuscript is titled “Works Cited.” This title should be at the top of the first page of the bibliography, one inch from the top and centered. Page margins and other settings, such as headers and footers, should be consistent with the body of the manuscript.


Citations are listed in alphabetical order, first by author and then by work title. When alphabetizing titles, ignore the articles a, an, and the. Do not move or drop articles that begin titles; merely ignore articles when sorting the bibliography.

Every entry in an MLA bibliography ends with a period. If more than one work by an author is cited, use three hyphens and a period in place of the author’s name for additional works. Some publications use five hyphens, while others use three em-dashes to overcome shorter hyphens in some digital fonts.

Hanging indents are used within citations. The first line is not indented from the left margin, while subsequent lines are indented a half inch. You should not right-justify a bibliography.

In most cases, publisher names and common journals should be abbreviated for space. The MLA suggests dropping Books, Company, Inc., and similar words appearing at the end of a publisher’s corporate name. Shorten University to U and Press to P in most instances, too.

Use the abbreviated ordinal for edition numbers, in Arabic numerals: 1st, 2nd, 3rd….

Citation Information Order

The MLA citation formats provide information in the following order:

(1) Author, (2) Title, (3) Volume/Issue, (4) Editor, (5) Edition, (6) Number of Volumes, (7) Place of Publication, (8) Publisher, (9) Date, (10) Page.

Book, Simple Entry

Lastname, Firstname. The Book’s Title. Xth ed. City: Publisher, YEAR.

Book, Two Authors

Lastname, Firstname, and Firstname Lastname. The Book’s Title. Xth ed. City: Publisher, YEAR.

Note: Notice the second author is listed in “First Last” order.

Book, Three or More Authors

There are two formats permitted for three or more others. The more common format uses “et al.” for three or more authors. Always use “et al.” for books with four or more authors.

Lastname, Firstname, et al. The Book’s Title. Xth ed. City: Publisher, YEAR.

Translated Work

Lastname, Firstname. The Book’s Title. Trans. Translator. City: Publisher, YEAR.

Edited Works with Multiple Contributors

Lastname, Firstname, ed. Anthology Title. City: Publisher, YEAR.

Work from Collection

Often collections of essays and articles are among primary sources. The individual works appear as “chapters” within the larger work.

Lastname, Firstname. “Article Title.” Anthology Title. Ed. Firstname Lastname. City: Publisher, YEAR. PAGE-PG.

Reference Books (Encyclopedia)

Lastname, Firstname. “Article Title.” Reference Name. Xth ed. YEAR.

The Bible or Holy Texts

Do not underline or italicize the phrase “The Bible” or books of the Bible. Do italicize or underline the names of special editions and indicate publication information.

The Bible. King James Version.

The Newest Translation of the Bible. City: Publisher, YEAR.

Magazine Article

Lastname, Firstname. “Article Title.” Magazine Name day Mon. YEAR: PAGE-PG.

Journal Article

Lastname, Firstname. “Title: Subtitles Are Common.” Journal Name VOL (Mon. YEAR): PAGE-PG

Note: The volume and edition formats differ by journal. Use Arabic numerals when possible.

Newspaper Article

Lastname, Firstname. “Article Headline.” Newspaper Name day Mon. YEAR: SN.

Note: The date format is: 15 May 2004. After the year, put the page number and section designation, which varies by newspaper: 12A, 3-II, 2-OP/ED.

Organization Papers

Organization. Report Title. City, ST: Org, YEAR.

Note: The full legal name of the organization is used on first reference in the text, while a common acronym or abbreviation may be used as the publisher within the bibliography.


Citing websites is problematic for two reasons: websites vanish and websites change. Vanishing is a much bigger problem for scholars, since at least an altered site can be searched. No matter how much information a citation provides, there is no guarantee that another scholar can locate the website at a later date.

“Article Title.” Online Publication. day Month YEAR. Author or Organization. day Month YEAR.<>.

Note: The first date refers to the date of the article. The second date indicates when the site was viewed by the manuscript author. MLA uses < > to enclose URL syntax.

Web Article from a Printed Professional Journal

Lastname, I. “Title of Work.” Publication, Issue, (YEAR): PAGE-PG. day Month YEAR from

Note: The first date is refers to the date of the article. The second date indicates when the site was viewed by the manuscript author. MLA uses < > to enclose URL syntax.

Online Newspaper Article

Lastname, Firstname. “Article Headline.” Newspaper Name day Mon. YEAR. day Month YEAR <>

Note: The first date is refers to the date of the article. The second date indicates when the site was viewed by the manuscript author. MLA uses < > to enclose URL syntax.

EMail to Author

Lastname, Firstname. “Subject.” E-mail to the author. day Month YEAR.


Sites Linked to Here…

Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 08-Mar-2017
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach