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Plagiarism, Citation and Academic Honesty: MLA

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MLA Citation

MLA citation is a two part process, and in virtually all circumstances, both parts must be present. These are: 

  1. An in-text citation (parenthetical) at the point in your paper that you use the information from another source. 
  2. A works cited page citation. This gives your reader the information they need to find this source.

In MLA citation, the in-text citation is a very shorthand version of the full citation. Generally speaking, it consists of the author's last name and the the page number (or location description) where the information being used can be found. There is not usually any punctuation between these two items.

Sometimes, it is nice to use the original author's name within your sentence, especially the first time you refer to that source. Other times, using the author's name in a sentence is unnecessary, awkward or redundant. Therefore, the in-text citation information can be somewhat incorporated into the body of a sentence, or can be contained entirely into a parenthetical. The in-text citation will therefore look something like these examples:

Many people are fascinated by lighthouses - because of the symbolism of a beacon of light in the darkness, or the idea of the safety of a port in a storm, or by the imagery of the solitary caretaker. Perhaps because of this widespread fascination, lighthouses have long been the subject of lore, including stories of the paranormal. In fact, as Frederick Stonehouse notes, "Ghosts and old lighthouses seem to go hand in hand" (1). 

Why should this be so? What is it about a lighthouse that would so attract ghost activity? It is possible that it is the very nature of the work of a keeper that virtually ensures that the activity continues after death. The routine of climbing the tower to start the light at night and extinguish it at dawn, every day without fail becomes so ingrained in the very structure of the lighthouse itself that it echoes continuously, long after the keeper is gone (Stonehouse 1-2).

In virtually all cases, the page number(s) will be in a parentheses at the end of the sentence or paragraph, even if the author's name is used within the sentence. 

Please note that there must be an in-text citation present any time information is used that originally appeared in another source, whether you use a quote, paraphrase or summary.


In MLA formatted papers, you must have a works cited page at the end of your paper that gives complete information in alphabetical order by author's last name for every source you used within your paper. For each source, you should provide information regarding each of these nine elements if these elements are present. Use the type of punctuation to finish the element as appears in the list. All citation entries end with a period, even if the last thing in the entry is a web address/URL:

1. Author (Creator). 

This is person who wrote (created) your source. List the author's last name, then entire first name and middle initial if applicable. 

Example: Stonehouse, Frederick.

2. Title of Source. or "Title of Source."

This is the title of the actual source that you used. This could be a larger work, like a book, film, or website, in which case use italics. If it is a smaller work, like an article that appears in a magazine or journal, a poem, essay, or chapter that appears inside a larger book or collection, a television episode that appears within a television series, a webpage that appears within a website, or a song that appears within an album, use quotation marks.

Example: Stonehouse, Frederick. Haunted Lakes: Great Lakes Ghost Stories, Superstitions and Sea Serpents.  

3. Title of Container, 

This is the larger work that contains a smaller work. This element is only present if your source is a smaller work that is contained within a larger work, such as those described above that would use quotation marks. Because this is a typically a major work, this element should usually be italicized.

If your source is a major work like a book or film that was found within a database like Ebrary or a repository such as Netflix, that database or repository would be included at the very end of the citation. The name of the database or repository would be italicized, followed by a comma and identifying information for the source you used, such as a DOI or URL of the source.

In the example we've been using, there is no container. However, for illustrative purposes, if we had found the book using Google Books (which we can't, because it isn't available in full text there), our citation would appear somewhat like this:

Example: Stonehouse, Frederick. Haunted Lakes: Great Lakes Ghost Stories, Superstitions and Sea Serpents. Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc., 1997. Google Books,

4. Other contributors,

Other contributors are people other than the author who contributed significantly to source. These are people like editors, illustrators, translators, directors, producers or songwriters, annotators. If other contributors exist, their role follows the title of the container then their name in first name last name order. This element is followed by a comma. 

5. Version, 

If your source has multiple versions, like the Bible, or multiple editions, the version or edition number follows. This element is followed by a comma.

In the example we've been using, there is no other contributor or version number. However, for illustrative purposes, we will pretend that there was an illustrator (which there actually isn't), and a newer edition (which there isn't).

Example: Stonehouse, Frederick. Haunted Lakes: Great Lakes Ghost Stories, Superstitions and Sea Serpents. Illustrated by Ghostie McGhostface, Revised and updated edition, 

6. Number, 

The number element usually reference to a volume and/or issue number of a magazine or a journal, or a number of a book in a multivolume set like an encyclopedia or a series like the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books in which each book has a number. This element ends with a comma.

This element doesn't exist in our example, and no such element would realistically exist with our example, so we will skip this one. Skipping an element that doesn't exist is perfectly acceptable.

7. Publisher, 

The publisher is the entity that produces and/or distributes the source. The publisher could be a traditional book publisher, like MacMillan, or a film production company like Columbia Pictures, or a music distribution company like RCA. 

Entities that make other published works available but don't actually produce them, like YouTube, JSTOR, Project Gutenberg, etc. are not publishers and should not be listed here; however, they may be containers, or containers of containers, and in that case would be included elsewhere. The titles of periodicals are NOT publishers and shouldn't be included as this element; nor should the publishers of periodicals like newspapers, magazines and journals.

If the source you are using is a self-published work, or if the name of the website is the same as the name of the publisher, you do not need to list these names again as a publisher. 

Back to our example: 

Stonehouse, Frederick. Haunted Lakes: Great Lakes Ghost Stories, Superstitions and Sea Serpents. Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc.,

8. Publication date, or Publication date. (if element #9 doesn't exist).

The publication date is typically the date when the source was first made available to the public. However, in some cases, that isn't necessarily true, especially in the case of visual or audio media such as television series or radio broadcasts. If there are multiple valid publication dates, such as an iTunes release of an album that predates the wide release, use the date that is most relevant to the actual source you used or the one that most closely ties to your paper topic. If the type of broadcast is irrelevant and it is unclear which date applies, it is usually advisable to go with the earliest publication date.

Example: Stonehouse, Frederick. Haunted Lakes: Great Lakes Ghost Stories, Superstitions and Sea Serpents. Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc., 1997.

9. Location.

This is the location where the specific information you used can be found. In the case of things like articles, essays, chapters, poems and other small written works contained within larger works, or a small portion of a whole book, this will be a page range. In the case of movies, television shows, or other audio/visual media, this may be a time location or scene or chapter name. In the case of a webpage/website, this is a URL/Web address. For an actual physical item, like a painting, sculpture or building, this is an actual physical location where the item is located, and may consist of a building name (like Milwaukee Art Museum or Taliesin) and the city/state where the building is located.

In our example, if we used the whole book, we would not include a location element. However, if we used just a portion of the book, we would include a page range: 

Example: Stonehouse, Frederick. Haunted Lakes: Great Lakes Ghost Stories, Superstitions and Sea Serpents. Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc., 1997, pp. 1-2.

There are several optional elements that can also be included, such as a date of access for online sources or city of publication. Whether or not these elements are included is up to you based on the needs of your readers, the relevance of the elements to the actual source you used and/or your research, and whether including these elements will help your reader locate and identify the source. See the OWL at Purdue for more information about this. 

When a citation goes on to more than one line (most will), use a hanging indent so that the second, third, etc. lines are indented from the first line. Unfortunately, it isn't possible to give a good example what this looks like here.

References are double spaced. Use a highly legible 12 point font throughout your paper, such as Times New Roman (although TNR is not required in MLA). MLA requires that italicized fonts are very distinct from normal font. (The citation examples are in Times New Roman, but a larger font for ease of visibility.)

Before beginning to format your paper, it may help you to see a sample MLA paper. The OWL at Purdue has a good sample paper.

All papers in MLA format should be double spaced with 1 inch margins, using a highly legible 12 point font. Times New Roman is suggested but not required. Italicized font must be very distinct from normal font.

A cover page may or may not be present, depending on the preference of your instructor. If you do not include a cover page, on the first page of your paper, starting on line 1 and at the left margin, include the following:

Your name (first name last name format)

Your instructor's name

Class name and class number

Date in day month year format

Then, centered on the next line, place the title of your paper in using standard title capitalization. Don't italicize anything in your title unless it would normally be italicized such as a book title.

Here, and only here, add an extra line between, then begin your paper. Indent each paragraph, but do not add extra lines anywhere except between your paper title and the first paragraph of your paper.

You should number the pages of your paper with your last name, a space and then page number. This should appear in the upper right header area of the page, flush with the right margin, on every page, with the possible exception of the first page, depending on the preference of your instructor. Ask your instructor about this when you are assigned this project.

If your instructor prefers no page number on the first page, this is accomplished in WORD by clicking in the header area and choosing the Different First Page option in the Design tab.

The Works Cited page should begin on a new page. Center the words Works Cited on the first line of this page. Your references should be double spaced in alphabetical order based on author's last name. If a reference goes on to more than one line (most will) use a hanging indent for all additional lines. has easy to follow advice about formatting your MLA paper. Please see this site for further information.

Much of the formatting information above was compiled using the MLA formatting guide by Citation for this source in MLA format would look like this: 

"MLA Formatting Guide.", a Chegg Service, 2017, Accessed 25 August 2017.  

This guide does not provide advice for every possible type of source or citing situation. If you have an issue that doesn't seem to fit the scenarios provided, please ask us, visit the writing tutor, or visit another resource suggested here - such as the OWL at Purdue.

A lot of guidance for this guide, except the formatting information, came from the OWL at Purdue. It really is an amazing source. If you need more help with MLA citation and you are not able to connect with the library, writing tutors, or your instructor, our best advice is to visit the OWL

Citation in MLA format for this resource would look something like this:

Russell, Tony, et al. "MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, 2 Aug. 2016.

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MLA Citation Resources

These are resources that will help you understand MLA citation and may provide answers to your questions!

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