Student's Guide to MLA Style (2021) | Citation & Format

MLA 9th edition manualMLA style citations are commonly used by students and academics in the humanities. This guide follows the 9th edition (the most recent) of the MLA Handbook, published by the Modern Language Association in 2021.

To cite sources in MLA style, you need

  1. In-text citations that give the author’s last name and a page number.
  2. A list of Works Cited that gives full details of every source.

Make sure your paper also adheres to MLA format: one-inch margins, double spacing, and indented paragraphs, with an MLA style heading on the first page.

You can create citations automatically with our free MLA Citation Generator. Enter a URL, DOI, or ISBN, and the generator will retrieve the necessary information.

MLA Works Cited list

The Works Cited list is where you give full details of all sources you have cited in the text. Other citation styles sometimes call this the “reference list” or “bibliography.” An annotated bibliography is slightly different.

Each Works Cited entry follows a template of nine core elements that all provide information about the source.

Core elements of an MLA Works Cited entry

Author. “Source Title.” Container Title, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location.

Include only the elements that apply to the source you’re citing. You can use the interactive tool to see examples for different source types.

The nine core elements of MLA citations

1. Author

Begin each source entry with the name of the author(s) or creator(s). The name of the first author is always inverted (Last name, First name).

When a source has two authors, the second author’s name is shown in the normal order (First name Last name).

For sources with three or more authors, state only the first author’s name, followed by “et al.

1 author Johnson, David.
2 authors Johnson, David, and Valerie Smith
3+ authors Johnson, David, et al.

The author of a source is not necessarily a person; it can also be an organization. If so, simply use the name of the organization.

However, if the organization is both the author and publisher, start with the title of the source instead.

MLA author element

2. Title

Always include the full title of the source, including subtitles (separated by a colon and space).

Use title case—capitalize all words apart from conjunctions, prepositions, and articles. If there is no title, give a short description of the source, with normal sentence case capitalization.

The styling of the title depends on the type of source:

  • Italics when the source is self-contained (e.g. a whole book, movie or website).
  • Quotation marks when the source is part of a larger whole (e.g. a chapter of a book, a page on a website, or an article in a journal).
  • No styling when describing a source without a title.

MLA titles

3. Container

A container is the larger work that the source you’re citing appears in. For example, a chapter is part of a book, a page is part of a website, and an article is part of a journal.

If the source you’re citing is a self-contained whole (e.g. a whole book), leave out this element.

The container title is always italicized.

Containers in MLA
Source type Source title Container title
Journal article “An Applied Service Marketing Theory.” European Journal of Marketing
Short story “The Clean Slate.” The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story
TV episode “Crawl Space.” Breaking Bad
Online article “Evolutionary History of Life.” Wikipedia

Elements 3 (container title) to 9 (location) all provide information about the container.

Sources with two containers

A source can also have two containers. If you watched an episode of a TV show on Netflix, the show title is the first container and Netflix is the second container. If you accessed a journal article through the database JSTOR, the journal name is the first container and JSTOR is the second container.

In most cases, only the title and location (often the URL or DOI) of the second container are included in the source entry. This is because databases like JSTOR don’t have relevant contributors, versions, publishers, or publication dates.

  • Datta, Hannes, et al. “The Challenge of Retaining Customers Acquired with Free Trials”. Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 52, no. 2, Apr. 2015, pp. 217–234. JSTOR,

Pay attention to the punctuation. The author and source title elements each end with a period. Elements within a container are separated by commas, and a period is used to close the container.

4. Other contributors

Contributors are added right after the container title and always end with a comma. Use a description like “translated by,” “directed by,” or “illustrated by” to indicate the role of the contributor. For example:

  • Latour, Bruno. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Translated by Catherine Porter, Harvard UP, 2004.

When a source has three or more contributors with the same role, include the name of the first contributor followed by “et al.”

If there are no other relevant contributors, leave out this element.

5. Version

When there is more than one version of a source, you should include the version you used. For example, a second-edition book, an expanded version of a collection, or a director’s cut of a movie would require the version to be included:

  • Porter, Michael E. Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors. 2nd ed., Simon and Schuster, 1998.
  • Columbus, Chris, director. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. director’s cut, Warner Bros., 2002.

6. Number

Sources such as journal articles (“vol. 18”), magazines (“no. 25”) and TV shows (“season 3, episode 5”) are often numbered. If your source has numbered parts, include this in the source entry:

  • Wieseke, Jan, et al. “Willing to Pay More, Eager to Pay Less: The Role of Customer Loyalty in Price Negotiations.” Journal of Marketing, vol. 68, no. 6, 2014, pp. 17–37.

It is also possible for a source to have an edition, volume, and number. Just separate them using commas.

7. Publisher

Book and movie citations always include the publisher element. The publisher is the company responsible for producing and distributing the source—usually a book publisher (e.g. Macmillan or Oxford UP) or a movie production company (e.g. Paramount Pictures or Warner Bros).

Note that “University Press” is abbreviated to “UP” in a Works Cited entry. For example, the University of Minnesota Press becomes “U of Minnesota P”; Oxford University Press becomes “Oxford UP.”

When not to add a publisher
Sometimes the publisher is already included elsewhere in the source entry, such as in the container title or author element. For example, the publisher of a website is often the same as the website name. In this case, omit the publisher element.

You generally don’t need to include a publisher for the following source types:

  • Websites
  • Journals
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Platforms like YouTube, Netflix, or JSTOR

8. Publication date

When available, always include the publication year. If you also know the month, day, or even time of publication, you can include this if it helps the reader to locate the source. Date ranges are also possible. For example:

  • 2003
  • 25 Jan. 2019
  • 14 Aug. 2017, 4:45 p.m.
  • Jan. 2017–Apr. 2018

Multiple publication dates
If there is more than one publication date, use the one that is most relevant to your research and take the date of the edition that you have used.

No date
When a source does not state a publication date, add the date on which you accessed the information. For example: Accessed 22 Sep. 2018.

9. Location

What you include in the location element depends on the type of source you are citing:

  • Book chapter: Page range of the chapter (e.g. pp. 164–180.)
  • Web page: URL, without “https://” (e.g.
  • Journal article: DOI, with “https://”—or stable URL, without: (e.g. or
  • Physical object or live event: Name of the location and city (e.g. Moscone Center, San Francisco. or The Museum of Modern Art, New York.)

What can proofreading do for your paper?

Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words and awkward phrasing.

See editing example

MLA in-text citations

MLA in-text citations are brief references in the body of your document which direct your reader to the full reference in the Works Cited list. You must include an in-text citation whenever you quote or paraphrase a source.

A standard MLA in-text citation includes the author’s last name and a page number in parentheses. The page number refers to the exact location of the quote or information that you are citing:

  • 66% of voters disagree with the policy (Smith 13).

If the author is already named in the sentence, you only need to include the page number in parentheses:

  • According to Smith, 66% of voters disagree with the policy (13).

Multiple authors

For a source with two authors, include the last names of both authors. If a source has three or more authors, only include the last name of the first author, followed by “et al.” if in parentheses or “and colleagues” if in the text.

  • Smith and Morrison claim that “MLA is the second most popular citation style” (17).
  • According to Reynolds and colleagues, social and demographic circumstances still have a major effect on job prospects (17–19).

No author

If a source does not state a specific author, the in-text citation should match the first word(s) of the Works Cited entry, whether that’s an organization name or the source title.

Format titles the same as they appear in the Works Cited, with italics or quotation marks. Use the full title if mentioned in the text itself, but an abbreviated title if included in parentheses.

  • The article “New Ways to Slow Down Global Warming” claims that . . . (4).
  • Reducing carbon emissions slows down climate change (“New Ways” 4).

No page number

If a source has no page numbers, but is divided into numbered sections (e.g. chapters or numbered paragraphs), use these instead:

  • Morrison has shown that there is a great need for . . . (par. 38).
  • Reynolds devotes a chapter to the rise of poverty in some states in the US (ch. 6).

For audiovisual sources (such as YouTube videos), use a timestamp:

  • In his recent video, Smith argues that climate change should be the main political priority of all governments today (03:15–05:21).

If there is no numbering system in the original source, include only the author’s name in your citation.

Free lecture slides

Are you a teacher or professor looking to introduce your students to MLA style? Download our free introductory lecture slides, available for Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint.

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Frequently asked questions about MLA style

Who uses MLA style?

MLA Style is the second most used citation style (after APA). It is mainly used by students and researchers in humanities fields such as literature, languages, and philosophy.

What is the most recent edition of the MLA Handbook?

The MLA Handbook is currently in its 9th edition, published in 2021.

This quick guide to MLA style explains the latest guidelines for citing sources and formatting papers according to MLA.

What information do I need to include in an MLA Works Cited entry?

A standard MLA Works Cited entry is structured as follows:

Author. “Title of the Source.” Title of the Container, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location.

Only include information that is available for and relevant to your source.

What is the easiest way to create MLA citations?

The fastest and most accurate way to create MLA citations is by using Scribbr’s MLA Citation Generator.

Search by book title, page URL or journal DOI to automatically generate flawless citations, or cite manually using the simple citation forms.

How do I cite a source with no author, title, or date in MLA?

If information about your source is not available, you can either leave it out of the MLA citation or replace it with something else, depending on the type of information.

  • No author: Start with the source title.
  • No title: Provide a description of the source.
  • No date: Provide an access date for online sources; omit for other sources.
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