How to use sources

MLA Style Guide


MLA is one of the most common of citation styles, and it is prominent in the fields of the liberal arts and humanities. English and literature are in particular the subjects most committed to MLA style, which makes sense given that MLA is an acronym for Modern Language Association. MLA may also be used in more theoretical (as opposed to scientific) courses in disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and philosophy.

MLA style uses in-text citations along with full bibliographic entries on a reference page at the end of the essay, which is known as this style is known as "works cited" page. A somewhat distinctive feature of MLA is that the year of the cited source is not required in the in-text citation; rather, only the name of the author and the relevant page number must be included. This is because in the fields associated with the MLA style, the year of the source's publication may often not be an important consideration. After all, a classic work of literature never gets outdated, and listing the year for a specific edition would not mean very much.  

Download MLA Style Manual 8th ed. (PDF)*

Overview of features

Title Page

MLA style does not require a title page. Rather, this style calls for a heading on the top of the first page, aligned to the left margin of the document. This heading should be double-spaced and it should consist of four lines, in the following order:

  • Full name of student (Firstname Lastname)
  • Full name of the professor, preceded by the title "Professor"
  • Name of the course (subject and number)
  • Date of completion, in this format: 9 November 2018

The actual title of the paper should appear one line below the bottom of the heading, and the title should be center-aligned. The title should be in normal font, without any bolded, italicized, or underlined modifications. Capitalization should follow normal headline style, where the first letter of every word, except words such as "of" or "the," is capitalized. So, the heading will be left-aligned and double-spaced, and the title will be center-aligned immediately below the heading. Then the text of the body of the essay will begin immediately below the title line. The text should be left-aligned and begin with a standard paragraph indentation.

In-text citations

The standard format for an MLA in-text citation is the following: (Author #), where # refers to the page number of the relevant text. So, if you were citing a source by the writer Albert Camus for a philosophy paper, then your citation may look like this (Camus 101). This formatting can change a little if you use the name of the author in your sentence itself, in which case only the page number would go in parenthesis at the end of the sentence. For example, your sentence could look like this: "Camus wrote that the human condition is defined by the absurd (101)."

If there is more than one source by the same author cited in your essay, then the in-text citation should also include the first word or so of the source in order to indicate which of the sources by the author is being cited. For example, suppose your essay cites two works by Camus, but you want to cite from his work The Myth of Sisyphus. Then your citation would look like this: (Camus, Myth 101). And if you use the author's name in the sentence, then it would just look like this: (Myth 101).

For citations from books and academic journals, the inclusion of a page number is required for in-text citations. Internet sources, on the other hand, may work a little differently. If you are including a direct quote from an Internet source (such as an online newspaper article), then you have to include the paragraph number of the quoted line along with the author's name. This would look like the following: (Douthat, paragraph 3). If you are referring to an Internet source in general without a direct quote, then just the name of the author, with no numbers of any kind, will be fine.

Works cited page

The works cited page should be its own clean page at the end of the MLA essay. it should say "Works Cited" in standard font, and this should be center-aligned at the top of the page. Citation format for the works cited pages has changed significantly in the most recent 8th edition of the MLA Handbook compared to the previous edition, and it is the 8th edition that will be followed for present purposes.

Here is how entries on the works cited page should look for some of the common types of sources that may be used in MLA essays.

type of source




Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. Publisher, Year.

Barzun, Jacques. From Dawn to Decadence: Harper Perennial, 2001.

Journal article

Lastname, Firstname. "Title of Piece." Name of Journal, vol. X, no. Y, year, pp. start-end.

Grogger, Jeffrey. "What We Know about Gang Injunctions." Criminology & Public Policy, vol. 4, no. 3, 2005, pp. 637-642.


Author. "Name of Webpage." Publisher [if not same as author], date of creation [if available], URL. Accessed date of access.

Mayo Clinic. "Heartburn." Accessed 9 November 2018.

Again, this information is from the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook, which is different from previous editions of the MLA style. For example, in the new edition, works cited entries for books generally no longer require the city of publication, and the ordering of information for journal articles has changed quite a bit.  


This article has consisted of a general overview of MLA style and how to use it. MLA is one of the most common citation styles, so having this under your belt will surely prepare you for success in your academic endeavors. If you have any further questions, then please feel free to look at the other resources made available by Writer Tools, including fully developed sample MLA paper. Looking at them can give you an even clearer idea of how MLA citation style is supposed to work.

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