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Key Resources

This guide is intended as a quick introduction to MLA Citation Style and Format. If you require a more in-depth look, try one of the resources below!

Introduction to MLA Format and Citation Style

The 8th Edition of the MLA Handbook marks a grand departure from previous editions. In her preface, Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes that "the handbook gained what some felt was a forbidding level of detail . . . . It gradually became a reference work, which users consulted at need, rather than a guide that taught the principles underlying documentation" (xi). The 8th edition aims to shift focus from a "prescriptive list of formats to the overarching purpose of source documentation: enabling readers to participate fully in the conversation between writers and their sources" (xii). In this spirit, the use of MLA format should be guided first and foremost to three identified general principles:

  1. Cite simple traits shared by most works
  2. There is often more than one correct way to do it
  3. Make your documentation useful to readers: Think, Select, Organize!

The MLA Handbook says that

The purpose of any documentation style is to allow authors to guide their readers quickly, and unobtrusively to the source of a quotation, a paraphrased idea, a piece of information, or another kind of borrowed material used in the development of an argument or idea. A citation should provide a road map leading to the original source while interrupting the reader's engagement with the text as little as possible. (Modern Language Association, 19)

To achieve this purpose, each citation will have two parts:

  1. A minimal in-text citation in brackets that serves to direct the reader to
  2. A detailed Works Cited entry at the end of the document.

Think, Select, Organize!

The following three-step process is paraphrased from the full explanation given in the MLA Handbook (2017). 

1. Think!

The first step involves evaluating your source to determine if and how it is relevant and useful to your research. Try asking yourself the following:

  • Who is the author? Are they qualified to address this subject, and why? Do they make a logical argument drawing on appropriate sources? Are there outside factors that may complicate or bias the author's relationship to the subject matter?
  • What is the source? Is it research-based, or an original document or creative work? If it is research-based, does it document its own in a trustworthy manner? 
  • How was the source produced? What, if any, vetting process was it subjected to that may help to ensure its quality?
  • Where did you find it? Was it cited in another authoritative work? Was it promoted because of quality or because of other factors, such as popularity or payment?
  • When was it published? Is the information still valid, and to what extent? Would more recent information be able to provide keener insight?

These are only a few of the questions you may ask yourself when deciding what sources to use. All research is unique, so you will need to use your judgment to identify the most important sources to answer your questions and help craft your arguments.

2. Select

Using the same questions you asked yourself in step 1, identify the elements (such as the author, title, publisher, publication date, and location) that will be most important to readers. Make sure to use the work itself as the basis for your identification, without relying on alternate versions. You will organize these elements in Step 3.

3. Organize

In step 2, you will have identified most or all of the Core Elements you will use in your citation. These elements are given below in the order that they should appear in your Works Cited List. If an element is not applicable, it should be left out. The final element in a citation should end in a period.

  1. Author:
    • Begin with the author's last name, followed by a comma and the rest of the name (LastName, FirstName).
    • If there are two authors, include them in the order presented in the work, and give the second name in normal order (FirstName LastName).
    • If there are three or more authors, list only the first author, as described above, and then follow it with a comma and et al.
    • Pseudonyms, including online usernames, are treated like regular author names.
    • If a work is published without an author name, skip the author element and begin your citation with the title of the work.
    • Corporations and organizations can also be authors (ex. Thompson Rivers University).
    • If the main creator of the work is not a traditional author, add a comma after their name and a note about their role (ex. editor).
    • End the author element with a period. 
  2. Title of Source:
    • Give the title in full exactly as it is found in the source
    • Place the title in quotation marks if it is part of a larger work (ex. a poem in a collection, or an article in a journal).
    • If the source is self-contained (ex. a book or a journal), italicize the title.
    • If a source is untitled, provide a generic description that is neither italicized nor placed in quotation marks.
    • End the title element with a period.
  3. Title of Container:
    • If the source is part of a larger work (ex. a poem or an article), it likely comes in a container (ex. a book or a journal). 
    • The Container name should be italicized.
    • End the Container element with a comma.
  4. Other Contributers:
    • Other people besides the author may have made important contributions to the source (ex. a translator)
    • When you identify other contributors, give a brief description of their role followed by their name.
    • End the Contributers element with a comma.
  5. Version:
    • Some sources may be issued in multiple versions. If that is the case you must note the version of the source you are using.
    • For books, this will likely be the edition; for movies, it could be the director's cut.
    • End the Version element with a comma.
  6. Number:
    • Journal issues will typically have volume numbers and/or issue numbers.
    • If you use one volume of a multi-volume set, indicate the volume number using the abbreviation vol.
    • If your source has both a volume and an issue number, indicate them both in sequence (ex. vol. 5, no. 3).
    • End the Number element with a comma.
  7. Publisher:
    • A publisher is an organization primarily responsible for producing the work/ and or making it available
    • If there are multiple publishers with equal responsibility, list both/all, separated by a /.
    • Omit the publisher for the following types of publications:
      • A periodical (journal, newspaper, magazine)
      • Self-published works
      • Websites where the title and the publisher have the same name
      • Websites where the site is not involved in producing the works it makes available
    • End the Publisher element with a comma.
  8. Publication Date:
    • If your source has multiple dates, cite the one that is most meaningful to your use.
    • If a work was developed over time, you may cite a date range.
    • If the work you are using has multiple versions, cite the date of the version you used.
    • End the Publication Date element with a comma, unless it is the last element in your citation.
  9. Location:
    • The Location of your work will depend on the medium.
    • For articles, this could be a page number (p.) or a page range (pp.)
    • For online sources, the location may be a DOI or a URL.
    • End the Location element with a period.

For further direction and additional elements, see the MLA Handbook, 8th Edition. 

In-text Citation

An in-text citation is used to direct your readers to a full citation in your Works Cited list. (MLA Handbook 54). The MLA Handbook says that a "typical in-text citation is composed of the element that comes first in the entry in the works-cited list (usually the author's name) and a page number" (54). When you cite a direct quote (as above), the parenthetical citation is placed "after the closing quotation mark" (MLA Handbook 54). 

The goal of using in-text citation is to unambiguously signal what source you are using while not disrupting the readers' flow of ideas. As the MLA Handbook indicates,

A reader interested in your source can flip to the indicated entry in your list of works cited; a reader not interested in the source can pass over the citation without being distracted. Rarely should the page number be mentioned in the text (e.g., "As Naomi Baron argues on page 194") since it would disrupt the flow of ideas. (54)

Since the above quote contains 4 or more lines of text, it is indented from the rest of the text and quotation marks are not used. The parenthetical citation is placed after the final period. Since I had already indicated in the sentence that my source is the MLA Handbook I only include the page number in the in-text citation. If you quote from a source without page divisions, then your in-text citation will contain the author name (or whatever the first element of your citation is) only.

Example Works Cited List

Below is an example of what your Works Cited list might look like; it includes many of the most common source types. In general, start your Works Cited list on a new page, list your sources in alphabetical order, and use a hanging indent (where the first line of each citation touches the left margin and any subsequent lines are indented 1cm). If the type of source you are looking for is not listed here, try one of the guides listed in the Key Resources section above. If you would like further assistance, visit the TRU Library or Contact your Subject Librarian. We are happy to help!

Works Cited

Andrews, Nicola. "Reflections on Resistance, Decolonization, and the Historical Trauma of Libraries and Academia." The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship, edited by Karen P. Nicholson and Maura Seale, Library Juice Press, 2018, pp. 181-192.

CBC News: The National. Stolen Children: Residential School Survivors Speak out. YouTube, 2 Jun 2015, https://youtu.be/vdR9HcmiXLA. 

Edwards, Kyle. "Fighting Foster Care." Maclean's, 2018, https://www.macleans.ca/first-nations-fighting-foster-care/.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge, 1994. 

MacFarlane, Peter and Nicole Schabus, editors. Whose Land is it Anyway? A Manual for Decolonization. Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC, 2017, https://fpse.ca/sites/default/files/news_files/Decolonization%20Handbook.pdf.

Manuel, Arthur and Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson. Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-up Call. Foreword by Naomi Klein, Between the Lines, 2015.

Ross, Amélie, et al. "Impact of residential schooling and of child abuse on substance abuse problem in Indigenous Peoples." Addictive Behaviors, vol. 51, 2015, doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.07.014.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. 2015, http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf.

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To the extent possible under law, Amy McLay Paterson has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to TRU Library MLA Citation Guide. This work is published from: Canada.