Skip to main content

MLA Format

A guide to using the Modern Language Association's citation format.

Help! I can't find an example in the MLA Handbook for the material I need to cite!

The MLA Handbook is a fairly comprehensive resource for formatting your citations, but occasionally you may find yourself wanting to cite a type of source that isn't covered by their examples.  What to do? Remember that the primary purposes of your reference are to give credit where it is due, and to direct your reader back to the source you used, should s/he want to consult it. With that in mind, you can use MLA guidelines to format a citation that will accomplish those objectives.  You can rely on your own informed judgement--and of course, you can always consult the reference desk!

See the Sample Citations: Beyond the Basics tab for a discussion of how to construct your citation according to two key questions: "What is it?" and "Where did I find it?"

Should I italicize or underline titles in MLA?

In editions of the MLA Handbook published before 2009 (anything earlier than the seventh edition), guidelines call for the titles of independently-published works (for more on this, see FAQ #2) to be be underlined; the handbook warned that italic type "is sometimes not distinctive enough" for use in material that will be graded or edited.  Most current word-processing programs, however, allow users to produce clear and legible italic type; as a result, the current (seventh) edition of the MLA Handbook has been updated and now calls for titles to be italicized (rather than underlined) as appropriate.  For more information on which titles should be italicized, see below!

When should I italicize a title, and when should I use quotation marks?

The titles of the following types of material should be italicized when you refer to them in the text of your paper or in your bibliography:

  • books
  • plays
  • long poems published as books
  • pamphlets
  • periodicals (newspapers, magazines, and journals)
  • films
  • radio and television programs
  • CDs, tapes, or record albums
  • ballets
  • operas or other long musical compositions
  • paintings and sculptures
  • ships, aircrafts, and spacecraft

On the other hand, the titles of the types of material below should be given in quotation marks:

  • articles
  • essays within a larger collection
  • short stories
  • short poems included in a larger collection
  • chapters of books
  • individual episodes of TV and radio programs
  • songs and similar short musical compositions
  • unpublished works such as lectures, conference presentations, manuscripts and dissertations

What if an article title includes a book or other title that should be italicized?

If the title of a work that should be italicized (a book. poem, play, etc,) appears as part of another title (for example, an article on that work), you should italicize the original title.

"Romeo and Juliet and Renaissance Politics" (an article about a play)

If the title of a work that would normally appear in quotation marks appears as part of another title, you should enclose the original title in single quotation marks (and the entire title in double quotation marks).

"The Uncanny Theology of 'A Good Man is Hard to Find'" (an article about a short story)

"Emersons's Strategies against 'Foolish Consistency'" (an article with a quotation in its title)

If a title that should normally be indicated by quotation marks appears as part of an italicized title, use italics and quotation marks as appropriate.

"The Lottery" and Other Stories (a book of short stories)

How do I format and punctuate long and short quotations?

If you are quoting from a prose text, and your quotation is no more than four lines long, you should enclose it in quotation marks and incorporate it into the text of your paper.   If your quotation requires a parenthetical reference, place your sentence period after the reference (not at the end of the quote).

For Charles Dickens, the eighteenth century was both "the best of times" and "the worst of times" (35).

If your quotation runs longer than four lines in your paper, set it off from your text as follows: begin a new line, indent one inch, and type the quote, double-spaced, without using quotation marks. Your parenthetical reference comes at the end of the quotation, however, in this case the period comes before the reference, at the end of the last sentence of your quote.

In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens summarizes the politcal situations in England and pre-revolutionary France as follows:

   There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face,
   on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and
   a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France.  In both
   countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State
   preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were
   settled for ever. (35)

If you are quoting poetry, you can incorporate two or three lines of verse into your text by separating them using a slash with a space on each side ( / ).

Wordsworth begins "Tintern Abbey" with a reflection on the passage of time: "Five years have passed; five summers, with the length / Of five long winters!" (1-2).

If your poetry quotation includes more than three lines of verse, you should begin the quotation on a new line, as in the prose example above.

Later in "Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth describes the enduring power of memory as follows:

   Though absent long,
   These forms of beauty have not been to me,
   As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
   But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
   Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
   In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
   Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
   And passing even into my purer mind
   With tranquil restoration. . . .(24-32)

Should I include the entire URL for an electronic source?

The latest MLA guidelines recommend URLs in your list of works cited--even though they can change, and obviously can't be clicked on in print formats, they can still be helpful for your reader.  If your source offers a stable URL (also known as a permalink) or a DOI, or digital object identifier, do include these in your reference. One good reason NOT to include a URL is if your instructor tells you that he or she would prefer that you leave them out--always follow your instructor's guidelines first!

 

Eaves, Morris, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi, editors.  The William Blake Archive, http://ww/blakearchive.org.

Foote, Stephanie. "Resentful Little Women: Gender and Class Feeling in Louisa May Alcott." College Literature, vol. 32, no. 1, 2005, pp. 63-85, MLA International Bibliography, http://ezproxyles.flo.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=15898562&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

What is the difference between citing an article in PDF and an article in HTML?

Keep in mind that when you are citing a PDF version of an article, you must include page numbers--these page numbers correspond to the page numbers in the printed version of your article.

If, however, you are using an HTML version of an article, you may find that there are no page numbers. If this is the case, use the abbreviation N. pag. to indicate that page numbers are not available.

What should I do if my question isn't answered here?

Please contact us at Ask a Librarian! We are happy to help you with your questions about MLA citation style (as well as other types of research questions).  We'd also be delighted to add your question to our FAQs.

Designed and maintained by Lesley University Librarians
Website based on LibGuides 2 Customization