A Time-Saving Guide to Citing Sources in College With MLA

MLA is the common way to refer to one of the most frequently used formats for college papers. An important part of writing an MLA formatted paper is having proper citations. This article can help you get down the basics of MLA citations, so that you can find and organize your reference sources more quickly and avoid plagiarism.

mla citation guide

MLA Citation Woes

Writing papers can be frustrating. Many people write them so infrequently that much of the general knowledge you need to write is not retained - especially citations. Who can remember where a period goes or what publication information to list? We've compiled an easy guide for common MLA citations that you can refer to while writing your papers. Be sure to bookmark this article, it can help you avoid additional research.

Why Cite?

There are many books available that explain the reasons and ways you must cite texts. To put it simply, you must avoid plagiarism when writing a paper, and citations allow you to properly use material from other authors. Using others' work as your own (also known as plagiarism) is selfish, amateurish and just dumb. Not only can it get you kicked out of school, but it could even lead to legal problems. Just give credit where it's due. With that said, the following citation formulas for bibliographies or works cited lists were found in Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommer's Rules for Writers, 7th ed. (see what I did there?).

What is MLA?

The common citation form for many arts and humanities courses is the Modern Language Association (MLA) system. Mostly it's referred to by teachers as MLA, so be prepared to hear only the acronym mentioned when instruction is given.

Basic Tips

The first line of paragraphs should be indented 0.5 inch. Your sources must be listed alphabetically (it doesn't matter what type of source it is). When listing your citations, start on a new page. Center the title 'Works Cited' (don't underline, italicize or try to make it fancy), and double space the whole section.


Last Name, First Name. The Title of the Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Publication Date. Medium.

This is the basic and most common citation for MLA. If there are multiple authors, list them in the same order that they are listed on the book. Only list the first author directory style. If there is no author, skip it and begin with the title of the book. So, a proper book citation will look like this:

Hacker, Diana and Nancy Sommers. Rules For Writers. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2011. Print.

If you're using a physical paper copy of the book (or magazine or article), the medium is always 'print.'


Last Name, First Name. 'Title of Essay.' Title of Collection. Ed. Editor's Name. City of Publication: Publisher, Year. Page Numbers. Medium.

Encyclopedia or Dictionary

Last Name, First Name. 'Passage Name.' The Encyclopedia Name. Edition. Date of Publication. Medium.

Magazine Article

Last Name, First Name. 'Article Title.' Magazine Title Month and Year: Page Numbers. Medium.

Note that this format is for a monthly magazine. If you're using a weekly magazine, be sure to write the full date with the day first. For example, the fifth of August, 2004, would be written '5 Aug. 2004.' This date format also applies to newspapers, journals, and access dates for online references.

Journal Article

Last Name, First Name. 'Article Title.' Journal Name Volume. Issue (Year): Page Numbers. Medium.

Film Review

'Film Title.' 'Director's Name.' 'Actors.' 'Studio or Distributor.' Medium.


If the author is an organization, replace the author name with the full title of the organization. If there is no author, just skip to the title of the web site. If there is no website name, give a brief description of the page you are citing. For instance: biography. This shouldn't be in italics. Another note, some professors may ask you to provide the url at the end of the citation, especially if you found sources outside of those provided for the class. For all online sources, the medium is web.

Last Name, First Name. Title of Website. Publisher of site (sometimes abbreviated), Publication Date or Last Update. Medium. The date you accessed the website.


American Library Association. American Library Association. ALA, 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Online Book

In the past, MLA citation for online books has been kind of messy. Lucky for you, it's gotten a little bit easier to format. Don't forget to include your access date (and the URL if requested).

Last Name, First Name. Book Title. Ed. editor of original book. City of Publication: Year Published. Title of Website. Medium. Day/Month/Year of Access.

If the information for the original book is not available, you should try to include more information about the website:

Last Name, First Name. Book Title. Title of website. Sponsor of site, date of publication or last update. Medium. Access date.

Online Articles

Last Name, First Name. 'Article Title.' Title of Magazine or Newspaper Volume (Year Published): pages. Medium. Date Accessed.

Digital Archive or Database

For an item found in a digital archive or database, first cite the print information, then add the information for the archive in which the print was found. For example, if you use an article found in a digital archive, cite as such:

Last Name, First Name. 'Article title.' Title of Original Print Source Publication date: pages. Archive/Database Name. Medium. Access date.

Other sources

While most of your sources are probably going to either be in the form of a print or online medium, it's also important to know how to deal with a few other types of sources. Perhaps you will want to use information you learned from watching a documentary or listening to a lecture. It's just as important to cite these sources.


Title of Film. Dir. Director's Name. Perf. Lead Actors' Names. Distributor, Release Date. Medium.

For DVDs, the Medium is simply DVD.

TV Show

If the writer, director, actor, host or narrator is labeled in the credits, include these after the program name. To cite one of these, follow this guideline: By Writer's Name/ Dir. Director's Name/ Perf. Lead Actors' Names/ Host Host's Name/Narr. Narrator's Name. If you watch it on TV, the medium is Television. If you stream it online, put the air date and site name after the channel name. The medium is Web, and your viewing date goes after the medium.

Here's an example of a broadcast television show:

Title of Show. 'Series or Program Name.' Network, Station Call Letters or Channel Name. Broadcast Date. Television.

Here's an example of a recorded television episode:

Title of Show. 'Series or Program Name.' Title of Collection. Writer/Director. Distributor. Distribution Date.


Last Name, First Name. 'Title of Lecture.' Sponsoring Organization. Location, City. Date of Speech. Medium.

The Medium is Lecture.

Now that you know some of the most common citations, try to memorize them! You can improve your memory with these brain games.

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