MLA stands for the Modern Language Association, an organization that supports and promotes "the study and teaching of languages and literatures" on a worldwide stage. The Association has many goals and purposes in academia, but to most of us we use the MLA Style Guide to format our research papers and cite works therein.
Other styles you may have heard of are APA, which is governed by the American Psychological Association and typically used in the social sciences, or Chicago, governed by the University of Chicago Press and frequently used in history class.
While the styles vary depending on the field they serve, each does serve the same purpose: to standardize writing and citations in order that readers and researchers may have an easier time reading and finding sources.
Citations within your paper are meant to direct the reader to your Works Cited page. Your Works Cited page is meant to direct your reader to your original sources. If you're struggling with how to cite something within your paper, remember to keep it as simple as possible, while directing the reader to your full source list.
For more information, see our full MLA Citation Guide.
If you are using Microsoft Word, many of the MLA parameters are the default setting. However, it's always a good idea to check.
Margins should be 1" on all sides
Be sure the font is Times New Roman 12pt.
Be sure to double space
Include your last name and the page number in the upper right header on all pages
The first page includes a heading with your name, instructor's name, course, and date
Italicize titles of books, plays, magazines, scholarly journals, and web sites. Enclose titles of articles, essays, poems, and short stories in “quotation marks”.
When certain information is missing, such as an author, skip it and go on to the next part. If facts missing from a work are available in a reliable external resource, they are cited in square brackets. [MLA 2.6.1]
For pages that are not consecutive, such as newspapers, use a plus sign: "pp. 192+." [MLA 2.5.1]
Alphabetize your Works Cited page by author's last name, or, if the author's name is not given, by the first word of the title. Numbers are alphabetized as spelled.
MLA recommends including URLs for online materials. DOIs and permalinks are preferable to URLs copied from the address bar. [MLA p. 48]
All sources cited in the text must be listed in the Works Cited.
Use the first part of your citation for parenthetical documentation. Usually that will be the author or authors' last names. Follow with the page number (Brown and Proper 17). [MLA p. 54+]
Use as little information as possible while making a unique identification. If there are two books by the same author, you must include part of the title (Hoover, Time Management 97). [MLA p. 55]
When you are quoting Person A who was quoted in Person B's essay (indirect quote), your parenthetical reference should acknowledge that: Person A suggests XYZ (qtd. in Person B 256). [MLA 3.4]
If you have no page numbers, it usually flows better to include an indirect reference in the text: According to Brown, … Do not count unnumbered parts manually. [MLA 3.3.3]
When you have 3+ authors, only use “Name et al.” on the Works Cited page and in parenthetical citations. If naming the authors in the sentence, write them out rather than using et al.
Johnson, Spencer, M.D. Who Moved My Cheese? Putnam, 1998.
Work in an anthology
Moore, Marianne. "The Mind is an Enchanting Thing." The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Volume D, 8th Ed., edited by Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine, Norton, 2012, p. xx.
Gardner, Thomas, and Terry Anderson, editors. Criminal Law, 11th Ed. Wadsworth, 2012.
Article in a database
Balis, Andrea, and Michael Aman. "The Race Race Assimilation in America." Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 18, no. 6, Aug. 2013, pp. 587-595.