Note: This is an advanced guide to MLA, useful for professional editors, academics, and students looking to bump up their grades with flawless referencing! If you’re new to MLA and feel a little lost, check out our introduction to MLA referencing. For extra help from MLA experts, try our student proofreading services for free, or learn more about our editing services for businesses.
The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is based on the MLA Handbook. It uses in-text citations and a works cited list to reference and cite sources. This style is mostly used for humanities subjects like English literature and communications.
This guide includes all information related to MLA 9th edition. Please check with the customer if they do not clarify which edition they require. If they do not specify an edition, then use this guide to make your edits and add a note for the customer to check with their institution which edition they should use.
Also, pay attention to the requested dialect (usually US, Australian, or UK English) and note:
- Dialect will not change the spelling of words or use of punctuation in titles or direct quotations, which will depend upon the original work. If you suspect that there may have been an error, simply raise that as a query and suggest that the customer checks with the original.
- Anything that is specifically an element of the referencing system (e.g. positioning of commas and periods) should be consistent within the referencing. If it appears to be different from MLA 9th referencing style, then you should leave a comment to note this and suggest that the customer checks with the style preferences of their institution.
- If you see that titles have been consistently put in a particular style of quotation marks, then you should make these consistent (even if their use is different in the text) and leave a comment for the customer to check the style preferences of their institution.
- Words that might be used to describe the format of a source within the reference list (e.g., “catalog”) will follow the rules of the preferred dialect in the same way as the main narrative.
If you find any information missing in this guide, please consult MLA’s official website to browse their FAQs and resources.
In-text Citations: The Basics
MLA in-text citations use the author’s last name and the page number. For narrative citations, the author’s first and last names should be used when the author is first mentioned in the text, with the page number going at the end of the sentence. Subsequent narrative citations by the same author only use their last name. Page numbers are required for direct quotes and paraphrased information.
Therefore, there are two basic forms for in-text and narrative citations in MLA:
- Here is an example of an in-text citation (Smith 23).
- John Smith said something on this point (23).
- Subsequent citation in prose: Smith said another thing on this point (24).
If the source does not use a page number system, such as a script or poetry, use the relevant label in the citation.
- In poetry, lines are common: (Blake lines 5-6).
- In a play or script, scenes are common and should be shortened to (sc.): (Shakespeare sc. 4).
- For chapters, shorten to (ch.): (Smith ch. 11).
If the source has two authors, use “and” between their names. If the source has three or more authors, only write out the first author’s last name and use “et al.”
NB: If the narrative citation is the first use of a person/author’s name in the text, then both their names (first and surname) should be given.. If the first mention of a person’s name is in a parenthetical citation, then the subsequent mention in the text needs to use their first and surname.
If you have two or more authors with the same last name, add their first initial to in-text citations to distinguish between them. If they have the same initial, then write out their first names in full.
The customer can choose how to distinguish between authors with the same name and first initial, so long as there is no confusion. If the customer is not consistent, then apply a consistent approach and leave a comment.
Multiple Works, Same Author
If multiple works by the same author are cited, use a shortened form of the work’s title after the author’s last name in the in-text citation. Put a comma between the author’s last name and the work’s title, and format the title as it appears in the works cited list..
Citing Multiple Sources
If the customer cites more than one source in an in-text citation, the sources should be separated by semicolons. MLA states that the order in which the customer lists multiple sources in a citation is up to the customer (e.g., they can be listed alphabetically or in order of importance).
If the customer does not order multiple sources consistently, leave a comment advising them of this.
What if There Isn’t an Author?
If there is no author for a source, then list the title of that work, which should be formatted as in the works cited list. In the in-text citation, use a shortened phrase or title (again formatted correctly) as appropriate.
To shorten a title for an in-text citation, exclude any articles. Only use the first word or phrase (as needed) in the citation so the entry can be found on the works cited page. Additionally, if the title is in quotation marks or italics in the entry, reflect this in the citation.
What if There’s No Page Number?
For electronic sources, page numbers do not need to be included in in-text citations. Cite the author’s name or the title of the work only.
However, if the source is a paginated document but the page it appears on is not numbered, describe the cited page in the prose instead of creating a page number.
If the text is a direct quote or paraphrased, a page number or another suitable marker should be included in the in-text citation. Leave a note to the customer if this information is missing.
If you’re presented with a reference to a work within a work (i.e., the customer hasn’t read the original but has come across it as a reference in another), this is a secondary citation.
When citing a secondary source in MLA 9th, both the original and secondary sources should be mentioned in the text. However, you should only list the secondary source in the works cited list entry. MLA requires authors to use the abbreviation qtd. in (“quoted in”) before the indirect source cited in the parenthetical reference.
NB: Secondary sources are generally discouraged. However, sometimes authors cannot access the original source for various reasons (e.g., the source isn’t available, is out of print, or published in another language). You should leave a comment suggesting that the customer try to find the original source and refer to that if possible.
The Works Cited Page
MLA does not use a reference list or bibliography page; instead, it uses a works cited page. All sources referenced in the document should be listed in the works cited page, which should appear at the end of the document and on a separate page.
Each entry on the works cited page should be listed alphabetically, ignoring articles for organization names or entries with no author.
Works Cited Page Requirements
Like all referencing systems, MLA has specific requirements for works cited pages. Here are some that you will need to check while proofreading.
General Works Cited Requirements to Check while Proofreading
- Start on a new page at the end of the document.
- The list should be labeled as “Works Cited” (many customers write “Work Cited,” so please check this.
- Entries should be in alphabetical order. Entities that start with group names or title names should be ordered based on the first main word (i.e., ignore “the,” “an,” or “a” at the beginning of group names or titles).
- Entries should have a hanging indent of 0.5 inches.
- All entries should end with a period.
Writing Page Numbers
- MLA uses a hyphen for page ranges in the works cited page.
- Page numbers should be efficiently listed. If numbers are repeated, drop them.
- pp. 250-75 NOT pp. 250-275
- pp. 251-4 NOT pp. 251-254
- Use “pp.” when listing page ranges.
- Use “p.” when listing a single page.
Capitalization and Punctuation
- Articles, books etc. should be given in title case.
- Use italics for the titles of larger works (books, journals and magazines) and quotation marks for the titles of shorter works (poems and articles).
Author Names in the Works Cited List
- The first author’s name is ordered as Last Name, First Name, Middle Initial.
- Subsequent authors’ names are given as First Name Middle Initial Last Name.
- Do not list titles or degrees with authors’ names (Dr., Ms., PhD, etc.)
- Do list suffixes like Jr., Sr., or II
- For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be cited as “King, Martin Luther, Jr.” Add a comma between the first or middle name and the suffix.
- Use three hyphens “—” when an author has more than one source listed.
- Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice. (…)
- —. Emma. (…)
- For works with no author, list the title of the work and put it in the list alphabetically, ignoring any articles at the start of the title. (If using the automatic sort function in Word, remember to check whether there are any entries affected by this rule.)
Authors with Stage Names or Pseudonyms
This is new to MLA 9th ed., so please take note, as many authors use stage names and pseudonyms.
- If the author’s stage name or pseudonym is well known, only list the stage name or pseudonym. For example, use Lewis Carroll, not Charles Dodgson.
- For lesser-known stage names and pseudonyms, write the author’s real name followed by their stage name/pseudonym in square brackets.
- Christie, Agatha [Mary Westmacott].
- If one author has published several sources under different names, cite all sources under one name. Any entries that use a different name than what is listed in the works cited list should also include the name under which the source was published. Use square brackets and italicize “published as”.
- Irving, Washington [published as Knickerbocker, Diedrich].
- If there are only two names used to refer to a single author, then it is also acceptable to cite both forms of the author’s names as separate entries, along with cross references in square brackets.
- Eliot, George [see also Evans, Mary Anne].
Works Cited in Detail
MLA has 10 core elements that can be included in all entries (elements three through nine are called “containers” in MLA style):
- Title of Source
- Title of Container
- Publication date
- Supplemental element.
The concept of containers is relatively unique to MLA style. When the source being documented forms part of a larger whole, the larger whole is the container. For example, if a short story is a source, the anthology it is included in is the container. There can be more than one container in an entry.
NB: Only authors, the title of source and the end element should have periods following (assuming there is no supplemental element). All other elements use commas. Additionally, only capitalize an element if it is a proper noun, the title of a source/container, or if the element follows a period.
If you cannot find an example for a particular type of source, use the following as a guide:
- If the title of the source is a larger work, it should be italicized (e.g., books).
- Titles of smaller works should be in quotation marks (e.g., article titles, short stories).
- If there are three or more authors, only write out the first author’s name followed by “et al.”
- If the source you are proofreading has additional or missing information, refer to the Containers and Core Elements Explained table and add/format information accordingly.
- If the source you are proofreading has additional or missing information, refer based on the formats given, please refer to the Containers and Core Elements Explained table and add/ or format information accordingly.
- For online sources, include a location to show readers where you found the source. This should be a DOI or URL. If it is a URL, delete “http://”. Both DOIs and URLs should be followed with a period.
- If the source is from an organization and the publisher information is the same as the organization name, you do not need to put the organization name as the author. Simply start the entry with the title of the webpage/blog in quotation marks and include it in the list alphabetically, ignoring any articles at the start of the title.
- If the source you are proofreading has additional or missing information, refer based on the formats given, please refer to the Containers and Core Elements Explained table and add/or format information accordingly.
At the end of this guide is an alphabetical list of sources you can use. If you come across a source that is not specified in this guide, please use the Containers and Core Elements Explained table above to format the source accordingly.
The key is to be consistent. Please leave comments to the customer if anything is missing or does not follow any guidelines in this guide.
What To Do When the Customer’s Approach Differs
Keep in mind that a customer may have specific guidelines from their institution that deviate from the guidance listed here. Here are some things to consider if you have a document that requires MLA 9th ed. but differs from advice given in this guide:
- If a customer has done something different but is consistent, leave a comment noting that their work differs from standard MLA 9th guidelines and enforce their consistent usages.
- If a customer has deviated from standard MLA 9th guidelines but is not consistent, use this guide to make their citations/entries consistent and leave a comment outlining why you made these changes. Suggest that they check with their institutional guidelines if they are not sure about which MLA edition to use.
- If a customer has requested a different/older edition of MLA, please consult relevant and credible online resources if you are not sure whether you need to make certain changes.
- Contact Editor Support if you are still unsure.
But What About…?
Abbreviations in citations/the works cited list?
- MLA contains a list of accepted abbreviations that should be used in both in-text citations and the works cited list. You don’t need to remember all of them, but be careful if removing abbreviations from citations/works cited.
- The most commonly seen abbreviations will be p./pp., vol., ed., trans., qtd., ch., app., anon.
- Note also that MLA requests that you abbreviate “University” and “Press” in publisher names. So, “U of London P,” “Oxford UP.”
- If a customer has entries or citations that are missing information or core elements, leave a comment. Do not add information.
- Do not use “n.d.” if no date is listed; either leave an approximate date in square brackets or leave the date out entirely (see below).
- If the author/organization name is missing, start the entry with the title of the source.
- If other information is missing, MLA suggests adding information not included with the original source in square brackets. This could be used to add a description of a missing title or provide an approximate date for a source if suggested from another source.
- Block quotes are any quotation that is more than four lines of prose or verse.
- Block quotes should be introduced with a lead-in sentence that ends with a colon.
- The block quote should be indented 0.5 inches from the left margin.
- The citation goes after the final punctuation of the block quote.
- If the author’s name is included in the lead-in sentence, their name should not be listed again in the citation, only the page number.
- For omitted words in any quote, use an ellipsis with spaces on both sides. Do not use parentheses around the ellipsis unless they are needed for clarity.
- Put any information that is not original to the quote in square brackets.
Figures and tables?
- Since MLA is mostly used in the humanities, it is rare that a customer should have figures and tables in a document that requires MLA formatting. On the off-chance that they do, here’s what you should look for:
- Tables should be labeled (e.g. “Table 1:”) and captioned (e.g. “A List of Shakespeare’s Early Plays”).
- At the end of the table, a customer should put their source for the table/figure. It should be introduced as follows: “Source: (…) and formatted as it would be in a works cited list. The source should not be repeated in the works cited page.
- A customer may choose to use notes under the source that correspond to a superscript number or symbol given in the table. These should be indented.
- In-text references to a table should be used in parentheses and are not capitalized. For example: (see table 1).
- When formatting figures, look for the following:
- In-text references to a figure are not capitalized: (see fig.1) or (see figure 1). This should be included in proofreading, and the choice of “fig.” or “figure” used consistently.
- The figure label should be abbreviated (Fig. 1, Fig. 2, etc.) and situated below the figure.
- The title or caption for the figure should go after the label on the same line. This can also include the figure source, in which case, do not repeat the source as an entry in the works cited page. The source should be formatted in the caption using the same format for a works cited page.
Endnotes and footnotes?
- MLA discourages the excessive use of notes. It does, however, allow for endnotes or footnotes for bibliographic notes; that is, notes that make reference to other publications related to the current text.
- Endnotes or footnotes may be indicated in the text by a superscript figure (usually a number). This should go after the end punctuation in a sentence, unless that punctuation is an em or en dash.
- If there is a citation with a page number at the end of the sentence where a superscript also needs to be, the superscript may be moved to the beginning or middle of the sentence (wherever is most logical).
- Endnotes should be listed on a separate page titled “Notes.” This page should appear before the works cited page. The notes should be listed in order of their appearance in the text. The first line of each note should be indented five spaces.
What Does the Proofreading Service Include for Referencing?
- Make sure that the customer’s citations and works cited page follow whichever version of MLA they have requested. Follow the customer’s lead with any deviations from standard guidelines, so long as they are consistent. If they are inconsistent, enforce consistency and leave a comment explaining your changes. If in total doubt, contact Editor Support.
- If the customer has provided any additional resources for their version of MLA, please check these and use them as your guide.
- If the customer has a short quotation missing quotation marks, leave a comment for them to add the missing quotation mark.
- If the customer has used block quotes inconsistently, then you can either insert the missing block quotes or leave a comment (technically, they come under formatting, but sometimes it’s just easier to make the change in a short document). If they haven’t used them at all, then just leave a comment explaining MLA’s approach to block quotes.
What Falls Outside the Scope of Proofreading?
- You are not responsible for adding citations in-text. However, if you see that something is obviously missing, leave a comment. Do not change any information in in-text citations.
- You do not need to explicitly check that in-text citation names match their corresponding entries. However, if you see an inconsistent name/organization spelling throughout the text, you can leave a comment for the customer. Additionally, if you see any spelling errors or mistakes in the works cited page, you can leave a note. You do not need to find the original source and fix the spelling yourself.
- If table/figure information is missing (such as a caption or source), you do not need to add this information, but should comment that it is missing (one comment is fine if the information is missing throughout). If the table/figure is missing a label/number, you can comment on this.
- Do not fill in missing information in the works cited list, but do leave a comment if you think elements are missing. Check the “What about…?” section for more information.
- Anything listed in the formatting section below, do not do unless the customer has formatting services listed as part of their order (including font, font size, spacing, etc.).
What Falls Outside the Scope of Proofreading?
Since the document is most likely from a student, you cannot do any level of editing to avoid plagiarism. This includes:
- Adding information of any kind: in the text, in-text citations, or works cited entries.
- Changing information of any kind. If you see a typo or potential mistake in an entry, leave a comment.
- Changing direct quotes. Check that they are cited and used correctly. If you see any mistakes, leave a comment–do not make changes yourself.