• 3-minute read
  • 30th September 2016

4 Key Facts About MLA Referencing

It’s easy to get bogged down in detail with referencing. But having a good overall sense of the system you’re using is important. As such, today we’re looking at MLA referencing in overview, which should give you an idea of how to use MLA citations effectively.

1. What Is MLA Referencing?

MLA referencing is a citation format developed by the Modern Language Association (MLA). Since the MLA is an association for scholars of language and literature, MLA referencing is most commonly used in the liberal arts and humanities.

2. When Do I Need to Cite a Source in MLA?

Many worry about not having “enough” citations in their work, but it’s more important to know when a citation is required. MLA specifies citing a source when:

  1. Quoting a source directly to support your own arguments
  2. Using data or other content published elsewhere
  3. Paraphrasing someone else’s ideas in your own words

However, it isn’t necessary to give a citation when referring to something that is common knowledge, such as “snow is cold” or “people in France speak French.”

French snow is cold, too. (Photo: Yann Caradec/flickr)

3. Citation Format

The general citation format in MLA requires giving the author’s surname and page numbers (if available) in parentheses after the relevant passage:

Freedom creates “obstacles from which we suffer” (Sartre 495).

If the author is named in the text, simply give the page numbers instead:

According to Sartre, freedom also creates “obstacles” (495).

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This format differs slightly when citing multiple works by the same author. When this occurs, you should also give a shortened version of the source title in the citation instead to avoid confusion:

Sartre says that freedom creates “obstacles” and that this is part of existentialism (Being and Nothingness 495).

We also use the title in citations when a source has no named author.

4. The Works Cited Page

MLA requires all cited sources to be listed on a “Works Cited” page at the end of your document. This list should:

  • Begin on a new page at the end of your paper
  • Order sources alphabetically by author name, surname first
  • List multiple works by the same author alphabetically by title, using three hyphens (—) in place of the author’s name for each entry after the first
  • Capitalize each of the main words in titles, but not articles, prepositions or conjunctions unless they’re the first word of a title or subtitle
  • Italicize titles of longer works (e.g., books and films) and use quotation marks for shorter works (e.g., journal articles and poems)
  • Use a half-inch hanging indent for each line after the first for each reference

The information to include in the Works Cited list for any given source depends to some extent on its format. However, it will almost always feature the author’s name, a title, and publication details. For instance, the book used in the examples above would appear as:

Sartre, Paul. Being and Nothingness. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes. Routledge, 1969.

It’s possible that nobody has ever looked more like a French philosopher than Sartre does here.

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