• 4-minute read
  • 16th April 2019

A Guide to Using MLA Citations

MLA referencing is common in the humanities. And if you are studying on a literature or language-based course, you may need to use MLA citations in your written work. To help you get this right, then, we have prepared a guide to using MLA citations in an essay. This will cover basic citations, citing multiple authors, and other tricky situations.

1. Basic MLA Citations

Basic MLA citations use an author surname and a page number in brackets. Typically, you would give this before end punctuation:

Bad news travels fast (Hawkins 201).

Here, for example, the citation points to page 201 of a source by Hawkins. You would then give the full source details in the Works Cited list. The main variation on this format occurs when you name an author in the text:

Hawkins claims that bad news “travels fast” (201).

As shown here, when the author’s name appears in the text, there is no need to repeat it in the citation. Instead, just give the page number after the quote.

2. Citing Sources with Multiple Authors

When a source has two authors, name both in the in-text citation, using “and” as a connector (not the ampersand symbol):

The exact speed of bad news is a mystery (Ptaszynski and Schreiber 14).

Here, for example, we’re citing page 14 of a text by Ptaszynski and Schreiber.

However, for sources with three or more authors, you should use the first name plus “et al.” in citations:

Harkin et al. argue that good news is equally fast (101).

“Et al.” here means “and others,” showing the reader you have left some names out. The same rule applies if a source has three or more editors or translators in the Works Cited list.

3. Citing More than One Author with the Same Surname

To cite more than one author with the same surname, you will need to adapt your citations. In MLA referencing, this means giving a first initial:

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News moves slower in water (A. Smith 32) than in air, but it moves much faster in a vacuum (Z. Smith 412-414).

In the Works Cited list, however, you should give the authors’ full first names and surnames as usual.

4. Citing Multiple Works by the Same Author

Rather than using a year of publication to distinguish between citations of sources by the same author, MLA referencing uses the source title in place of the author’s name.

For example, imagine that an author called Hawkins had written both a book called A History of Bad News and an article called “The Pace of News: A Comparative Study of Communicative Speed.” To cite both in the same document, we would need to include their titles in the citations:

Bad news travels fast (Hawkins, A History of Bad News 201). Its speed seems to be increasing, too (Hawkins, “The Pace of News” 1136).

We can learn two things about using titles in MLA citations from the examples above. In particular, you should always:

  1. Format titles according to the source type (e.g., italics for books and quote marks for shorter pieces such as articles).
  2. Shorten long titles (e.g., changing “The Pace of News: A Comparative Study of Communicative Speed” to just “The Pace of News”).

In the Works Cited list, meanwhile, you should organize sources by the same author alphabetically by title. In addition, use three hyphens in place of the author’s name for each entry after the first:

Hawkins, Justin. A History of Bad News. London, PME Publications, 2007.

– – – . “The Pace of News: A Comparative Study of Communicative Speed.” The Journal of Alternative Telecommunications, vol. 9, no. 3, 2015, pp. 1124–1139.

5. Citing More than One Source at Once

Finally, to cite more than one source in the same place, separate each citation with a semicolon. For example:

Bad news moves faster than light (Hawkins 198; Smith 22).

Here, we’re citing both Hawkins and Smith to support one same point. This can be useful for showing that many people share an idea or theory.

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