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The Writing Center

Using MLA Format


Why do I need to use sources?

Incorporating sources into your essays shows that you are aware of other ideas and opinions regarding the topic.

Backing up your opinion with evidence from scholarly sources makes your explanation, evaluation, or argument more convincing.

How many sources should I use?

Your instructor may assign a specific number of sources to use, but if not, a general rule is that your paper should be mostly your own ideas supported by source information.

Quotes, paraphrases, and summaries from your sources should be used only to assist you in proving your points. You do not want a source-driven essay--source after source with few thoughts of your own.

How do I decide when to use a source?

Use a source only when it makes your argument stronger.  Never use a source as "filler."  Below is an example of a statistic that is used to support the writer's point:

Environment is at least as important as genetics in determining success. For example, identical twins separated at birth are 72% more likely to graduate from high school if they had a supportive home life and parents who were involved in their education (Smith 153).  Clearly, even when genes are exactly the same, environment does have an influence.

What is MLA format?

MLA format is the format for documentation established by the Modern Language Association. It is most often used in essays for humanities classes such as English, history, and foreign language.

Why is documenting sources required?

Keeping your in-text citations (telling your source within the paper) and works cited page (the page at the end that lists all sources used) in a simple, consistent format lets the reader know where information is located and establishes source credibility.

You can incorporate evidence from sources several ways:

  • Paraphrase
  • Brief quote
  • Block quote
  • Summary


"Paraphrasing" is putting the author's idea in your own words. You must still give the author credit for the idea, however.

It is sometimes difficult to think of a different way to word an idea. Here are a few helpful hints:

  • Use synonyms (different words that mean the same).
  • In addition to using synonyms, change the order of the ideas.

Example paraphrase

Original sentence from source:
"Kenya's population growth rate, over 4 percent, is perhaps the highest in the world."
The population increase in Kenya is likely the most dramatic anywhere--more than 4 percent (Rosenblum and Williamson 231).
Note: the paraphrase does not appear in quotation marks because you have re-worded the idea. You must, however, document the information to give credit to the author(s).

Why take the time to paraphrase (reword the original)?

  • So you are not over-quoting.
  • So you can show that you understand the ideas and can explain them in your own words.
  • To summarize lengthy lists or paragraphs.

Why do I need to give credit to the author if I put the idea in my own words?

Because you are using the AUTHOR'S IDEA, not your own, and you always must give credit.


So you are not over-quoting, save quotes for when an author has worded a point especially well.

Quotation marks ("     ") or indenting the left margin for block quotes indicates that these are the author's EXACT words. Double-check quotes for accuracy after  typing them and note the author and page: (Smith 133). Copy publication information for the works cited page.

If you need to change any words or word endings to integrate the quote grammatically, you must show the change by putting it in brackets [    ].

Indicate that a word or phrase has been omitted from a quote with ellipses points (three spaced periods), for example: According to Smith, "Sherwood Anderson's use of the grotesque emphasizes the main character's . . . isolation" (24).

Indicate that a sentence or more has been omitted from a quote by placing four spaced periods: Early in his career, "Mark Twain edited The Buffalo Express newspaper. . . . He was later asked to become editor of several other newspapers, but he declined" (Smith 25).

Brief quote format

Use the following format if the quote is less than 4 typed, double spaced lines.

Incorporate into your sentence using a tag or signal phrase. For example, Rosenblum and Williamson argue that ". . ." (346).

End punctuation AFTER the page number.

Example with authors named in signal phrase

Rosenblum and Williamson point out that "the problem is not too many people. It is too little economic growth to sustain them" (231).

Block quote format

  • Use when the quote is 4 or more typed, double spaced lines.
  • Introduce with a signal phrase.
  • Indent the left margin 10 spaces.
  • Do not use quotation marks for block quotes--the indentation of the left margin indicates an exact quote.
  • Double space.
  • End punctuation is placed BEFORE the parenthetical note. 

An example block quote in MLA format  appears below.  Please note: the quote would be double-spaced in your paper, and the left margin of the quote would be indented 10 spaces (2 tabs).

Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about the food they consume:

A series of recalls involving contaminated foods this year — including an outbreak of  salmonella from tainted peanuts that killed at least eight people and sickened 600 — has consumers rightly worried about the safety of their  meals. A food system-- from seed to 7 Eleven--that generates cheap, filling food at the literal expense of healthier produce is also a principal cause of America's obesity epidemic. (Walsh 251)

MLA 2009 Works Cited Updates (MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed.)
General paper formatting and in-text citations remain as they were in the MLA 6th edition. The format for Works Cited entries is different from the 6th edition. 

General information regarding format for the Works Cited page: Works Cited should be centered at the top of the page.  Works Cited entries are double-spaced and appear in alphabetical order. When an entry is over one line, indent each line other than the first line five spaces (1 tab). This is called a hanging indent. 

Major updates to Works Cited entries are as follows:

  • Publication medium such as Web, Print, Performance, DVD, or TV is noted at the end of each Works Cited entry.  The publication medium is noted last with the exception of web sources, in which the date of access follows.  (See Online Article examples below.)
  • Use italics--not underlining--for titles of books, periodicals, and films.
  • When journal articles appear online only or in databases that do not include pagination, use the abbreviation n. pag. for no pagination.
  • When sites omit a date of publication, use the abbreviation n.d. for no date. For online journals that appear only online and for databases that do not provide page numbers, use n. pag. for no pagination.
  • URLs are no longer required for websites unless readers will have difficulty locating the source without the URL.  If you decide to include the URL, it appears in angled brackets with a period following: <http://    >.
  • Include publisher names and publication dates for website entries.  If no publisher name appears on the site, use the abbreviation n.p. for no publisher given.  If no date of publication appears, use n.d. for no date. 
  • All scholarly publications such as journals require volume and issue numbers, regardless of whether continuous pagination is used.
  •  Abbreviate the names of months (except for May, June, and July) on the Works Cited page.

Sample Works Cited Entries

Please note: these would all be double-spaced in your paper, and each line after the first line would be indented 5 spaces (1 tab).
Book With One Author
Morrison, Toni.  A  Mercy.  New York: Knopf, 2008.  Print.

Book With One or More Authors
Mortenson, Greg, and David Oliver Relin.  Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace. . .One School At a Time.  New York: Penguin, 2007.  Print.

Article in a Scholarly Journal
Avery, Susan.  “When Opportunity Knocks: Opening the Door Through Teachable Moments.”  The Reference Librarian. 49.2 (2008):109-118.  Print.
Online Article  (The article or section title is in quotes, not italicized.  The website title follows in italics.  If known, the sponsoring organization or publisher is also listed, followed by the date of publication, Web, and date viewed in the format shown below).
Blake, John.  “American Mountaineer Fights Taliban With Books, Not Bombs.” CNN, 3 Mar. 2008. Web. 17 Aug. 2009.
Walsh, Bryan. “Getting Real About the High Cost of Cheap Food.” Time, 21 August 2009. Web. 29 Oct. 2009.
Online-Only Article with no pagination:
Kessl, Fabian, and Nadia Kutsche. “Rationalities, Practices, and Resistance in Post-Welfarism.  A Comment on Kevin Stenson.” Social Work & Society6.1 (2008): n. pag. Web. 10 Oct. 2008.

Periodical from an Online Database:
Tolson, Nancy.  “Making Books Available: The Role of Early Libraries, Librarians, and Booksellers in the Promotion of African American Children’s  Literature.” African  American Review 32.1 (1998): 9-16. JSTOR. Web. 5 June 2009.

Book With Author and Editor(s)
Crane, Stephen.  The Red Badge of Courage. 4th ed. Ed. Donald Pizer and Eric Carl Link. New York: Norton, 2008. Print.
Article or Chapter in an Anthology
Reed, Ishmael.  “What’s American About America?”  Connections: A Multicultural Reader for Writers.Ed. Judith Stafford. 6th ed. New York: Mayfield, 1996. 16-20. Print.
Article in a Weekly Magazine
Gibbs, Nancy. “Kid Math.” Time. 24 Aug. 2009: 56. Print.