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MLA Handbook: A Very Brief Introduction

The acronym MLA stands for Modern Language Association. Mostly used in the humanities, languages, literature and cultural studies, this citation style guide is now up to its 8th edition. 

A little bit of history...

1951 - First MLA Guide published (31 pages, geared towards scholars)

       1977 - First MLA Guide geared towards students published (163 pages)

                  1984 - Handbook (for undergrads) vs. Style Manual (for graduate students and scholars)

                             2016 - 8th ed. (146 pages) supersedes the 7th ed. Handbook and the Style Manual

                                           2021 - The 9th edition, and the most voluminous (367 pages), is published

MLA Handbook 9th Edition

About this citation style: 

  • Focus on the purpose of documentation rather than formats of document 
  • Documentation as a conversation between writers, readers, and sources
    • Different conversations = Different kinds of documentation 
      • e.g. giving a credit vs. comparing different edition of a source
  • Emphasis on document traits shared by most works, regardless of medium
  • Emphasis on a consistent structure, discoverability of sources

This citation style functions with principles and guidelines rather than strict rules. 

What's different with MLA 9th edition? 

Pseudonyms, Pen names, etc.  Now treated as regular names, but you might still wish to include the author's full name in brackets
e.g. @uOttawaBiblio. “Come for Pokemon, stay for the books! + #pokemongo.” Twitter, 22 July 2016, 10:02 a.m.,
Container The larger whole within which the source is contained (book ⇰chapter, series ⇰ episode, journal ⇰ article etc.). A source may have more than one container (e.g. e-book platform, streaming service, blog aggregator, institutional repository etc.)
Containers are italicized and followed by a comma.
Abbreviations & URLs

It is recommended that you indicate all the containers in order to make it easy for your readers to locate your sources. Include DOIs, URLs or permalinks, as well as abbreviations such as vol., no., if applicable.

If DOI is not preceded by http:// or https://, precede the DOI in your entry with:

e.g. Levinson, Brett. “Of Rats and Men: Bolaño Meets Kafka.” CR: The New Centennial Review, vol. 14, no. 3, 2014, pp. 93-109. Project Muse,

MLA 9th ed.: Optional elements

Date of original publication

City of publication

If you wish to include the date of the original publication for a re-published source, add it right after its title.

If there are (1) considerable/interesting differences between documents released by publishers with international offices or (2) you are citing a less known publisher, you might wish to include the city of publication.

e.g. Laurence, Margaret. “To Set Our House in Order.” 1970. The Wascana Anthology of Short Fiction, edited by Ken Mitchell et al., Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center, 1999, pp. 246-257.

Date of access

Any Other Facts

Indicating the date of access for digital resources can be useful when you are citing a source that is frequently updated or for which no other publication date is listed.

Is your source a part of a multivolume publication or monographic series? A transcript or an address? Was it published previously in a different format (e.g. an article re-published as a book chapter)?

You might wish to include this information if it is of significance.

MLA 9th Edition: The Basics

The list of sources in your paper should be titled "Work Cited".

  • Do not use the term Bibliography
  • In case you wish to include the sources that you did not cite, but still used while writing your paper, title the list Works Consulted.

Your citation does not always feature the name of the creator(s) in the first place.

  • When a source is published by an entity that is also its author (e.g. corporations, associations etc.), omit the author and start your citation with the title of the source.
    • MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association, 2021.
  • If you are analyzing a translated work and your focus is on translation, list the name(s) of translator(s) first.
    • Seidensticker, Edward G., translator. The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu, Knopf, 1976.
  • If you are writing about film or theatre, and are concentrating on a specific role in production/performance, list the name(s) of the individuals who were instrumental in the first place (e.g. actors, scriptwriters etc.). If you are not focusing on a particular role, simply omit the author, and start with the title.
    • Jones, January, performer. Mad Men. Lions Gate Television, 2007-2015.

Cite the titles in full (as they were found in the source) while standardizing capitalization/punctuation.

  • Capitalize the first and the last word, and all principal words (excl. articles, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, to in infinitives). Use a colon and a space to separate a title and a subtitle, if the title is not followed by a question mark or an exclamation point.
    • Nadelson, Regina. Who Is Angela Davis? The Biography of a Revolutionary. P.H. Wyden, 1972.

You might sometimes provide translations for the titles of non-English language sources.

  • If your readers do not understand the language of your source(s), it would be helpful to provide a translation for the title(s).
    • For in-text citations, use parenthesis when you introduce the source(s).
    • For the “Works Cited” list, use square brackets right after the original title
      • Mesa, Sara. Cicatriz [Scar]. Editorial Anagrama, 2015.

The publisher's name is not always indicated. 

  • You don't need to include publisher's name for periodicals (magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals)
  • You don’t need to include a publisher’s name for a self-published work or web site whose title is identical to its publisher.
  • Omit the publisher for web sites or archives (i.e. containers) that are hosting a source that they did not produce (e.g. JSTOR, YouTube, ProQuest,, institutional depositories etc.).

Some sources can be cited in a shortened form in your Work Cited list. 

  • If you are citing two or more sources from a collection of texts, create an entry for the collection and crossreference the individual sources to it.
    • Ferreira, Maria Geralda. “A Healer’s Story.” Levine and Crocitti, pp. 331-334.
    • Levine, Robert M., and John J. Crocitti, editors. The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke UP, 1999.
    • Mitchell, Fanny. “Family Life in Recife.” Levine and Crocitti, pp. 337-343


If you have questions, or if you run into problems that the guide does not address, e-mail Catherine Lachaîne at


This online guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. This page is attributed to Téa Rokolj.