WHY cite?

  • To give credit to authors or artists whose work you have used
  • To allow people who are reviewing your work to check your sources
  • To show readers how you came up with your arguments or ideas
  • to provide scholars with other sources for their research

To learn about the dangers of plagiarism see the MLA site

To get a quick overview of when and why to cite, view this short video:

 Cite a Source: How and Why You Should Do It 

What you don't know CAN hurt you!


WHEN is it Necessary to Cite?

Cite a source when:

  • you copy information exactly or make a direct quoteThis includes primary sources, such as when you have interviewed someone.
  • you paraphrase, summarize or use your own words to describe ideas from a work.  
  • you cite STATISTICS, DATA or other NUMERICAL INFORMATION that was compiled by someone other than yourself.​


Exception to the rule:  When you are citing something that is "common knowledge" such as a date in history, basic biographical facts about a prominent person, or the dates and circumstances of major historical events  (e.g. there are 12 months in a year, the planets revolve around the sun, the American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, etc.).  If the facts are in dispute, it is best to cite sources.   

How to Cite

There are nine core elements, plus one optional one,  that make up an MLA citation. When you are formatting sources for your Works Cited page, start with these elements that MLA recommends you include in each citation. Each element should be followed by the punctuation marks shown below.

1.     Author last name, First name.

2.     Title.  For an article title, use quotations.  For book title, use italics without quotation marks.

3.     Title of container #1  Here you would italicize the name of a magazine, journal, book or web page when the source (above) is part of a larger work, such as a short story in an anthology or an article in a newspaper.  If this doesn't apply, skip this.

4.     Other Contributors,  Here you would list co-authors or co-editors.  If there are none, skip this.

5.     Version  This is the edition of a work, if given.  If not, skip this.

6.     Number, This is where you list the identifying numbers connected to a periodical.  List as vol., no., date, pp. If this information is not part of the work you are citing, skip this.

7.     Publisher, date,  Use this only if you have a book.  Not used for periodicals, websites whose title is essentially the same as the name of its publisher (such as government websites),  a website not involved in producing the works it makes available (such as JSTOR or Ebsco, where they are not considered the publisher of the materials they offer).

8.     Title of Container #2,  This is necessary only if your work is part of a database or larger work-- such as a website-- not covered in #3 (above).  Always Italicize.

9.     Location.  List here a doi or URL or pages on which the cited material appears.

10.   Date you accessed the material  This is optional, as required by your instructor.

 NOTE: Earlier editions of the MLA handbook required the use of punctuation such as journal editions in parentheses, colons after issue numbers and required the inclusion of a place of publication.  In this most current version of the handbook, punctuation is simpler (just commas and periods separate the elements), and information about the source is kept to the basics.

Here is a handy MLA Practice Template that you can use to help format MLA citations.