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MLA Resources for Undergraduates

 
This page provides basic information on MLA-style formatting for undergraduate research papers. While it addresses many of the common questions students have when formatting their research to the MLA style, it is by no means a complete list. For further information, consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th Edition (New York: Modern Language Association, 2009) [call number LB2369.M57 2009 in Weldon Library]. You can also visit the MLA website.

The MLA style represents a consensus among researchers and educators in the field of literary studies as to how information can be organized in a simple and coherent manner. Using the MLA style has distinct advantages for all stages of a research project; its standards are designed for both clear legibility and ease of editing. It also allows for the clear and concise citation of contemporary media sources, from books and articles to online video clips and graphic novels.

While the MLA standard is the most widely accepted for literary research papers, your course instructor may have individual stipulations for submitted assignments; it's always best to check with your instructor to make sure you fulfill all the obligations of your course. Where applicable, your course director's instructions should take precedence over the MLA criteria outlined here.

Tip: you can keyword search this webpage in your browser.

 

Table of Contents

  1. 1. Basic Formatting for the MLA Research Paper (margins, page numbers, spacing)

  2. 2. The First Page [download template for Microsoft Word or OpenOffice.org [right-click and select "Save As..."]

  3. 3. In-Text Citation
  4. 4. Footnotes and Endnotes

  5. 5. The Works Cited Page

 

1. Basic Formatting for the MLA Research Paper

The MLA formatted research paper should be word processed on good quality 8.5"x11" paper. All four basic margins (top, bottom, left and right) should be set to one inch (1"). Your chosen font style and size should be easily legible; Times New Roman 12pt. font is the most commonly used.

Page numbers should begin consecutively from the first page in the header of your document, in the upper right-hand corner. Type your last name before the page number. Your last name and page number should be halfway between the top edge of the page and your first line (i.e. one half inch). The entire body of your research paper, including longer quotes and your Works Cited page, must be double spaced.

If you are not sure how to format your word processor document to fit these specifications, you may download a basic template here:
[Word 2003 version] [OpenOffice.org version]

Note: to download these templates, right-click the link and select Save/Save As on your browser.

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2. The First Page

The MLA formatted research paper does not have a title page. Instead, at the top left-hand corner of the first page type your name, followed by your instructor's name, course number and the date. Each should be on a separate line, double spaced.

Your paper title should not contain any special formatting such as underlining, italics, quotation marks or bold type unless your title contains a reference to a work you would normally format in your paper (see In-Text Titling of Works Used in the Research Paper, below). Some example paper titles include:

Euphemism in Milton's Paradise Lost
The Use of the Word God in Wordsworth's Prelude
The Ideology of the Pet Rock
Epic Poetry in the American Northwest
Ideology and Poetics in Byron's "Darkness"
Rhyme in the Beatles' "Let It Be"
If you are not sure whether a particular work's title should be italicised or put within quotation marks, either check with your instructor, look at the course outline, or try to see how others (such as critics in their articles and books) have formatted the title.

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3. In-Text Citation


Punctuation

Punctuation in your MLA style essay should enhance the readibility of your prose as much as possible. Quotes are often (but not always) preceded by a colon. For example:

In his biography, James Wilson writes: "I wasn't aware of my following on the West Coast" (34).

However, this can be changed to suit the flow of your style. The above example could also be written as:

James Wilson wrote that he "wasn't aware" of his West Coast following (34).

Contain all quotations in your text in double quotes, including punctuation. If your quote has a quote inside it, use single quotes for the second quote:

"You know, I couldn't believe it," James Wilson wrote on the event in his biography: "When I heard about my West Coast

following I thought, 'This is some sort of Communist conspiracy!'" (34).

However, if the punctuation is not part of the quoted material, place it outside the quotation marks. Consider the following:

Did James Wilson really think it was all a "Communist conspiracy" (34)?

James Wilson exclaimed: "This is some sort of Communist conspiracy!" (34).

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In-Text Titling of Works Used in the Research Paper

Properly referring to sources in your research paper is essential to indicate the type of text you are working with. Generally, when referring to sources you should not duplicate unusual formatting such as bold type or letter case (all upper or lowercase). Titles will be either italicized or rendered in quotation marks, depending on the nature of the work.


The following works must be italicized (examples are provided):

  • Books (Sense and Sensibility, The Magus)
  • Plays (Mourning Becomes Electra, Alan's Wife, The Importance of Being Earnest)
  • Longer poems published as books (Paradise Lost, Aurora Leigh, The Waste Land)
  • Periodicals (Modern Language Notes, PMLA, Journal of Psychoanalysis)
  • Websites (Wikipedia)
  • Online databases (JSTOR, Sage Publications)
  • Films (Blade Runner, Dude, Where's My Car?, The Matrix)
  • Television programs (The Sopranos, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Simpsons)
  • CDs and albums (Rubber Soul, The Best of Michael Jackson)
  • Works of art (Michelangelo's David, the Mona Lisa)


The following works must be placed in quotation marks (examples are provided):

  • Articles ("Unconscious Cerebration: A Psychological Study", "Orientalism in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land")
  • Encyclopedia Entries ("Onomatopoeia")
  • Essays ("The Critic As Artist", "Reflections on my Forefathers")
  • Book chapters ("Canada Before the Second World War")
  • Stories and poems in larger works ("The Lottery", "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty")
  • TV episodes ("Made in America" [final episode of The Sopranos])
  • Lectures and speeches ("Address to Princeton University's Class of 2001", "Preparing for the Dissertation Defense")

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Frequent Citation of One Text

If you plan to cite a specific work frequently in your paper, you may abbreviate the title after stating it in its entirety once. Thus, P.B. Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" may be referred to as "West Wind" for the duration of your study after your first reference to the work.

Try to abbreviate the title to unique keywords that will stand out to your reader; for example, abbreviating the example to "Ode" and not "West Wind" could confuse your source with other poems you use in your study. "West Wind" is a more unique label.


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Short Quotes

Short quotes are less than four lines of prose and less than 3 lines of verse in your research paper. Short quotes should be integrated into the body of your essay:

"Take this job and shove it," goes the title of a famous song.
George Eliot's Middlemarch refers to a "pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid."
Short quotes are cited parenthetically in the body of your paper using the author's name and page reference. Separate the author's last name from the page number with one space; do not use a comma.
"a pier-glass or extensice surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid" (Eliot 244).
Similarly, if the context of your paper specifies the source you cite, you may leave out the author's name and include only the page number:
George Eliot's Middlemarch refers to a "pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid" (244).
For verse/poetry, you may use a slash with a space on either side to represent line breaks. Remember to preserve the capital letters on new lines:
In his poem "If-," Rudyard Kipling writes: "If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you" (1-2).

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Long Quotes

For longer quotes in your paper (more than four lines of prose and more than 3 lines of verse), try to keep the formatting of your citation as close as possible to the original. Remember that all quotes must be double spaced with the rest of your paper.

For prose, indent the entire quote one inch from the left margin. Do not use quotation marks. It will look something like this:

The Vicar of Wakefield's third chapter opens on a similar note:
 

The only hope of our family now was, that the report of our misfortunes might be malicious or premature: but

a letter from my agent in town soon came with a confirmation of every particular. The loss of fortune to myself

alone would have been trifling; the only uneasiness I felt was for my family, who were to be humble without an

education to render them callous to contempt.

Near a fortnight had passed before I attempted to restrain their affliction; for premature consolation is but

the remembrancer of sorrow. During this interval, my thoughts were employed on some future means of

supporting them; and at last a small Cure of fifteen pounds a year was offered me in a distant neighbourhood,

where I could still enjoy my principles without molestation. (23-4)


For verse, try to keep the original formatting of the poem as much as possible:

In his poem "If-," Rudyard Kipling writes:
 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated, don't give way to hating . . . (1-7)

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Truncating Quotes

Sometimes it is necessary to truncate quotes in the interests of focus or space. MLA style allows you to use an ellipse . . . to delete or alter your quote to align it with your argument. You can see an ellipse on the last line of the Kipling quote above - it tells the reader that critical focus is on the first seven lines in the poem but that the poem is longer. Ellipses must have spaces between each period.

You may also use square brackets [ ] to make it clear to your reader that the text within them does not belong to the original source.

Use square brackets to provide on-the-fly definitions of important or obscure words, or to include contextual information on literary character names, etc:

Laplanche and Pontalis write that puppies are "a great anxiogenic [anxiety-creating] force in the psyche" (44).

Square brackets and ellipses allow you to truncate a quote in the interests of space or focus while retaining content:

For Wordsworth [and his Classical models] both pastoral poet and reader are located in the jarring world of commerce while contemplating the tranquility of the pastoral bower.  And like Virgil, he frequently frames his pastoral excursions by discordant historical events . . . [in this way Wordsworth] assigns to pastoral norms a formative role in the poet’s heroic quest. (Metzger 64-5)

For verse, you may omit entire lines in the following manner:

In his poem "If-," Rudyard Kipling writes:
 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

..................................................................

..................................................................

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated, don't give way to hating... (1-2, 5-7)

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Multiple Works, One Author

If you use more than one work from an author, cite the author's last name as per usual, but follow it with an abbreviation of the work's title. If you use Julia Smith's Canada Before 9/11 as well as her America in 2010, you can cite them as follows:

Julia Smith has made this point in her first post-911 work (Canada 54), and while other commentators have criticized her reasoning as spurious, she has developed and extended her argument in recent years (Smith, America 177).

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Multiple Works in a Citation

You may also refer to more than one source in a parenthetical citation. To include more than one reference for a particular point of your argument, separate them with a semicolon ;. For example:

This point has been argued by several critics (Smith, Canada 32; Jameson and Bercowitz 87; Kehoe, "Sink or Swim" 522).

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Indirect Citation

Sometimes it is not always possible to locate the original sources for material you find in other critical works. In this case, indirect quoting using "qtd. in" allows you to use the material while providing your reader with some source for following up:

Julia Smith's incisive argumentation "ushered in a new way of thinking about North American politics" (qtd. in Jameson and Bercowitz 39).

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Abbreviations

For a complete list of recognized abbreviations, please see section 7 of the MLA Handbook, 7th edition.

Abbreviations are used to save space when referring to collectively known information such as month names, states and provinces, and so on. They are also useful if you cite the same text repeatedly in your research paper.

Generally, the following elements in your paper should be spelled out in the body of your argument but abbreviated in your Works Cited page:

  • Time designations: days, months should be spelled out in the body of your paper but abbreviated in your Works Cited page
  • Geographic Names: states, provinces, countries should be spelled out in the body of your paper but abbreviated in your Works Cited page
  • Scriptural Texts: books of the Bible - New Testament (NT), Old Testament (OT) or Apocrypha, Qu'ran, etc. Not italicized.
  • Works by Shakespeare and Chaucer: Shakespeare's Sonnets are collectively abbreviated Son.


Certain publishers also have acknowledged abbreviations. "University Press" is always abbreviated as UP. Here are some common examples:

Basic (Basic Books)
Cambridge UP (Cambridge University Press)
Knopf (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.)
Norton (W. W. Norton and Co., Inc.)
Oxford UP (Oxford University Press)
State U of New York P (State University of New York Press)

 

Certain other works in literature that have gained universal recognition also have their own abbreviations. Here are some common examples:

Aen. Virgil, Aeneid
Beo. Beowulf
FQ Spenser, The Faerie Queene
GT Swift, Gulliver's Travels
LB Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads
MD Melville, Moby Dick
PL Milton, Paradise Lost
SGGK Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


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Other Relevant Abbreviations

The following is a list of some other common abbreviations you are likely to come upon and/or use in your research:

abbr. abbreviation, abbreviated
abr. abdidged (by), abridgement
anon. anonymous
app. appendix
bib. Biblical
bibliog. bibliographer, bibliography, bibliographic
colloq. colloquial
ed. editor, edited by, edition
e.g.

for example (Lat. exempli grata)

facsim. facsimile
i.e. that is (Lat. id est)
illus. illustration, illustrated by
introd. introduction, introduced by
jour. journal
lang. language
lib. library
lit. literally; literature, literary
narr. narrator, narrated by
n.p. no publisher
n. pag. no pagination
ns new series (for some periodicals)
os old series; original series
p., pp. page, pages (not used before page numbers in parenthetical citation)
par. paragraph
qtd. quoted
rept. reported (by)
rev. review, reviewed (by), reviewer; revision, revised (by)
rpt. reprint, reprinted (by)
sec. (sect.) section
trans. (tr.) transitive; translator, translated (by)
vers. version
vol. volume


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4. Footnotes and Endnotes

Footnotes (notes at the bottom of the page) and endnotes (notes listed after the body of your essay) are two effective ways to include supplemental information to your argument in a nonobtrusive manner. Discuss with your course instructor which format of notes s/he may want you to use for your coursework. Check your individual word processor software for instructions on how to insert footnotes and endnotes.


What footnotes and endnotes should be: notes that clarify and offer useful supplementary information that does not interfere with your main argument. For example, specific definitions of key concepts, offering further citations for more information, and offering historical contextualization may all be included in notes.

What footnotes and endnotes should not be: notes carrying on extended arguments that lead readers away from the main concern of your paper.


Extended content should be incorporated into the body of your paper wherever possible. If that proves difficult, ask yourself whether or not that information is essential to your argument.


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5. The Works Cited Page

The Works Cited page is an important part of your research paper; it organizes your research sources in a way that allows your reader to quickly locate items of interest. The Works Cited page not only allows your readers to verify your sources (where necessary); it also provides new avenues of research to readers who share your intellectual interests.

The Basic Format of the Works Cited Page

The Works Cited page must begin on a new page at the end of the essay, and this page should be numbered normally with the rest of your paper. The most efficient way to do this is to insert a Page Break just before the title using your word processor. The title "Works Cited" (without quotation marks) must be inserted, centre-aligned, at the top of the page. Do not put any extra lines before or after the title.

In a Works Cited entry, every line after the first must be indented a half inch (0.5"). This is also known as a hanging indent.  This format clearly separates the different entries. Do not put any extra lines before or after entries in the Works Cited list. For example:

Abrams, M.H., gen. ed.  The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Major
Authors.  6th ed.  New York: Norton, 1996. Print.
Lee, Alison.   Angela Carter.  New York: Twayne, 1997. Print.

As you can see in the example, you must also specify the nature of each entry in your Works Cited page - whether it is a print publication or an online resource. Add Print. at the end of each print source and Web. at the end of each online entry.

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Citing Different Sources

It is important to be familiar with the different ways to cite sources in your MLA paper. Different media (books, articles, websites) require different formats of citation for your reader to easily access the information you use in your study.

Some basic tips for all formats of citation (differences are noted in each section):

All entries in the Works Cited page are listed in alphabetical order, beginning at A and ending at Z. Wherever possible, authors are listed last name first. When listing different works cited from the same author, those works are also alphabetized in a nested list (see below).

If citing more than one work from the same author, specify the author's name (last, first; see examples below) in its entrety for the first entry. For subsequent entries from that author in your Works Cited page, use three hyphens followed by a period: ---. instead of the author's name (see Books example below).

All editing and translation information (ed. and trans.) should appear directly after each work you refer to. For example:

Zhavinovich, Nikolai. "Do Not Worry." Trans. Robert Pope. Collected Poems of Zhavinovich.

Ed. Miley Cyrus and Paris Hilton. Chattanooga: U of Tennessee P, 1998. 24-29. Print.

Both the poem and anthology have specific translation and editorial information, included after each text. In all cases, the sequencing of ed. and trans. should follow the front page of your source.


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Books

A book entry in an MLA Works Cited page looks like this:

Fanshawe, Sylveen. Disseminating Information in the Computer Age: Critiquing the

Corporations. Ed. Jonathan Freeborn and Sania Singh. New York: Norton, 1991. Print.

---. High Anxiety: Computers and Corporate Stress. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986.

The author's name comes first, last name followed by first name and a period. Enter the author's name as it appears on the title page: if it is initialed ("S. Fanshawe"), then use "Fanshawe, S." in your Works Cited page.The title is italicized with a period, followed by the book edition, volume numbers (if any), editors (if applicable), city, publisher, year and media. Leave one space between each of these elements. The next entry (Computers and Corporations) is an example of a second entry by the same author. Notice that all works from the same author are listed in alphabetical order.


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Articles in Periodicals

Here is an example of an article cited in a Works Cited page:

Brinson, Jeremy. "Modern Architecture in the Western Great Lakes Area." Ontario Historical

Architecture 34.1 (2005): 32-122. Print.

The title of the article and all punctuation are placed within quotes. The periodical title is italicized, followed by volume/issue information (volume 34, issue 1), date, page, and media format. If the periodical you use has no issue numbering, then use the volume number.


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Poems in Anthologies

When citing a poem in an anthology, include information about both the poem and the work it is taken from. For example:

Zhavinovich, Nikolai. "Do Not Worry." Trans. Robert Pope. Collected Poems of Zhavinovich.

Ed. Miley Cyrus and Paris Hilton. Chattanooga: U of Tennessee P, 1998. 24-29. Print.

Both the poem and anthology have specific translation and editorial information included after each text.  

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Anthologies

To cite an anthology, use the name of the editor (or chief/general editor), ed. and any other information (trans., etc). If there is more than one editor, use the first name first (last name/first name), followed by any other editor(s) and editorial/translation information:

Cyrus, Miley and Paris Hilton, ed. and trans. Collected Poems of Zhavinovich. Chattanooga: U

of Tennessee P, 1998. Print. 

 

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Webpages/Websites

Citing Web publications can be especially challenging. Web addresses change, page content can be changed "on-the-fly", content can be password-protected and there is no consistent standard for scholarly Web resources. Because of this, you should take extra care to document your Web sources so they can be found easily.

The MLA 7th ed. (p. 182) deprecates the inclusion of URLs in your Works Cited page. You should only include the Web address if the source appears challenging to find using other avenues of research. Web publications should contain the following information in this order: author/editor, title, Web site title (if different from the title of the work), version or edition (if applicable), site publisher/sponsor (use N.p. if no information is given). You can look up the following example:

Rajan, Tilottama. “‘The Abyss of the Past:’ Psychoanalysis in Schelling’s Ages of the World (1815).” Romantic

Circles Praxis Series. University of Maryland. December, 2008. Web. 4 July 2010. < http://www.rc.umd.edu/

praxis/psychoanalysis/index.html>. 

In the above example, as mentioned, the URL is optional. In all cases, however, check with your instructor.

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TV/Film

When citing television programs, include the following information in this order: episode/segment title (in quotes), editor/performance/narration credits, program/series title (in italics), network, TV station call letters (if applicable), broadcast date, media (here, "Television"), and any other relevant information.

"Rush: Ambassadors of Canadian Rock." Narr. Harold Plato. Canadian Rock Music in Perspective. CBC,

5 May 2003. Television. 

For films, include the title (in italics), director, distributor, release date, and specific media (here "Film"). After the director's name you can include supplementary information if you like (performers, screenwriter, the film's original release date etc).
Blade Runner (Director's Cut). Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young. 1980. Warner, 2009.

 

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Graphic Novels

Citing a graphic novel is similar to citing a book source. However, graphic novels are often produced collaboratively with illustrators, letterers, and so forth. If a graphic novel has only one author, list the entry as you would a book. Otherwise, list collaborators in the order in which they appear on the title page.

Gaiman, Neil, writer. The Books of Magic. Illus. John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess and Paul Johnson. Letters

by Todd Klein. Intro. Roger Zelazny.New York: DC-Vertigo Comics, 1993. Print.  

Performances

A performance (play, concert, opera) is cited with the performance name first, followed by relevant information similar to a film citation:

Heartbreak Hotel. By Ellis Grandin. Dir. Janine Howell. Perf. Johnson Metrick, Alisha Kudari. Golden Turnstile Theater

Company. Hafneger International Theatre, Frankfurt, 5 May 2001. Performance.

 


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