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Using Sources

Tips for documenting your sources

MLA Style

The Modern Language Association, or MLA, maintains a style sheet called MLA Style, currently in its 8th edition. MLA Style provides guidelines for formatting documents and citing sources in text and in a works-cited list. MLA Style is typically used in humanities, language, and literature courses.

Why Use MLA?

  • Unified style of documentation, tone, formatting, etc. allows readers to focus on ideas rather than unfamiliar formatting.
  • Clear communication allows you to join an academic conversation--you want to speak the same language as everyone else to avoid confusion.
  • Documentation of sources gives credit where credit is due, establishes your credibility and your place in the conversation, and enables readers to go to the sources you used for further reading.
  • MLA is used primarily in the liberal arts and humanities fields.

When to Cite

In your college career, you will be expected to cite all of the sources you use in your papers. Don’t just cite sources that you directly quote!

The only exception: commonly known facts. So what would be considered a “commonly known fact”? It depends on the audience of your research paper. If you read the same fact in multiple sources, then you wouldn’t have to cite it, since for your audience it would be commonly known. But when in doubt, cite it.

Steps to Citing

  1. Keep track of publication info as you read.
  2. Determine specifically what types of sources you have. Online or print articles? From a library database? Books with one author or more, or none? etc.
  3. Look up the format for those types of sources in your manual or web resource, using table of contents, index, or search tools.
  4. Follow the instructions precisely, paying close attention to punctuation and italicization. 

In-Text Citation

In-text citations mean that you have quoted, paraphrased, or summarized someone else’s ideas in your paper, and so now you need to give them credit for those words.

Your in-text citations will direct the reader to the works cited list (at the end of the paper) to find all the information for the source.

(two options)

1. Naming the author in the sentence (with page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence):

 Meryl Johnson maintains that “pollution is not just going to disappear” (17).

(Note: Use the author’s first and last name the first time you mention them, unless you’re using a parenthetical citation (and then it’s only ever last name, no first).

Do not include the page number if one does not exist.

2. Providing a parenthetical citation (author and page number in parentheses):

The author maintains that “pollution is not just going to disappear” (Johnson 17).

The page number where the quote came from is inside parenthesesThe period goes outside the parentheses.

Organization as source:

(Natl. Research Council 15).

Indirect sources

Samuel Johnson admitted that Edmund Burke was an “extraordinary man” (qtd. in Boswell 450).

Four or more authors:

Legal experts counter Smith, Yang, and Moore's argument by noting that the current spike in gun violence in America compels lawmakers to adjust gun laws (Jones et al. 4).

Check out one of the resources on the left for more information on citing your sources. Click here to see a sample essay.

Signal Phrases

A signal phrase helps to introduce the source and visually cues your reader that you are about to introduce somebody else’s ideas.

(Author referenced in sentence): According to Shawn Hayes, “videogames may be educational” (23).

                                             or

(Author in parentheses): According to the author, "video games may be educational" (Hayes 23).

The signal phrase “according to Shawn Hayes” lets the reader know where your ideas stop and your source’s ideas begin.

(Note: MLA style requires authors to use present tense when using signal phrases.)

One or multiple authors: 

In the sentence                                                         In parentheses

 One:   Lunsford states                                (Lunsford 31).

 Two:   Lunsford and Brody state                 (Lunsford and Brody 31).

 Three+: Lunsford et al. state                       (Lunsford et al. 31).

Here are some other common verbs that can be used in signal phrases: claims, argues, asserts, agrees, believes, has found, identifies, discusses, concludes, observes, suggests, reports, emphasizes

Works Cited

The list of sources at the end of your paper should be titled "Works Cited." Click here for a great sample essay. Check out the sources listed on the left to find out how to cite any kind of source. 

MLA 8th Edition divides listings in the Works Cited page into basic Core Elements. Include all that are relevant. Leave out any that the citation does not have.

  1. Author.
  2.  Title. (e.g. article title)
  3.  Title of container. (e.g. journal or website title)
  4.  Other contributors,
  5.  Version,
  6.  Number,
  7.  Publisher,
  8.  Publication date,
  9.  Location.

Author. Title. Title of container. Other contributors, Version, Number,

            Publisher, Publication date, Location.

(Note: The indention is called a hanging-indent. Everything after the first line is indented 1 tab space.)

 Alphabetize by the first author’s last name.

 If there is no author, begin the citation with the title.

 One author:                 Last, First.

 Two authors:               Last, First, and First Last.

 Three or more:            Last, First, et al.

             Author’s role:                Last, First, editor.

Title:

 Include all words, including subtitles. 

 Italics are used if work stands alone. 

 "Quotation marks" go around a work that is contained within another stand-alone work, ie. an article in a journal.

More complicated examples:

Two containers:

Author. Title. Title of 1st container. Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location. Title of 2nd
    container. Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location. 

Other contributors could be:

 Translated by
 Directed by
 Performed by
ie. Andrea Lunsford, ed.

Version:
           
 2nd ed.,

Number:
            
 Volume: vol. 8, 
             Number: no. 4,

Publisher:

 Omit if it is the same as the title of the container.

Publication date:

 5 Mar. 2016,

Location:

 One page: p. 31.
 Multiple pages: pp. 31-46.

 URLs:  (omit http:// and https://)

 Access date: (The date you accessed the information. This is used because online sources frequently change or edit contents. Online sources of print documents that will not be changed do not require an accessed date. If you are confused, ask you instructor for specific requirements):

Accessed 3 Feb. 2017.

Here is an example works cited page that demonstrates appropriate layout and rules for creating a source list:

 

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