How to Write MLA Citation: Format your Documents in these Simple Steps

The importance of adding a citation to your written research cannot be overemphasized. It does not only get your work to stand out, but it also gives accord to whom it is due.

In this article, we have discussed what an MLA citation is, and how to write an MLA citation.

Get ready to format your document using the steps listed in this article.

What is an MLA Citation?

MLA is one of the most common citation styles used by students and academics. It was developed as a means for researchers, students, and scholars in the literature and language fields to uniformly format their papers and assignments.

The MLA citation is a method to developing a paper or assignment, allowing for easy reading.

The Modern Language Association released the 9th and most current edition of their MLA Handbook in April 2021.

Also, the Handbook provides thorough instructions on citing, as well as guidelines for submitting work that adheres to the Modern Language Association’s rules and standards.

It standardizes the way scholars document their sources and format their papers. When everyone documents their sources and papers in the same way, it is simple to recognize and understand the types of sources used for a project.

When you’re borrowing information from a source and placing it in your research or assignment, it’s important to give credit to the original author. This is done by creating an MLA citation.

Depending on the type of information you’re including in your work, you may place citations in the body of your project and in a works-cited list at the end of your project.

Why are MLA Citations Important?

MLA citations are of utmost importance. Here are some reasons why-

  • MLA parenthetical citations are essential because they give credit where credit is due. If you don’t, then you are plagiarizing someone else’s work.
  • MLA citations also allow readers to find the sources you used to write your paper in your references.
  • MLA citations include the author’s name, the title, publisher, year published, page numbers, URLs that aid your writing.
  • MLA citations show that you are a responsible researcher and that you located appropriate and reputable sources that support the thesis or claim.
  • If your work ends up being posted online or in print, there is a chance that others will use your research project in their own work.
  • When scholars and researchers in literature, language, and numerous other fields all cite their sources in the same manner, it makes it easier for readers to look for a citation and understand the difference.

How to write MLA Citation?

There are several ways to write MLA citations. They would be discussed below-

Using In-text Citation

An in-text citation is used when you want to refer to, summarize, paraphrase, or quote from another source. For every in-text citation in your paper, there must be a corresponding entry in your reference list.

In MLA, in-text citations are inserted in the body of your research paper to briefly document the source of your information. Brief in-text citations point the reader to more complete information in the Works Cited list at the end of the paper.

In-text citations include the last name of the author followed by a page number enclosed in parentheses. “Here’s a direct quote” (Smith 8). If the author’s name is not given, then use the first word or words of the title. Follow the same formatting that was used in the Works Cited list, such as quotation marks. This is a paraphrase (“Trouble” 22).

MLA in-text citation style uses the author’s last name and the page number from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken, for example: (Smith 163). If the source does not use page numbers, do not include a number in the parenthetical citation: (Smith).

Example of a paragraph with in-text citation

A few researchers in the linguistics field have developed training programs designed to improve native speakers’ ability to understand accented speech (Joshua et al. 246; Thomas 15).

Their training techniques are based on the research described above indicating that comprehension improves with exposure to non-native speech. Joshua and others conducted their training with students preparing to be social workers, but note that other professionals who work with non-native speakers could benefit from a similar program (258).


Joshua, Tracey M., et al. “Teaching Native Speakers to Listen to Foreign-accented Speech.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, vol. 23, no. 4, 2002, pp. 245-259.

Thomas, Holly K. Training Strategies for Improving Listeners’ Comprehension of Foreign-accented Speech. The University of Colorado, Boulder, 2004.

Citing web pages In-Text

You can site web pages in text as you would any other source, using the author if known. If the author is not known, use the title as the in-text citation.

Your in-text citation should lead your reader to the corresponding entry in the reference list. Below are examples of using in-text citation with web pages.

General Guidelines

In MLA citation style the author’s name can be included either in the narrative text of your paper or in parentheses following the reference to the source.

You can use-

Author’s name part of the narrative- Henry and Varonis found that the most important element in comprehending non-native speech is familiarity with the topic (163).

Author’s name in Parentheses- One study found that the most important element in comprehending non-native speech is familiarity with the topic (Henry and Varonis 163).

The group as author- (American Psychological Association 123)

Multiple works– (separate each work with semi-colons)- Research shows that listening to a particular accent improves comprehension of accented speech in general (Henry and Varonis 143; Thomas 24).

Direct quote- “One study found that “the listener’s familiarity with the topic of discourse greatly facilitates the interpretation of the entire message” (Henry and Varonis 85). Henry and Varonis found that “the listener’s familiarity with the topic of discourse greatly facilitates the interpretation of the entire message” (85).”

Works by multiple authors

When citing works by multiple authors, always spell out the word “and.” When a source has three or more authors, only the first one shown in the source is normally given followed by et al.

One author: (Field 399)

Works Cited entry:

Field, John. “Intelligibility and the Listener: The Role of Lexical Stress.” TESOL Quarterly, vol. 39, no. 3, 2005, pp. 399-423.

Two authors: (Henry and Varonis 67)

Works cited entry:

Henry, Susan, and Evangeline M. Varonis. “The Effect of Familiarity on the Comprehensibility of Nonnative Speech.” Language Learning, vol. 34, no. 1, 1984, pp. 65-89.

Three or more authors: (Munro et al. 70)

Works cited entry:

Munro, Murray J., et al. “Salient Accents, Covert Attitudes: Consciousness-raising for Pre-service Second Language Teachers.” Prospect, vol. 21, no. 1, 2006, pp. 67-79.

Unknown Author

Where you’d normally put the author’s last name, instead use the first one, two, or three words from the title. Don’t count initial articles like “A”, “An” or “The”. You should provide enough words to make it clear which word you’re referring to from your Works Cited list.

If the title in the Works Cited list is in italics, italicize the words from the title in the in-text citation. If the title in the Works Cited list is in quotation marks, put quotation marks around the words from the title in the in-text citation.

Example- (Cell Biology 12)

In-text citation for more than one source

If you would like to cite more than one source within the same in-text citation, simply record the in-text citations as normal and separate them with a semi-colon.

Examples- (Smith 42; Bennett 71). (It Takes Two; Brock 43).

Quoting directly

When you quote directly from a source, enclose the quoted section in quotation marks. Add an in-text citation at the end of the quote with the author’s name and the page number.

Example- “Mother-infant attachment has been a leading topic of developmental research since John Bowlby found that “children raised in institutions were deficient in emotional and personality development” (Hunt 358).”

No page numbers

When you quote from electronic sources that do not provide page numbers (like web pages), cite the author name only.

“Three phases of the separation response: protest, despair, and detachment” (Garelli).

Long Quotations

If your quotation extends to more than four lines as you’re typing your essay, it is a long quotation.

Rules for Long Quotations

There are 4 rules that apply to long quotations that are different from regular quotations:

  • #The line before your long quotation, when you’re introducing the quote, usually ends with a colon.
  • #The long quotation is indented half an inch from the rest of the text, so it looks like a block of text.
  • #There are no quotation marks around the quotation.
  • #The period at the end of the quotation comes before your in-text citation as opposed to after, as it does with regular quotations.


At the end of Lord of the Flies, the boys are struck with the realization of their behavior: “The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body.

His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. (Golding 186)”


When you write information or ideas from a source in your own words, cite the source by adding an in-text citation at the end of the paraphrased portion.

Paraphrasing from One Page

Include a full in-text citation with the author’s name and the page number. Example:

Mother-infant attachment became a leading topic of developmental research following the publication of John Bowlby’s studies (Hunt 65).

Paraphrasing from Multiple Pages

If the paraphrased information/idea is from several pages, include them.

Example- “Mother-infant attachment became a leading topic of developmental research following the publication of John Bowlby’s studies (Hunt 50, 55, 65-71).”

Signal phrases

Readers should be able to move from their own words to the words you quote without feeling an abrupt shift. Signal phrases provide clear signals to prepare the readers for the quotation. If you refer to the author’s name in a sentence you do not have to include the name again as part of your in-text citation, instead include the page number (if there is one) at the end of the quotation or paraphrased section.

Example- “Hunt explains that mother-infant attachment has been a leading topic of developmental research since John Bowlby found that “children raised in institutions were deficient in emotional and personality development” (358).

Repeated use of sources

If you’re using information from a single source more than once in succession you can use a simplified in-text citation.

Example- “Cell biology is an area of science that focuses on the structure and function of cells (Smith 15). It revolves around the idea that the cell is a “fundamental unit of life” (17). Many important scientists have contributed to the evolution of cell biology. Mattias Jakob Schleiden and Theodor Schwann, for example, were scientists who formulated cell theory in 1838 (20).”

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you format the header in MLA?

In doing this, you need to begin one inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin, type your name, your instructor’s name, the course name, and number, and the date on separate lines, using double spaces between each, double-space once more and center the title.

What paper choice can I use for MLA citation?

While many professors, instructors, and publications allow electronic submission, some prefer printed, hard copies of papers. This section focuses on the type of paper to use for printed submission. If you choose to print your paper, use white paper only. Do not use ivory, off-white, or any other shades or colors. Choose a standard, high-quality paper to print your project on. Do not use cardstock. It is not necessary to use résumé paper. Use typical, high-quality printer or copy paper.

What inch margins can I use in MLA?

Use one-inch margins around the entire page. The running head should be the only item seen in the one-inch margin.

How do I indent paragraphs in MLA?

Indent the first word in every paragraph. Sentences should begin one-half inch from the left margin.

Can I double-space paragraphs in MLA

MLA research paper format requires that the entire research paper or MLA format essay includes double-spaced lines. Double-spaced lines should be found in between the written body of the work, in the heading, and also on the MLA reference page.

What font and font size is best for MLA

In an MLA paper, it is acceptable to use any font type that is easy to read. Many source types, such as books and articles, use fonts that are easy to read, so if you’re seeking an appropriate font style, look at other sources for guidance. Two of the most commonly used fonts are Arial and Times New Roman.


Citations do not need to always start with the name of the author. When your research focuses on a specific individual that is someone other than the author, it is appropriate for readers to see that individual’s name at the beginning of the citation.

This is a full guide to writing MLA citations.


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