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MLA Citations: MLA: The Core Elements

A guide to writing and citing

MLA 8th Edition: All About the Container

There has been no shift in focus for the new edition of the MLA handbook; it is more about clarifying processes of the previous edition. Whereas previous editions of the handbook prior to the 8th edition, concentrated on examples for each specific source, the 9th edition clarifies the 8th edition's process of documentation. “When the source being documented forms a part of a larger whole, the larger whole can be thought of as a container that holds the source. The container is crucial to the identification of the source” (MLA Handbook 30). The essential elements and the order of placement per citation as required in the MLA handbook, 9th ed., are listed below.

  1. Author.
  2. Title of source.
  3. Title of container,
  4. Contributor,
  5. Version,
  6. Number,
  7. Publisher,
  8. Publication date,
  9. Location.

There are no significant changes in formatting for the 9th ed. of MLA; the 9th edition was written to provide clarification of the changes that came with the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook.

Author is used to reference the creator of the content. As such, the author or authors shall be listed first. Formatting for authors remains unchanged from previous edition of the handbook. Authors shall be listed last name, then first and middle initial (if there is one) followed by a period.

Billings, Michael. The Doctor and Amy Pond: A Bedtime Story.

For two authors, list the authors in the order that they appear on the source. Reverse the first author’s name (last name, fist name) and then list second as it appears in the source.

Cage, John, and Marcel Duchamp. R Mutt and Radio Static.

For multiple authors, three or more, reverse the first author’s name and use comma then et al.

Little, Vernon, et al. Jungle Thudderings and Percussive Elephants.

Editors are not considered authors or creators; they are assemblers, their purpose is to gather materials and organize them into a cohesive container. Since they are not the creator but assembler, they must be labeled hence the designation, editor. Editors are listed similar to authors and follow the same formula: for single editor and first listed editor, names are inverted, subsequent editors’ names are written as they appear on the container and for multiple editors, list only the first editor followed by et al.

Hoover, Paul, editor. Postmodern American poetry: a Norton anthology

For two editors, you reverse the name of only the first editor and keep the second editor’s name as it appears on the cover or title page.

Barr, Jason and Camille D.G. Mustachio, editors. The language of Doctor Who: from Shakespeare to Alien Tongues.

Multiple editors follow the same format as multiple authors; the first editor is listed followed by et al.

Pound, Ezra, et al., editors. Imagists in China.



The next element in the process is the title. Titles are located near the author and have standardized capitalization and punctuation for subtitles. Regarding capitalization, all substantial words should be capitalized, i.e., nouns and verbs; articles, coordinating conjunctions and prepositions when they do not start or end  a title or subtitle should be lower case. Punctuation between title and subtitle is standardized and should be a colon.

The World of Vernon God Little: A Powerful Learning

Books titles are italicized; however, individual selections from an anthology or collective work, require quotations while the title of the container itself, is italicized.

The Doctor and Amy Pond: A Bedtime StoryLanguage of Doctor Who: From Shakespeare to Alien Tongues,

As mentioned above, individual essays or stories from larger containers should be identified using quotations. Likewise articles from journals, magazines or newspapers should also be in quotations while the periodical title should be italicized.

The Nocturnal Murmurings of a Left Footed Pianist: Ostinatos and Ospreys.” Journal of Somnambulistic Psychology,

Titles for periodicals, e.g., journals, magazines, and newspapers, are always italicized and followed volume, issue, date and pages. Location concerns where the information is found. In terms of article or short essay, page numbers function as the locator; page numbers direct the reader to where the information is found. For online sources, either from databases or websites, the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) or URL (for databases the permalink) guide the reader to the information.

Journal of Somnambulistic Psychology, vol. 35, no. 13, Feb. 2013, pp.29-43. PsycINFO, https://doi:11.3949/jsp.2013.35.13.29.

Websites or web pages follow a similar format: creator, title, publisher, date, URL and date accessed.

Larson, Larry, project lead, Didier Garcia, art direction & design, Jack Freudenheim, programming. John Cage. The John Cage

                       Trust, 1993-2017,

For personal websites, the required information is the same, except the publisher is no longer requisite since the site is generally self-published.

Henriksen, Arve. Arve Henriksen. 2015,


In text citations are references to another author's work within the body of a paper. These citations can either be direct quotes or paraphrasing of the author's work. They are often referred to as parenthetical citations. In text citations can be incorporated into papers through two different techniques. The first technique uses the author's name in a signal phrase. A signal phrase informs the reader of an upcoming paraphrase or quote by using the author's or creator's name to segue into the material. The other technique is to use a parenthetical with the author's or creator's name immediately after the paraphrase or quotation. Each parenthetic requires a page number. In the event that there is no pagination, as is the case with most websites, the handbook suggests using chapter or paragraph numbers when no page numbers are available, but only if the chapter or paragraphs are explicitly included in the original text. If there are no page, chapter, paragraph, or section numbers in the original text, then no numbers should be included in the citation.

Author's name used in a signal phrase or as a parenthetical:

  • Single author signal phrase: According to Jensen, Cage used chance operations initially to organize the pre-composed charts for his composition Music for Changes in 1951 (97).
  • Single author parenthetical: Chance operations allowed Cage to introduce random events into a controlled system (Jensen 97).

Two to three authors used in signal phrase or as a parenthetical; if there are three authors used in a parenthetical citation, separate them with commas.

  • Two authors in a signal phrase: As Havens and Ghaemi state "the kind of depression...patients experience is not simply recurrent major depressive episodes, separated by periods of euthymia, but...chronic, unremitting depresssion..."(138).
  • Two authors parenthetical: "It is our view that many bipolar may not have clinical depression viewed as endogenus disease entity, but rather they may be suffering from clinical "despair," as defined by existential philosophers Soren Kierkegaard and Karl Jaspers" (Havens and Ghaemi 138).

Multiple authors used in signal phrase or as a parenthetical:

  • Multiple authors in a signal phrase: In the course of their research, Lazarinis, et al., have found that the increased demand for non-English web documents is creating major issues for search engines (230).
  • Multiple authors parenthetical: "Search engines crawl the Web and fetch documents which are then indexed and included in their databases" (Lazarinis, et al. 231).

Government agency or Corporation as an author for an in-text citation:

  • Government Agency or Corporation in a signal phrase: Agoraphobia according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is an intense fear of being trapped in inescapable situations that ultimately leads to the avoidance of situations where this may occur. 
  • Government Agency or Corporation parenthetical: The onset of Agoraphobia occurs around the age of twenty and strickens approximately 1.8 million adults (National Institute of Mental Health).

When a source has no known author, use a shortened title of the work. Place the title in quotation marks if it's a short work (such as an article) or italicize it if it's a longer work (e.g. plays, books, television shows, entire Web sites) and provide a page number if it is available. 

  • Article from website with an unknown author in a signal phrase: According to the article, "Lab-Grown Meat a Reality, But Who Will Eat It?," the idea for lab grown meat has been around for centuries and has been used in science fiction novels as well.
  • Article from a website with an unknown author as a parenthetical: Biologist Vladamir Mironov has been producing "shmeat" in formless sheets for years ( Lab-Grown Meat).


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