Note: This is an advanced guide to MLA, useful for professional editors, academics, and students looking to bump up their grades with flawless referencing! If you’re new to MLA and feel a little lost, check out our introduction to MLA referencing. For extra help from MLA experts, try our student proofreading services for free, or learn more about our editing services for businesses.
The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is based on the MLA Handbook. It uses in-text citations and a works cited list to reference and cite sources. This style is mostly used for humanities subjects like English literature and communications.
This guide includes all information related to MLA 9th edition. Please check with the customer if they do not clarify which edition they require. If they do not specify an edition, then use this guide to make your edits and add a note for the customer to check with their institution which edition they should use.
Also, pay attention to the requested dialect (usually US, Australian, or UK English) and note:
If you find any information missing in this guide, please consult MLA’s official website to browse their FAQs and resources.
MLA in-text citations use the author’s last name and the page number. For narrative citations, the author’s first and last names should be used when the author is first mentioned in the text, with the page number going at the end of the sentence. Subsequent narrative citations by the same author only use their last name. Page numbers are required for direct quotes and paraphrased information.
Therefore, there are two basic forms for in-text and narrative citations in MLA:
If the source does not use a page number system, such as a script or poetry, use the relevant label in the citation.
If the source has two authors, use “and” between their names. If the source has three or more authors, only write out the first author’s last name and use “et al.”
NB: If the narrative citation is the first use of a person/author’s name in the text, then both their names (first and surname) should be given.. If the first mention of a person’s name is in a parenthetical citation, then the subsequent mention in the text needs to use their first and surname.
If you have two or more authors with the same last name, add their first initial to in-text citations to distinguish between them. If they have the same initial, then write out their first names in full.
The customer can choose how to distinguish between authors with the same name and first initial, so long as there is no confusion. If the customer is not consistent, then apply a consistent approach and leave a comment.
If multiple works by the same author are cited, use a shortened form of the work’s title after the author’s last name in the in-text citation. Put a comma between the author’s last name and the work’s title, and format the title as it appears in the works cited list..
If the customer cites more than one source in an in-text citation, the sources should be separated by semicolons. MLA states that the order in which the customer lists multiple sources in a citation is up to the customer (e.g., they can be listed alphabetically or in order of importance).
If the customer does not order multiple sources consistently, leave a comment advising them of this.
If there is no author for a source, then list the title of that work, which should be formatted as in the works cited list. In the in-text citation, use a shortened phrase or title (again formatted correctly) as appropriate.
To shorten a title for an in-text citation, exclude any articles. Only use the first word or phrase (as needed) in the citation so the entry can be found on the works cited page. Additionally, if the title is in quotation marks or italics in the entry, reflect this in the citation.
For electronic sources, page numbers do not need to be included in in-text citations. Cite the author’s name or the title of the work only.
However, if the source is a paginated document but the page it appears on is not numbered, describe the cited page in the prose instead of creating a page number.
If the text is a direct quote or paraphrased, a page number or another suitable marker should be included in the in-text citation. Leave a note to the customer if this information is missing.
If you’re presented with a reference to a work within a work (i.e., the customer hasn’t read the original but has come across it as a reference in another), this is a secondary citation.
When citing a secondary source in MLA 9th, both the original and secondary sources should be mentioned in the text. However, you should only list the secondary source in the works cited list entry. MLA requires authors to use the abbreviation qtd. in (“quoted in”) before the indirect source cited in the parenthetical reference.
NB: Secondary sources are generally discouraged. However, sometimes authors cannot access the original source for various reasons (e.g., the source isn’t available, is out of print, or published in another language). You should leave a comment suggesting that the customer try to find the original source and refer to that if possible.
MLA does not use a reference list or bibliography page; instead, it uses a works cited page. All sources referenced in the document should be listed in the works cited page, which should appear at the end of the document and on a separate page.
Each entry on the works cited page should be listed alphabetically, ignoring articles for organization names or entries with no author.
Like all referencing systems, MLA has specific requirements for works cited pages. Here are some that you will need to check while proofreading.
General Works Cited Requirements to Check while Proofreading
Writing Page Numbers
Capitalization and Punctuation
Author Names in the Works Cited List
Authors with Stage Names or Pseudonyms
This is new to MLA 9th ed., so please take note, as many authors use stage names and pseudonyms.
MLA has 10 core elements that can be included in all entries (elements three through nine are called “containers” in MLA style):
The concept of containers is relatively unique to MLA style. When the source being documented forms part of a larger whole, the larger whole is the container. For example, if a short story is a source, the anthology it is included in is the container. There can be more than one container in an entry.
NB: Only authors, the title of source and the end element should have periods following (assuming there is no supplemental element). All other elements use commas. Additionally, only capitalize an element if it is a proper noun, the title of a source/container, or if the element follows a period.
If you cannot find an example for a particular type of source, use the following as a guide:
At the end of this guide is an alphabetical list of sources you can use. If you come across a source that is not specified in this guide, please use the Containers and Core Elements Explained table above to format the source accordingly.
The key is to be consistent. Please leave comments to the customer if anything is missing or does not follow any guidelines in this guide.
Keep in mind that a customer may have specific guidelines from their institution that deviate from the guidance listed here. Here are some things to consider if you have a document that requires MLA 9th ed. but differs from advice given in this guide:
Abbreviations in citations/the works cited list?
Figures and tables?
Endnotes and footnotes?
Since the document is most likely from a student, you cannot do any level of editing to avoid plagiarism. This includes:
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