• 3-minute read
  • 13th December 2015

How to Reference a Book – MLA Style

Referencing your sources clearly is vital in academic writing. However, the correct format for citations depends on the referencing system used.

Herein, we run through the basics of referencing a book using the Modern Language Association (MLA) system. MLA referencing is commonly seen in the fields of language and literature, so if you’re studying these topics you will probably come across MLA references.

Books with a Single Author

The most basic citations are for sources with a single author. In these cases, you need to identify the author and the page number of the passage cited:

Virginia Woolf ‘resented being denied the formal education given to her brothers’ (Rainey 827).

Note that there is no comma between the author name and page number. If you have named the author in the text, though, you only need to give the page number in the bracketed citation. For instance:

According to Lawrence Rainey, Virginia Woolf ‘resented being denied the formal education given to her brothers’ (827).

Cited texts must be recorded with full bibliographic information on a ‘Works Cited’ page. For a book, this requires specifying the following

Surname, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Year of Publication.

As such, the text cited in the example above would appear as:

Rainey, Lawrence. Modernism. Blackwell, 2005.

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Books with Multiple Authors

The basic format for books with two authors is the same as above, except that you include both author names in the citations and on the ‘Works Cited’ page. In-text citations therefore appear like this:

Owls and humans enjoyed ‘a tolerably happy relationship for centuries’ (Sparks and Gillmor 99).

When giving full source information on the ‘Works Cited’ page, you only need to reverse the names of the first author named:

Sparks, John, and Robert Gillmor. Owls. David & Charles, 1970.

When a book has three or more authors, MLA recommends using ‘et al.’ for all citations. For example, we would cite a book by Tim Tinker, Tom Tailor, Jane Soldier and Jude Spy as follows:

Nursery rhymes are decreasing in popularity (Tinker et al. 42).

MLA conventions for using ‘et al.’ in the ‘Works Cited’ list are the same, so a book with three or more authors would appear as:

Tinker, Tim, et al. A History of Nursery Rhymes. PMD Publications, 2013.

The rules for using ‘et al.’ were updated in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. As such, you should check your university style guide if you’re unsure about which version they’re using.

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