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MLA Citation Guide: MLA Best Practices

Curry Library's guide for the Modern Language Association (MLA) citation style.

MLA Best Practices

1). Always write for the convenience of your audience

In most cases, WJC students will be using MLA citations in a class assignment. While this guide may provide general guidance on citation best practices and examples for MLA, always consult with your course syllabus and instructor on what their preferences are for citations in course assignments.

2). Be consistent

No matter which style you use, apply the style consistently to your paper. This will add to the convenience of your reader (i.e. your instructor) in reading and grading your assignment.

3). Have a process in place

It is highly recommended that you save/organize your sources' citations throughout your research process rather than saving that work for the end. This will ensure you don't lose any sources that might be useful, and you aren't rushing to finish your citations properly at the last minute. 

A digital object identifier (DOI) is a more permanent link attached to a published source by a publisher (ex. a journal article or an online web site). Typically, DOIs are more stable and reliable to link to than a web page's uniform resource locator (URL) found commonly in the address bar of your browser. URLs may change, but DOIs rarely do.

For this reason, when citing an online work in a database or website use a DOI when made available by the publisher. If a DOI is not present, including the title of the database AND a permalink or stable link made available by a publisher or library database is the next best thing.

When citing a DOI, a number will often be presented link this:

ex. 10.12738/estp.2016.1.2837

If not present, add the following string to precede the resource's DOI:

Thus, a cited DOI should look link this:

For more information on the use of DOIs vs. URLs, please consult pgs 188 and 194 of the MLA Handbook (9th edition).

Titles of works in MLA 9th should be stylized differently depending on their nature as either a complete or independent work, or as a contained or dependent work that is part of an independent work. Independent works should generally be italicized and dependent works should be in "quotation marks" to indicate their status. Some common examples of both types of works below:

Independent Works

  • Book Titles
  • Journal/Magazine/Periodical Titles
  • Film Titles
  • TV Show Titles
  • Online Video Titles

Dependent Works

  • Chapter Titles
  • Anthology Chapter Titles (even if the work being cited, such as a short story, is its own independent work)
  • Article Titles
  • TV Episode Titles
  • A Specific Part of an Online Video

Whenever using a citation generation tool found online or in a library resource, remember to double check the elements and style of the citation. These include:

  • The edition of the citation style
  • The punctuation (commas, periods, quotation marks, etc.)
  • The stylization (italics, URLs/DOIs)
  • Spacing between elements

Also double check on the edition of the citation style being used by each generation tool. This guide utilizes the current edition of MLA (9th), but many library databases still generate citations using the 8th edition. Differences between the two styles may be minimal, but if your instructor is requiring the most recent edition of MLA be aware you may need to convert any auto-generated citations.

Formatting Quick Tip

When formatting a works cited or bibliography, using the keyboard shortcut CTRL (Windows) or Command (macOS/iPadOS) + T on highlighted text in a word processor (such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs) will convert the highlighted text to a hanging indent.