mla overview & facts

    For those of you who have no idea what MLA is and why its important or for those of you who think MLA sounds slightly familiar but stil don't have a clue, here is a quick guide to help you sort it all out.
    Who or What is MLA Style and Documentation?  
    MLA stands for the Modern Language Association of America.  This is a group of teachers and scholars who work together to strengthen teaching in the fields of language and literature. 
    So why are they so important?   They created a publication called The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers that is a book of commonly agreed-on rules for researching, writing,documenting and formatting researched publications.  This Handbook is used by colleges and universities throughout the world.  The Handbook continues to be updated to reflect changing times, including how to document electronic sources with the spread of the Internet starting in the 1990s.
    MLA will be style that you will be asked to follow as you submit formal writing assignments in my class this year.  
    When do I use it and why?
    • Any time you prepare a formal writing assignment for my class, you will use MLA style. 
    • This means that your paper will include both forms of MLA documentation:  1) A Works Cited List  and 2) In-Text or parenthetical documentation. 
    • In addition, your final paper will be formatted using MLA style.  These style guidelines will tell you how to set up title pages and headings, how to add page numbers, how your paper should look on the page (margins, font, spacing, numbers, ect).
    • Just like there are certain rules everyone follows when filling out job applications or appyling for a driver's license, writing researched papers requires some rules to make sure everyone is meeting the same standards.  No matter where you go,  MLA Style and Documentation will be the same. 
    • Following a set of standards shows teachers that you are capable of following directions and producing a professional, well-planned paper or project. 
    • Using MLA style and documentation correctly also protects you from accusations of Plagiarism--borrowing someone else's words or ideas and passng them off as your own--an academic crime that will at mimimum give you a zero for an assignment and at maximum will result in additional disciplinary action.
    How do I use it correctly?
    Realistically, there is nothing easy or exciting about learning and using MLA style and documentation.  There are many small details involved down to the placement of periods, spacing, and underlining.  If you think it's complicated and boring--join the crowd.  However, it is necessary.  Knowing the basics will help you greatly. 
    Don't sweat the small stuff; as long as you have the basics down, the good news is that there are literally thousands of resources available to help you including handbooks and web-sites--like this one!
    Do I actually need to remember all this?
    YES--and NO.  The biggest battle is recognizing that there is a standard way you must document your research and format your paper.  As you write more papers using MLA style, some of the rules will come naturally and you won't have to struggle to remember them.  However, there are many rules that writers just shouldn't need to devote valuable brain cells to committing to memory.  WHY?  Because you can learn where to go to get accurate information on how to perform these tasks correctly.  Work smart and know what and where your valuable resources are.
    Where can I go for help?
    Many accurate sources for following MLA Style & Documentation exist.  PLease make sure to use a reputable source--the MLA website, web-sites for colleges and universities, published materials like textbooks and manuals.
    What sources are available at Steel-High?
    • Writer's INC books  (high school Language Arts classrooms)
    • English Texts--handbook sections in writing & Grammar books
    • Teacher-created handouts.  (If you teacher doesn't have them, ask around)
    • Web-sites***Please start with this web-site.  All the information included here comes from the MLA Handbook and other professional web-sites.
    • School Librarian
    Keep reading the sections below for information on how to follow MLA style and documenttion to the letter in order to create successful papers. 


    You will use two forms of Documentation in your paper:
    1. A Works Cited List attached to your final paper that lists alphabetically all the sources you used in your writing.
    2. Parenthetical or In-text Documentation within the text of your paper, where parentheses should show your readers where you inserted researced information and from what source on your Works Cited List the information came from. These textual citations allow the reader to refer to your Works Cited page(s) for further information.
    Your paper must have both forms of documentation to be complete. This also protects you.  In order to avoid the possibility of Plagiarism, complete documentation is required for all research-related papers and projects.

     What Must Be Documented?

    All material that is quoted directly, paraphrased, or summarized from another source must be documented with parenthetical documentation and appear on your Works Cited List. 
    Please see:  Avoiding Plagiarism Page--When to Give Credit for a detailed listing of when documentation is and is not required.

    1.  Works Cited

    Your Works Cited List
    The works cited list should appear at the end of your essay. It provides the information necessary for a reader to locate and be able to read any sources you cite in the essay. Each source you cite in the essay must appear in your works-cited list; likewise, each entry in the works-cited list must be cited in your text. Here are some guidelines for preparing your works cited list. (Stolley)

    List Format

    • Begin your works cited list on a separate page from the text of the essay under the label Works Cited (with no quotation marks, underlining, etc.), which should be centered at the top of the page.
    • Make the first line of each entry in your list flush left with the margin. Subsequent lines in each entry should be indented one-half inch. This is known as a hanging indent.
    • Double space all entries, with no skipped spaces between entries.
    • Keep in mind that underlining and italics are equivalent; you should select one or the other to use throughout your essay.
    • Alphabetize the list of works cited by the first word in each entry (usually the author's last name),

    Basic Rules for Citations

    • Authors' names are inverted (last name first); if a work has more than one author, invert only the first author's name, follow it with a comma, then continue listing the rest of the authors.
    • If you have cited more than one work by a particular author, order them alphabetically by title, and use three hyphens in place of the author's name for every entry after the first.
    • When an author appears both as the sole author of a text and as the first author of a group, list solo-author entries first.
    • If no author is given for a particular work, alphabetize by the title of the piece and use a shortened version of the title for parenthetical citations.
    • Capitalize each word in the titles of articles, books, etc. This rule does not apply to articles, short prepositions, or conjunctions unless one is the first word of the title or subtitle.
    • Underline or italicize titles of books, journals, magazines, newspapers, and films.
    • Use quotation marks around the titles of articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers. Also use quotation marks for the titles of short stories, book chapters, poems, and songs.
    • List page numbers efficiently, when needed. If you refer to a journal article that appeared on pages 225 through 250, list the page numbers on your Works Cited page as 225-50.
    • If you're citing an article or a publication that was originally issued in print form but that you retrieved from an online database, you should provide enough information so that the reader can locate the article either in its original print form or retrieve it from the online database (if they have access).

    Basic Citation Forms for Sources in Print

     Click on the link to open the document: Citation Forms for Sources in Print

    Basic Citation Forms for Electronic Sources

    Click on the link to open the document: Citation Forms for Electronic Sources

    Creating an Annotated Works Cited List

    2.  Parenthetical (in-text) documentation

    What is Parenthetical Documentation?
    "Parenthetical"  means within parentheses (       ).  Within a research paper, you must show your readers where you placed information that you quoted directly, paraphrased, or summarized from a source that you used.  This source should be on your Works Cited List. 
    By placing certain key information from your source within (     ) at the end of the sentence in your paper where you placed the borrowed material, you are clearly showing readers that  this is the borrowed information--not your original writing--and the reader should see your Works Cited List for complete information on that source.
    Parenthetical citations are also called "in-text" citations because they occur within the text of your paper.
    protect yourself!
    Parenthetical Documentation protects you, the writer, from being accused of PLAGIARSIM--passing someone else's writing off as your own, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  Including parenthetical citations builds your credibility as a writer and is your best defense! 
    Basic Rules for Parenthetical Documentation
    References in the text must point directly to specific sources on the Works Cited List.  
    • If you have incorrect  Works Cited entries, you run the risk of having incorrect parenthetical citations.

    Identify the location of the borrowed information as specifically as possible.

    • For books and other multipage publications, inlcude page numbers.  For a work with multivolumes, be sure to include the volume and/or issue number.

    Parenthtical Citations come at the end of a sentence---not mid-sentence immediately following the information.  The goal is to to maintain readbility in your paper.  If you break up sentences with citations, readers may become confused.

    Maintain Readability at all times. Keep parenthetical citations as brief as possible, using only minimum information required for accuracy. 
    • Do not use abbreviations after the name. 
    • If you use the writer's name in the sentence, you do NOT need to repeat it in the citation, just list page number and/or other necessary info.
    • If you are referencing the entire work by the author AND there is no other author with a similar name, you can use the author name and title of the work in your sentence and you will NOT require a parenthetical citation.                                                        
    Parenthetical citations come BEFORE the period at the end of a sentence.      (Smith 12).

    Information Required in Parenthetical Documentation

    The most basic information required for Parenthetical Documention is :             
       ( Last Name of Author  and page #).        
                          EX:    (Towsend 10).
                         This citation would match the following entry on a Works Cited List: 
                          Towsend, Robert M.  The Medieval Village Economy.  Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.
    If there is no author for your source, you must use part of the title in quotation marks  (for an article or web-page) or underlined or in itlaics (for a book, magazine title) for your citation.
                         Ex:     (Medieval)  
                         The entry on the works cited list would appear as follows:
                         The Medieval Village Economy.  Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.
    Unfortunately, things are rarely this simple.   For more complicated, sources, see the table below for help.
    Citing Books, Articles, and Other Sources Parenthetically

    Type of Citation


    Author’s name in text from a paraphrase

    Disney suggests all adults become children at their parks (67-69).

    Author’s name in citation from a paraphrase

    The idea that all adults become children in the park is the cornerstone of their mission (Disney 67-69).

    Author’s name in text from a direct quotation

    It may be true Smith maintains, that “ Poe’s ghost stories are among the most famous in the world”(9).

    Author’s name in citation from a direct quote

    It may be true  that “ Poe’s ghost stories are among the most famous in the world” (Smith 9 ).

    Two works by the same author on list of Works Cited 


     Use the author name in the sentence. Your citation will then only require the Title of the specific work being cited from)

    Frye connects the film to the literary romance tradition (Film & Literature 200)

    Two authors’ names in citation

    The most notorious gangster of the 1920s was Al Capone (Jones and Williams 134).

    A volume and page in a multivolume work

    As a painter Andrea was “ faultless” (Freeman 1: 98).

    Two locations in the same source


    List page numbers of all locations pertaining to the information used in your text.  Separate the individual pages with a comma.

    Daniels deals with this problem in his second book (22, 45).

    Two sources cited


    Use the last name for each source and include page numbers for each.  Separate the two with a comma.

    This controversy has been addressed more than once ( Miller 28, and Daniels 34)