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MLA style for citing research on literature and language

The Modern Language Association (MLA) has developed guidelines for research in literature, criticism, and biography of authors, in contemporary languages.


The MLA calls for references to be double-spaced, which looks weird online, but, hey, with an organization that goes back almost a century, like this one, you have to concede to some eccentricity. 

The MLA also calls for hanging indents, but recognizes that some HTML editors don't let you easily indent the second line of a Works Cited entry. In this case, the MLA tells you to bullet the first line of an entry as we show it here.

When you document sources from the Web, the MLA suggests that your Works Cited entries contain as much information as you find relevant and available. This is a great approach, because sites don't always list authors or dates of publication.

Here are the nuggets of information the MLA would like, but recognizes may not be available:

  1. Name of author, editor, compiler, or translator
  2. Title of the work in quotation marks
  3. Title of the book in italics or underlined
  4. Name of editor, compiler, or translator if not cited earlier, preceded by any appropriate abbreviation, such as ed.
  5. Publication information for any print version
  6. Title of the scholarly project, database, periodical, or a personal or profession Web site, in italics or underlined
  7. Version number, volume, issue or other identifying number
  8. Date of electronic publication or posting or latest update
  9. Name of any institution or organization sponsoring the site
  10. Date you retrieved the information
  11. URL in angle brackets

So, depending on what you find, you may have Web citations that have as little as the site's title, URL, and date you accessed the site.














No great advance has ever been made in science, politics, or religion, without controversy.

—Lyman Beecher


















When a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest.

—William Hazlitt


Web Site—No author, nor title or work

  • FindLaw. 22 May 2001 <http://www.findlaw.com>.

If you want to reference a specific page at a site, follow this example:

  • FindLaw. “FindLaw: Legal Professionals”. 22 May 2001.


 Articles or a Specific Document from a Web Site—Here are examples of how the MLA treats an announcement, an article with an identified author and an article without an author. The first date is the date of the article and the second date is the retrieval date.

 An announcement or article from a news service:

  • “D.C. Court of Appeals to Hear Oral Argument in the

     Microsoft Antitrust Case.” USA Today. 25 Feb. 2001. 26

     Feb. 2001 <http://www.usatoday.com/washdc/msanti01.htm>.

 An article with an identified author:

  • Daza, Joyce P. “Technology Planning: What Small Business

     Needs to Know.”  Technology Today 13 May 2001. 21 June

     2001 <http://www.atc-1.com/technologytip.htm>.

 An article with no author identified:

  • From Infrastructure to Structured Cabling: Why Spend the

     Extra?” Convergence, 51. 17 August 2000. 13 June 2001


 Online Databases—The MLA style's guideline for citing information retrieved from an online database follows the same format as other citations. Use the list at the beginning of this section to put as much information as possible into the citation.

  • Blue, Carolyn L. “Preventing Back Injuries Among Nurses.”

      Orthopaedic Nursing, 15.6. 2 May 1996. InfoTrac

     SearchBank: Health Reference Center - Academic. 12 Mar.

     2001. <http://jsr.cc.va.us/wcb/schools/jsrc.htm>

 E-mail—E-mail from individuals should be documented like any other reference.

  • Chavez, Rita P. “Wound Care.” E-mail to Nancy Rodgers. 28

     June 2000.

 Discussion Group—Discussion group information is cited by listing the author, the title of the posting, the phrase “online posting,” the date of the posting, the forum, date of retrieval and the URL in angle brackets.

  • Rogacion, Esther. “Issues in Wound Care.” Online posting. 15

     June 2001. Wound Care Forum. 17 May 2001


 Newsgroup—To document information posted in a newsgroup discussion, provide the author's name, subject line in quotation marks, the phrase “online posting,” the date of the posting, the date of retrieval and the name of the newsgroup with the prefix “news” in angle brackets.

  • Lieberman, Daniel. “Reply to A Bifurcation of the PRC

     Proponent.” Online posting. 28 May 2001. 29 May 2001

     <news: misc.publicregulatoryissues>.

 Chat Sessions—References to a chat session follows the same format as that of a discussion group.

 List messages—References to an e-mail from a list serv follows the same format as that of a discussion group.

 FTP site—To document a file available for downloading via a site give the author's name (if known), the title of the document, the size of document, if relevant, in brackets, any print publication information, italicized or underline, date of online publication, if available, date of access, and complete FTP address in angle brackets.

  • Mathews, Keith. CALC: Number Theory Calculator. 22 Jan.

     2001. 29 May 2001


 Telnet Site—Start with the author’s name or alias. Follow it with the title of the work in quotation marks. Then insert the date of the publication, date of access and the telnet address in angle brackets with any directions for accessing the document.

  • Lepkey, Gay. “Selected Railway Photo Listing.” 23 Oct. 2000.

     28 May 2001 <telnet://telnet.ncf.carleton.ca: guest, go

     freeplace> .

GOPHER SitesList the author's name, the title of the document in quotation marks, any print publication information, italicized or underlined, the date of the online publication, the retrieval date and the address in angle brackets with any directions for accessing the document. In our example, we don't have an author, so we start with the title of the article.


Achtert, W., and J. Gibaldi. 1985. The MLA Style Manual. New York: The Modern Language Association of America.

Harnack, A., and E. Kleppinger. 1997. Online! New York: St. Martin's Press.

Munger, D., D. Anderson, B. Benjamin, C. Busiel, and B. Paredes-Holt. 2000. Researching Online, Third Edition. New York: Longman.

Walker, J., and J. Ruszkiewicz. 2000. Writing@online.edu. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational.

Thanks to our co-citationologist, Joyce Daza, for her many contributions to these articles.


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