MLA Documentation Guidelines

Last updated June 26, 2007             Download printable version 
Created June 30, 1997

For all written work, you are required to document according to MLA style. MLA uses parenthetical documentation instead of footnotes, and Works Cited instead of a bibliography. The examples below illustrate MLA style and answer some basic questions about it.

What is MLA form for Works Cited?

A bibliography is an alphabetical list of works used to write a paper. You call it "Works Cited" when you list only only the works directly referred to in the narrative (omitting other works consulted but not used). Use the following examples as a model of form.


1. Citing an edition of an author's work

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening and Selected Stories. 1899. Ed. Sandra M. Gilbert. New            York:  Penguin Books, 1984.

NOTES: This appears once in Works Cited. For nineteenth-century works, we usually use a modern edition, but give the date of original publication after the title, as shown above.

To quote a story from this edition, you would place the story title first:

"The Story of an Hour." The Awakening and Selected Stories. (etc.)

2. Citing commentary by the editor(s) of a work

Gilbert, Sandra M. "Introduction: The Second Coming of Aphrodite." The Awakening and Selected Stories. 1899. Ed. Sandra M. Gilbert. New York: Penguin Books, 1984. 7-33.

NOTE that this citation must appear as a separate entry in the Works Cited, if your narrative directly uses any material from Gilbert. The rule is that everyone whose ideas or actual words you use in your narrative must appear, alphabetically, in Works Cited.

3. Novel or play in an anthology:

(Note: a story or poem in an anthology would be cited exactly the same, except the title would be quoted rather than underlined.)

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. 1970. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English. Ed. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar. New York: Norton, 1985. 2068-2184.

4. Article in a scholarly journal with continuous pagination (i.e., there is only one page 1 for each year, each issue for a year picking up where the last issue left off)--give volume and year only.

Edelberg, C.D. "Morrison's Voices: Formal Education, the Work Ethic, and the Bible." American Literature 58 (1986): 217-37.

5. Article in a scholarly journal that pages each issue separately (i.e., each issue begins with page1)--give volume, issue, and year.

Winks, Robin W. "The Sinister Oriental Thriller: Fiction and the Asian Scene." Journal of Popular Culture 19.2 (1985): 49-61.

6. Article in a magazine (not a scholarly journal), give complete date (if weekly), otherwise month and year. Below, New York is a weekly magazine, Psychology Today a monthly.

Prince, Dinah. "Marriage in the '80s." New York 1 June 1987: 30-38.

7. Essay in an Edited Collection

Smith, Valerie. "’Loopholes of Retreat’: Architecture and Ideology in Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Meridian, 1990. 212-26.

8.  Alternate short reference (if citing several essays from the same collection), include the full reference to the collection, alphabetized by the editor’s name, and then use this short form:

Smith, Valerie. "’Loopholes of Retreat’: Architecture and Ideology in Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." Gates 212.

9. Article in a reference book--treat like an article in a collection, but omit editor. For popular dictionaries and encyclopedias, you can also omit publisher, just giving the year of the edition. For less well known reference books (such as Notable American Women below), give full information. If the article is unsigned, begin with the title.

"Graham, Martha." Who's Who of American Women. 14th ed. 1985-86.

"Melodeon." Encyclopedia Americana. 1985 ed.

Nissenbaum, Stephen. "Chopin, Kate O'Flaherty." Notable American Women. Ed. Edward T.James, Janet Wilson James, and Paul S. Boyer. 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1971.

"Patriarchy." Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. 1983 ed.

What is the proper form for internal documentation?

In narrative, parenthetical citations replace footnotes. Usually, you will have announced the author and work you are discussing. To cite quotations from that author's work, simply place the page number in parenthesis after the quotation.

EXAMPLE (quoting literary text): Mlle Reisz calls Edna "ma reine" (145), and the narrator characterizes her as "the regal woman" (145).

Note that so long as the author and work are clear from context, you simply give page numbers parenthetically.

You cite an editor or critic's commentary just as you would cite a quotation from the literature. As with citing the author, give the editor's last name followed by the page number parenthetically, wherever you would have placed a footnote, like this: (Gilbert 8). You may omit the editor's name if it is clear from context. IMPORTANT: Every author you cite parenthetically must appear alphabetically in your Works Cited list. Be aware that even though you may have cited a collection of essays in your bibliography, if you need to parenthetically cite a particular essay in that collection, you must list the essay separately in your Works Cited, and refer to it by its own author. The only exception to this is if the collected essays are all by a single author. Then you can cite the whole collection once.

EXAMPLE (documenting paraphrase of editor or critic): Sandra Gilbert's interpretation of Edna Pontellier evokes a positive image of rebirth in Edna's suicide through identifying her with the myth of Aphrodite (32).

EXAMPLE (documenting quotation of editor or critic): Reading Edna Pontellier through the myth of Aphrodite brings the novel out of the realm of realistic fiction, within which Flaubert operates, and into "a distinctively female fantasy of paradisal fulfillment" (Gilbert 27).

When and what should I document?

You MUST document data, facts, or information that are not common knowledge. Basic biographical information about a major author, such as dates of birth and death, would be considered common knowledge. To be classed as "common knowledge," the information must meet ALL of the following conditions:

CAUTION: Generally, if you write while looking at a source or while looking at notes from a source, you should give credit for the information. If you look something up before writing it down, even if just to verify it, go ahead and document it.

When do I quote, when paraphrase?

Most of your essay should be in your own words. In deciding what passages to quote, follow these rules of thumb:

How do I punctuate with parenthetical documentation?


Taylor asks God to "Make me, O Lord, thy Spining Wheele compleate" (l. 1).

Our editors consider Taylor "colonial America's foremost poet" (McQuade et al. 95).

Tips for Researching Women Writers

1. Concentrate on scholarship published in the last twenty years or so. Not only is most scholarship of the 1960s and before somewhat dated by more recent findings and critical methods, it is also often biased by racist and sexist assumptions about literature and women. For example, a collection of essays about Wuthering Heights published in 1968 is likely to rate that novel higher than Jane Eyre, partly because the essays pre-date an enormous amount of critical work done on the Brontes in the 1970s and 1980s. Such collections are, of course, useful for insight on what scholars thought about that novel before the women's movement changed critical perspectives.

NOTE: The "Twentieth Century Views" series is no longer published, but the Chelsea House series (general editor, Harold Bloom) attempts to fill the need for convenient collections of significant criticism on works commonly taught. It includes collections on The Awakening, Jane Eyre (1987), Wuthering Heights (1987), and Toni Morrison (1990; most essays treat several novels). In the ones of these I have used (notably the collection on The Awakening), I have observed something resembling either ignorance, bias, or backlash regarding feminist approaches to literature.

2. Be alert to your critical authority's critical perspective. Some scholars work largely from a Freudian psychoanalytic point of view, others from a Marxist point of view, still others from seemingly apolitical methodologies such as deconstruction. Feminist critics may work from within some, all, or none of these perspectives, and some very current critics may work from a consciously "non-feminist" perspective. The most dangerous are those who claim to work from a wholly unbiased perspective (free of all but the "universals" of human experience). If a critic disagrees with you, the disagreement may arise from that critic's particular perspective, rather than from some serious flaw in your own thinking. NOTE: If you can't figure out what a critic means, drop it, or come back to it later. Don't quote it!

3. Do Your Own Thinking. Critics disagree with each other; you can disagree with them. What's important is that you form your opinion on valid evidence; that you argue from knowledge, not from ignorance (of the text, the author, the historical period, and whatever may be pertinent to your topic); and that you provide adequate explanation for others to understand your argument.