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MLA 9 Quick Guide


MLA Core Elements

Core Elements

Most citations share a lot of the same features: e.g., author, title, publication date, etc. MLA 8 and 9 explicitly show how to build any citation based on those shared features, which MLA calls Core Elements.

Each element in the list describes a category in terms generic enough to be applicable to a wide range of circumstances, and includes the punctuation that follows each element in a works cited list. Click on a link below to scroll down to the explanation and examples:

In any given bibliographic entry, not all of these elements will be used.
  1. Author.
  2. Title of Source.
  3. Title of Container,
  4. Contributor,
  5. Version,
  6. Number,
  7. Publisher,
  8. Publication Date,
  9. Location.

All of the descriptions below are summarized. For more detailed descriptions please refer to from the MLA Handbook, 9th Edition.

Warning About Automated "Cite" Buttons in Databases

Use them only if you plan to edit the results every time. Citation management software like zotero is more dependable (though you still need to doublecheck it) because it is updated to current rules more often. Here's an example from Gale Academic OneFile, which it generated based on what it says is MLA 9:

Peters, Michael A. "On the edge of theory: Lady Gaga, performance and cultural theory." Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, vol. 4, no. 1, Jan. 2012, pp. 25+. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 20 Sept. 2022.

2 bolded elements are incorrect:

  1. Page number: it should be a range. "+" is only for articles that skip to an out of sequence page, such as often happens in print newspapers. To find the range, open a pdf (if available) and scroll to the end of the article for the final page.
  2. Access date: not used in MLA 9.


What it is

The primary creator of the work. Sometimes, this is straightforward: Toni Morrison wrote Song of Solomon. There it is, right on the cover, binding, and title page. Other times, it might be tricky: do I credit "Sheri C" as the author of this YouTube vlog about BC, or do I have to find a full name somehow? .Sometimes no author is listed, like for this article about indigenous people fighting deforestation in Panama. In that case, you leave author empty.

How to style it

In a full bibliographic entry, the author's name is the first element because your reader will need to easily go from your citation in the body of your paper (Morrison 298) to the bibligraphic entry in your Works Cited list:

The order is last name, first name.

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New American Library, 1987.

With a non-standard name or organization, just write it as you found it:

This is how the name appears in YouTube. There is no period after "C"; it only appears here because a period always follows the author's name.

Sheri C. "Preparing for a New Semester + Final Days of Summer! | POST-GRAD IN BOSTON." YouTube, Sept. 7, 2022,


No author? Omit the author, and start with the title of the work:

"In Eastern Panama, Indigenous Peoples Fight Deforestation as they're Scapegoated for it." Rainforest Foundation US, August 9, 2022,

Title of Source

What it is

Sometimes, it's straightforward (Song of Solomon). At other times, a title may be confusing or missing. How should you title a Lizzo concert? You create a brief descriptive stand-in for a title (if the tour doesn't provide one): 

Lizzo. Concert. TD Garden, Boston: 30 Sept. 2022.*

What about a web page? There's usually a title somewhere. If there isn't, it's up to you, as with the Lizzo concert, to create a very short descriptive title. Same with an interview you did with another student? Yes: Interview.

How to style it

A title of a source immediately follows the author in a bibliographic entry. That order (Author. Source.) signals to your reader that whatever immediately follows the author's name is the work that author created. Put it in italics if it's a self-contained work that's not part of a larger "container" (see next section): 

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New American Library, 1987.

In quotation marks if it's a smaller, self-contained work in larger container, such as an article in a journal or a poem on a website:

Hughes, Langston. "I look at the world." Poetry Foundation, poetrymagazine/poems/52005/i-look-at-the-world.*

No italics or quotes if it's a description you've provided:

Lizzo. Concert. TD Garden, 30 Sept. 2022, Boston.*

*Examples adapted from MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association, 2021.

Title of Container

What it is

A "container" is MLA's term for a larger work that contains smaller self-contained works: A CD full of songs; a book full of poems, short stories, or articles contributed by different authors; a journal or newspaper full of articles; a TV series full of episodes; a website full of web pages, etc. A source could have multiple, nested containers, such as an episode (your source) in a TV series (container) re-broadcast on Hulu (another container).

“I Don’t Want to Be Free.” Killing Eve, season 1, episode 7, BBC America, 2018. Hulu,

How to Style it

A container, if there is one, immediately follows the title of source; the order and formatting ("Source." Container.) signals that the source is part of a larger work. "Container" titles are italicized, just like larger, self-contained works such as books, plays, or films. It's important to remember that the name in a citation in the body of the text (e.g. "Hughes, Langston") directly precedes the title of the source, not the container, because that author created the source, not the container.

Hughes, Langston. "I look at the world." Poetry Foundation, poetrymagazine/poems/52005/i-look-at-the-world.2

You could read this to yourself as "Langston Hughes wrote the poem 'I look at the World,' which is contained in the Poetry Foundation's website." That poem, of course, is likely contained in various other places: the journal issue in which it was originally published, the book in which it was published, and possibly later works of collected poetry by Hughes, and anthologies. Sources can have many other containers; you will include only the one you found it in.

1Example excerpted from: "A Work in Two Containers: An Episode of a Television Series Watched on a Streaming Service." Works Cited, A Quick Guide. MLA Style Center,

2Example adapted from MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association, 2021.


What it is

A contributor is someone else who has impacted the work, usually editors & translators in the case of printed works, or directors of plays, conductors of orchestra performances, etc. Include a contributor when they have received prominent credit for affecting the work, and those effects could make a difference in how the work is represented. For instance, one director's staging of a George Bernard Shaw play could differ markedly from another's.

Don't confuse co-authors with contributors. All co-authors get listed in the "author" location in a bibliographic entry, in the order in which they're credited on the item.

How to Style it

Contributors, if there are any, follow the Title of Source or Title of Container, depending on how they contributed. (Editors would follow the container, because they edited everything in the container, not just the one source.)

Shaw, George Bernard. Heartbreak House. Directed by Robin Lefevre, Roundabout Theatre Company, 11 Oct. 2006, American Airlines Theatre, New York City.*

You might translate this to informal English as "The stage performance of George Bernard Shaw's play Heartbreak House that I'm referring to was directed by Robin Lefevre and produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines theatre in New York City on 11 October, 2006."

*Example excerpted from: "A Work That Is Self-Contained: A Performance of a Play Attended in Person." Works Cited, A Quick Guide. MLA Style Center,, accessed 15 Sept. 2022.


What it is

Books might have various edition numbers, or be an expanded edition or revised edition. Films might have different versions (e.g. "director's cut"), and other works might be abridged or unabridged. It's important to add version information so that people know exactly which version you used. There might be scenes in the director's cut of Blade Runner that aren't in other versions, and the 4th edition of a book might have chapters that didn't exist in earlier versions (which affects pagination, too).

How to Style it

The point is to make version information brief and not confuse it with other information. For this reason, it's often in lower case and abbreviated:

Blade Runner. Directed by Ridley Scott, director's cut, Warner Brothers, 1991. Warner Home Video, 2006.*

*Example adapted from MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association, 2021.


What it is

Printed multi-volume sets have volume numbers, often on the spine, cover, and title page. Academic journals have both volume numbers--which begin at "1" in the first year of publication and change each year--and issue numbers, which form a sequence within each year. This is similar to season and episode numbers of a television series, or long-running podcast: e.g., Season 2, Episode 8. You can tell how many years a journal has been in publication by its volume number.

How to Style it

Always abbreviate number (no.) and volume (vol.) no matter how they appear in the original source. Always use arabic numerals (6), even if the original uses roman numerals (VI). For an article in an academic journal:

Baron, Naomi S. "Redefining Reading: The Impact of Digital Communication Media." PMLA, vol. 128, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 193-200.*

For an episode of a TV series:

"Hush." Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, season 4, episode 10, 1999.*

*Examples adapted from MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association, 2021.


What it is

Publishers make works available to the public. The term "publisher" is used for books and periodicals. But it could also include: studios (e.g. Studio Ghibli, 20th Century Fox), networks (e.g. BBC America, Netflix), and companies that produce and distribute films and tv shows, organizations that "publish" websites, theatre companies that put on plays, and government agencies that publish printed or online documents. The convention is to omit publishers of periodicals, self-published works, or websites whose names are the same as the organization, or websites that aggregate other people's work (like FaceBook or Hulu); the latter would be containers, not publishers.

How to Style it

For books, this is often relatively straightforward:

Ghosh, Amitav. The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis. University of Chicago Press, 2021.

Government reports can be confusing because of the layers of agency names involved, e.g. a report might come from U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Keep only the top layer:

Durose, Matthew R., et al. Multistate Criminal History Patterns of Prisoners Released in Thirty States. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Sept. 2015,*

There are somewhat arcane traditional practices involving abbreviations of publisher names. E.g., "Oxford University Press" becomes "Oxford UP." Also, one keeps the words "press" (MIT Press),  "publisher/publishing" (Workman Publishing), and "pictures" (Dreamworks Pictures), but not words like "company," or "incorporated," even in abbreviations. When in doubt, consult the print version of the MLA Handbook, 9th edition.

*Example adapted from MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association, 2021.

Publication Date

What it is

Think of publication date as the date on which an item was made available to the public in some manner: the year a book was printed and distributed, the month or season a magazine or journal article was printed and/or made public on the web, the date a television show aired, a tweet was tweeted, or an online news article appeared. To identify the year is straightforward for most books; the year of publication is right on the copyright page. But what about an e-book, tweet, a streamed piece of music or television show, or an event like a museum exhibition? In an e-book, find a copyright page; tweets (and most other forms of social media) are date and time stamped. Streamed music, films, and tv shows usually show a copyright year or a first-aired date.

How to Style it

In general, follow two rules:

  1. use the same specificity of date that you find in the published material.
  2. when using a complete date, order it date/month/year and abbreviate the month.

Here are two versions of a recording: a vinyl LP and a Spotify streaming version of a song from the the same LP (use the one you actually encountered; streaming recordings necessarily differ from the vinyl original because of the digitizing process):

Odetta. One Grain of Sand. Vanguard Recording Society, 1963. Vinyl.*

Odetta. "Sail Away, Ladies." One Grain of Sand. Vanguard Records, 1 Jan. 2006. Spotify app.*

For a streamed television show that was originally aired (published) by a different broadcaster, include both dates if available. This episode originally aired on BBC and was streamed later by a WGBH site called Masterpiece.

"The Final Problem." Sherlock, created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, season 4, episode 3, BBC, 15 Jan. 2017. Masterpiece, WGBH Educational Foundation, 2019,*

*Examples adapted from MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association, 2021.


What it is

A location signals to a reader where you found the work (or part of the work) you're citing, and provides information for someone trying to find the same version. It could be a page range for an essay in an anthology or an article in a print (or non-html online) version of a journal. For something like a BluRay in a boxed set it would be the number of the disc. For an online work: a doi, permalink, or url. For an event like a lecture or performance, or for an item that exists only in one place (an archive or museum): a geographic location, like a city or town.

How to style it

For written works within other works (e.g. an article, short story, or poem in a book or journal), provide a page number for a one-page item, or a page range for a multiple page work (Use "p." for a single page and "pp." for multiple pages). Use the form of number identical to the original (e.g. roman numerals if roman numerals in the original):

Boggs, Colleen Glenney. "Public Reading and the Civil War Draft Lottery." American Periodicals, vol 26, no. 2, 2016, pp. 149-66.*

For an online work, use the most permanent form of a link that you can find.

  • Ideal: doi. To turn a doi number (10.1353/mod.2016.0011) into a url, just add "" in front of it.
  • OK: permalink or stable link.
  • Last resort: url from the browser bar.

Bockelman, Brian. "Buenos Aires Bohème: Argentina and th Transatlantic Bohemian Renaissance 1890-1910." Modernism/Modernity, vol. 23, no. 1, Jan. 2006, pp. 37-63. Project Muse,*

If you provide a url from a browser bar, it could be long and convoluted. If it's longer than the rest of your citation, truncate it by finding a question mark in it ("?") and deleting it and everything that follows it. Also, you can delete "https://" unless your paper is online and you want it to be a clickable link:

Peters, Michael A. "On the edge of theory: Lady Gaga, performance and cultural theory." Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, vol. 4, no. 1, Jan. 2012, pp. 25-37. Gale Academic OneFile,

For a physical location, provide the name of the place (e.g. Museum of Fine Arts) and enough information to indicate where it is located:

Bhatia, Rafiq. Concert. 10 Feb. 2018, Mass MOCA, North Adams.*

Knapp, David. Beneath the Smokestacks. 15 July-29 Nov. 2020, Springfield Museum of Art, Springfield, Ohio.*

In the first example a state is not provided because "Mass" already identifies the state, and North Adams is a relatively uncommon place name. In the second example, the state is provided because there are many towns named Springfield.

*Examples adapted from MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association, 2021.