MLA formatting

Learning Objectives

  • Successfully create and identify appropriate MLA Works Cited entries

MLA Format

You’ve learned about much of the best practices for citing sources in MLA. Remember, the idea is that you want to leave a trail for others to easily find your work. MLA citations generally follow this basic anatomy:

  • Author Last Name, First Name. “Article Title.” Name of Journal, vol. #, no. #issue, year, pp. page range. Database name, URL/DOI.

For example:

Scarantino, Andrea, and Michael Nielsen. “Voodoo Dolls And Angry Lions: How Emotions Explain Arational Actions.” Philosophical Studies, vol. 172, no. 11, 2015, pp. 2975-2998. Academic Search Complete.

Sarnoff, Nancy. “Web’s Role in House Hunt Grows.”, Houston Chronicle, 1 Dec. 2007,

Online articles typically follow this format:

  • Author. “Article Title.” Website Name, Site Publisher, date published, URL optional. Access date optional.

Avirgan, Jody. “Not All Privacy Policies Are Created Equal.” FiveThirtyEight, 12 Feb. 2016,

“Good vs Bad Cholesterol.”  American Heart Association, 12 Jan. 2015,

Citing Online materials


The author is the person or organization taking credit for the information. If you are not sure who is taking responsibility for the information, look for an About Us link or, less desirable, who is copyrighting the material.


  1. A byline date is sometimes used near the top of the webpage: May 1, 2019.
  2. A date of last update may be found at the top or bottom of the page and looks something like: Updated: 8:43 a.m. MT May 10, 2018.
  3. If the website has no date associated with it, your citation will skip over where the date should be.
  4. If all you can find is the copyright date for the page, chances are this is a generic footer used across the website. Skip the date element.

Website Name, Publisher

Look for what’s actually written on the page itself (probably in the upper left corner) rather than in the address bar for the website’s name. Every website has to be or or; that doesn’t mean the website organizers consider the domain ending (.com, .net, etc) to be part of the website’s official name.

To get an idea of who the publisher is, look towards the very bottom of the page for the copyright notice or for an About page.


The URL (the http://www.etc… in the address bar of your browser) gives a particular location of a webpage. Exclude the http:// when you include the address. This element is optional but recommended.

Access Date

For sources that are likely to be edited, it is recommended that you add an access date after the URL. All dates in MLA are formatted as Day Month(abbrev.) Year, e.g. 5 Nov. 2013.

Image of journal article from PLOS One website showing the title, authors, publication date, and abstract.

Figure 1. Use the information from the journal to create a Works Cited entry for the article.

Making a Works Cited Entry

Let’s review how to make the works cited entry for an online journal article (Use this page to help you). This image below reviews the main components, as well as the punctuation you use. It’s always helpful to look at other examples, too. There we see that for an online journal entry the format will be:

  • Author last name, Author first name. “Journal title.” Name of journal, volume, publisher, date, and URL or DOI.

Let’s give it a try using the PLOS one article shown above.

A list showing the construction of an MLA citation. Starting with the first item of the citation and ending with the last, the list goes as follows: author, title of source, title of container, other contributors, version, number, publisher, publication date, location.

Figure 2. Use this format to guide you as you learn the in’s and out’s of MLA citation structure.

We always start with the author’s name. This article has six authors, so we consult the rules to find that we list only the first author and then a comma, et. al. (which means “and others”). So far, we have:

  • Mody, Karsten, et al.

Next we look for the title at put that inside quotations. It’s “Flower power in the city: Replacing roadside shrubs by wildflower meadows increases insect numbers and reduces maintenance costs.”

Then we add the title of the container, or in other words, the name of the journal, in italics. There is no version or number, so we skip ahead to the publisher, the Public Library of Science, along with the publication date. That gives us:

  • Mody, Karsten, et al. “Flower Power in the City: Replacing Roadside Shrubs by Wildflower Meadows Increases Insect Numbers and Reduces Maintenance Costs.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 9 June 2020

Lastly, we add in the doi of: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234327. Now we’ve created the final work cited entry:

Mody, Karsten, et al. “Flower Power in the City: Replacing Roadside Shrubs by Wildflower Meadows Increases Insect Numbers and Reduces Maintenance Costs.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 9 June 2020, 10.1371/journal.pone.0234327

*Note that PLOS One (and many other academic websites) kindly provides citations for you alongside the articles, but those are not always in the format you need. The PLOS One citations are in APA citation (but still with errors) so if you are working on an essay that requires MLA style, you’ll need to generate a new bibliographic entry or make adjustments so that it is accurate.


Let’s practice incorporating a paraphrased passage of text into an essay. Take a look at the passage of an essay from college student Andrew Braaksma, who won a contest to have his essay printed in Newsweek.

Original text: “For a student like me who considers any class before noon to be uncivilized, getting to a factory by 6 o’clock each morning, where rows of hulking, spark-howering machines have replaced the lush campus and cavernous lecture halls of college life, is torture” (Braaksma, 2005).[1]

Paraphrase: In his essay, Braaksma discusses the alarming contrast between being a full-time college student at the renowned University of Michigan and his experiences doing early morning work as a blue-collar worker in a local factory (2005).

Note: The paraphrase maintains the ideas of the original passage while expressing the message in a new voice. The original author is also cited properly.


Now let’s try a summary from a longer section, this time from an essay in the Public Domain Review by Daniel Elkind. Remember that a summary and paraphrase are similar, but a summary is typically shorter as it condenses the main points and general ideas of the original statement.

Original: “The oldest film included on the National Film Registry of the US Library of Congress features a pale boy calmly swinging a pair of wooden clubs, apparently as part of an exercise routine. Approximately twelve seconds long, Newark Athlete was directed by the Scottish inventor and early associate of Thomas Edison, William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, in collaboration with cinematographer William Heise at Edison’s laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, sometime in the late spring of 1891.

Though the wooden clubs brandished by the Newark athlete in this jumpy fragment are now a thing of the past, evidence of their influence can still be seen. John Quincy Adams Ward’s celebrated Indian Hunter sculpture, for example — first installed in New York’s Central Park in 1868 — was partly modeled on a bodybuilder and club devotee named Frederick Küner, whose unusually defined physique was meant to imbue the bronze figure with mythic strength.[2] The so-called “Indian clubs” credited for this defined physique may now seem like mere novelty items, but in the nineteenth century they were a staple of fitness routines and a familiar sight at athletic clubs across the United States. Unlike dumbbells and medicine balls, they also played a role beyond keeping the body trim. In England, suffragettes such as E. Sylvia Pankhurst carried them, along with long hatpins, in clashes with armed police: they proved particularly effective in getting police horses to abruptly sit down, dismounting the bobbies, and knocking off their helmets.

Now we want to summarize the above paragraphs. Oftentimes, a simple summary for your essay could consist of following this format:

  • In [essay name], __________, [author] [verb] [observation]. According to [author], ___________, __________, etc.

Let’s use this format to summarize Elkind’s introduction:

In the essay “Eastern Sports and Western Bodies: The ‘Indian Club’ in the United States,” Elkind observes that wooden clubs were commonly used for exercise in the late 1800s. According to Elkind, clubs were used for fitness (one of the earliest known films features a boy swinging them around) but they also proved useful as weapons: police officers and suffragettes alike carried them for practical reasons.

Try It

Writing Workshop: A Simple Summary

Now you try! Open your working document and find the Simple Summary section.

  1. Go to the Public Domain Review and pick an essay that interests you. Write a one-paragraph paraphrase or summary of the essay you chose to read. In your paraphrase or summary, include the in-text citation.

At the end of the summary, write the complete MLA works cited entry for your article.


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  1. Braaksma, Andrew. “Some Lessons From The Assembly Line.” Newsweek, vol. 146, no. 11, Sept. 2005