Documenting Sources

In the Modern Language Association (MLA) system of documentation, writers acknowledge sources by keying brief parenthetical citations in the text to an alphabetical list of works cited that appears at the end of the paper.

Parenthetical Citations

Placement & Punctuation

  • To avoid interrupting the flow of your writing, place the parenthetical reference at the end of a sentence. The parenthetical reference precedes the punctuation mark that concludes the sentence containing the borrowed material.

    The writer’s confidence “that he knows something and can position his reader to see it” underlies the classic style (Thomas & Turner 5).

  • For intended quotations, type a space after the concluding punctuation mark of the quotation and insert the parenthetical reference.

    In classic style, prose becomes a window on its subject:

    In the classic attitude, writing serves to present something else: its subject. The subject is conceived as of a “thing” distinct from the writing, something that exists in the world and is independent of any presentation. Clarity is the central virtue of classic prose because the writer’s defining task is to present something he has previously perceived. (Thomas & Turner 35-36)


  • Provide the author’s last name and the page number in your parenthetical reference:

    The Spartans subordinated the needs of the “individual and the family to the needs of the state” (Kagen 4).

  • If the author’s name appears in your sentence, you need not repeat it in your parenthetical reference:

    Kagen claims that the Spartans subordinated the needs of the “individual and the family to the needs of the state” (4).

  • For sources listed by title, use a shortened version of the title, one that includes its first word (excluding A, An, or The) so readers can quickly find it on the alphabetical list of works cited, for example:

    (Farmers’ 264) for The Farmers’ Almanac 2009

Works Cited Page

Works Cited pages maintain the same MLA formatting for typography, margins, spacing, and page numbering as the rest of your document. (see Document Format)

Placement & Pagination

  • Begin the list of works cited on a new page following the body of the paper.
  • Continue the page numbers from the text (for example, if your paper ends on page 11, the works-cited list begins on page 12).


  • Center the title, Works Cited, an inch from the top of the first works-cited page.
  • Do NOT underline, bold-face, italicize, ALL-CAP, place in “quotation marks,” or otherwise specially format the title in any way.


  • Provide a works-cited entry for every source you mention in the paper.
  • Arrange the entries alphabetically by the author’s last name.
  • For two or more works by the same author, give the name in the first entry only. Thereafter, in place of the name, type three hyphens (- – -), followed by a period and the title.
  • For anonymous works, alphabetize by title, ignoring A, An, or The.

Hanging Indents

  • Begin each entry flush with the left margin; if an entry runs more than one line, indent the subsequent line or lines one-half inch from the left margin.

Sample Works Cited Entries

The following samples represent a few common types of sources. For more detailed information on how to cite a particular kind of source, consult MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition or a writing handbook (like SF Writer or The Brief Penguin Handbook).

A Book

Author’s Name. Book Title. City: Publisher, date. Print.

McDonald, Russ. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford, 2001. Print.

– – -. Shakespeare’s Late Style. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. Print.

A Work in an Anthology

Author’s Name. “Work Title.” Anthology Title. Editor. Edition. City: Publisher, date. Page numbers. Print.

Donne, John. “Sappho to Philaenis.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt, et al. 8th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2006. 1287-88. Print.

Sullivan, Andrew. “What Is a Homosexual?” The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Nonfiction. Eds. Linda H. Paterson and John C. Brereton. 12th ed. New York: Norton, 2008. 236-40. Print.

An Article

Author’s Name. “Article Title.” Periodical Title number (date): page numbers. Print.

Berliner, Todd. “The Pleasures of Disappointment: Sequels and The Godfather, Part II.” Journal of Film and Video 53 (Summer/Fall 2001): 107-23. Print.

Helprin, Mark. “A Great Idea Lives Forever: Shouldn’t Its Copyright?” The New York Times 20 May 2007, late ed., sec. 4: 12+. Print.

A Web Page

Author’s Name. “Web Page Title.” Site Name. Last Update. Web. Date of access.

Bordwell, David. “Anatomy of the Action Picture.” David Bordwell’s Website on Cinema. January 2007. Web. 23 April 2009.

Simonson, Mark. “The Scourge of Arial.” Mark Simonson Studio. February 2001. Web. 23 April 2009.

If you use MS Word, you can download the sample .doc and use it as a template for your own Works Cited list.

If you use another word processor, study the sample .pdf and carefully replicate its format in your own document.