MLA: Help for Citing All Kinds of Sources

Man Stretching at Desk








I am a self-admitted nerd, and during the early January blizzard and sub-zero temperatures, I ventured out through wind and snow to join many fellow nerds at the MLA’s annual convention. Now, to most people, “MLA” is synonymous with burdensome citation rules, but the organization, whose full name is the Modern Language Association, actually encompasses academic research from all sorts of topics in literature and the humanities. The convention in January had panels by scholars on Shakespeare, fantasy literature, Renaissance epics, Leonard Cohen’s poetry, and many other topics near and dear to my heart. 

Out of all of these, my favorite panel was one on those burdensome citation rules, called “MLA Style Workshop: Creating Works-Cited Lists with the MLA Core Elements.” Clearly the most exciting panel of them all!

All right, that probably doesn’t sound particularly interesting, but in it was born my love of MLA citation format. Those rules are there for a reason! And, even more of a discovery, they make sense. In fact, their point is to make sense! Citations are there to help your reader—all the rules about what information to include is for that single purpose. Anyone who reads your paper should be able to (a) understand what kind of sources you’ve used—are they journal articles, scholarly books, works of fiction, theatrical performances, blog posts?; are they online-only sources, or print, or audiovisual, or live, like a performance or interview?; and (b) find the sources so that the reader can read or view them for themselves.

For a book, a citation is often straightforward—you want information like the author, the title, the publisher, and the year it was published. But what about information for websites, live performances, YouTube videos, books hosted on a platform like eBook Central? What about sources contained within other larger sources?

Man looking at a computer with hand on temple

The MLA is here to help!

In 2016, MLA devised a list of 9 “Core Elements” that can be used as needed for any source, no matter what kind of source or what format the source is in–even formats that have yet to exist. Need to cite an article that is contained in a journal that is contained on an online database? MLA is great at that.  Need to cite an Amazon review? MLA can do that too.  Citing the performance of a minor character in a particular episode of a TV show produced by ABC, that you watched on Hulu, but has since been removed? The Core Elements were made for this.

Our Citing Sources LibGuide has information on how to use the core elements here, and Purdue OWL’s information on MLA style is here. The MLA itself also has an FAQ, “Behind the Style” page, and Twitter account (@mlastyle) that answers all your citation questions, both mundane and obscure. And don’t hesitate to ask your librarian—I know I will always be delighted to help with sorting out the nuances of citation creation.


Contributed by Emily R. Johnson, Librarian, Midwood

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s