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MLA Guide

Introduction to Reference Entries

Reference entries provide publication information for the sources that writers use. They work in conjunction with parenthetical citations, which direct readers from the body of a paper to the reference entries on a works cited page. Even though works cited pages are located at the end of papers, reference entries should not be written last; they should be composed throughout the writing process, as writers integrate sources into their text. Such an approach ensures that all entries are included and that writers know what information to use in their parenthetical citations.

Core Elements

Each entry in a works cited list is composed of core elements. These core elements are given in a specific order with specific punctuation. However, some core elements are not always relevant to a source. In such circumstances, the element(s) should be omitted from the reference entry. A period will always follow the last element in a reference entry. Below is a template for a reference entry. It includes the nine core elements and their proper order and punctuation.

Author. Title of source. Title of container, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location.

Note the following points about each of the core elements (and see the example in the section below for more detail):

Author: An author's name should be listed last name first. If a work has two authors, only the first author's name is reversed. If a work has three or more authors, provide only the reversed name of the first author, followed by "et al." The term "author" is broadly used here and applies to the person(s) primarily responsible for creating the work.

Title of source: Capitalize the first, last, and all principle words of a title. If a source is part of a larger work, place quotation marks around the title. If the source is a stand-alone work, italicize the title.

Title of container: When a source is part of a larger work, the larger work can be understood as the source's container. Titles of containers are always italicized. Because most books are stand-alone (or self-contained) works and their titles are already listed as the second core element, their titles do not need to be repeated in this location. Some books, however, do have containers. For example, a book within a series is both self-contained and contained (within a larger series).

Other contributors: If someone other than the author has contributed to a source and his or her contribution is an important identifier of the source, list his or her name in this location. A contributor's name is preceded by a short phrase that describes the contribution. Common descriptions include edited by, translated by, adapted by, directed by, and illustrated by. If the contribution cannot be stated as such, express the contributor's role as a noun, followed by a comma and then his or her name (e.g. "general editor, Martin J. Medhurst).

Version: Works are sometimes published in different forms or versions. Writers should identify the version they are using. Examples: expanded ed., 8th ed., large print ed., critical ed., unabridged version, director's cut, version 2.0,  authorized version.

Number: When a source is part of a numbered sequence, the number is identified in the reference entry. Sometimes only one number is necessary, as is the case with a single book from a multi-volume series (e.g., "vol. 12"); but sometimes more than one number is necessary, as is the case with most journals (e.g., "vol. 18, no. 2" ) and television shows (e.g., "season 3, episode 9").

Publisher: A publisher is the company or organization that prepares and distributes a work, such as the Oxford UP, HarperCollins, and Paramount Pictures. Publishers may be omitted from reference entries for periodicals, self-published works, websites whose titles are the same as their publishing companies, and websites that are not involved in the production of works but nevertheless make them available, such as YouTube, Blogger, and JSTOR.

Publication date: When multiple dates are given, writers should cite the most recent copyright or publication date given by a source. The date will generally be a four digit year but may include month and day. Writers should be as specific as the source.

Location: Not to be confused with place of publication, this core element provides the location of a work. It may be the page range of an article within an anthology or journal, the URL or DOI of a website or online article, or the name of a museum in which a work of art is displayed. If the location is a physical place, such as a museum or venue, the city is also provided, unless the name of the city is part of the place's name.

Optional Elements

Optional elements may supplement core elements when they are important to the source. Here are some common optional elements and their locations within a reference entry:

Original date of publication: This information may be entered after the title of a source.

City of publication: This information may be entered before the publisher's name, especially when different versions were released in different countries, or in lieu of the publisher's name for pre-1900 books.

Book series: If a book is part of a series, the title of the series and the total number of volumes in the series may be entered after the location. Series titles are neither italicized nor enclosed in quotes.

Unexpected type of work: If a source is a transcript, lecture, address, or other unexpected type of work, a description of the source may be entered after the location.

Date of access: It is common to note the date of access for online sources. It may be entered after the location.

In an age of electronic databases and digital streaming services, it is not unusual for one source container to be nested within another container. Because an electronic book is still a book, it is self-contained; however, that electronic book (first container) may be accessed via an electronic database (second container). Similarly, a movie (first container) may be accessed via a digital streaming service (second container). When possible, writers should document all of the containers through which they access a source.

A reference entry for such sources simply adds an additional container (core elements 3-6) to the end of the initial nine core elements of an entry. The previous template would be augmented thusly:

Author. Title of source.  Title of container, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location.
>>> 2nd container >>> Title of container, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location

Note that the second container does not stack vertically against the nine core elements; rather, it is tacked horizontally to them. They have been presented vertically here to show how the same information is gathered for multiple containers. The examples in the next section demonstrate the proper formatting of reference entries.

Sample Reference Entries

The 9th edition of the MLA Handbook has simplified reference entries. The container system, specifically, makes building a works cited list easy by removing a lot of guesswork. Nevertheless, sample reference entries are useful insofar as they provide more concrete representations of entries than templates do. Below are some entries for the types of sources writers are likely to encounter.


Book by a single author: The first entry shown here is for a print book. The second is for an E-book and, thus, includes a secondary container. Remember that an author's name is written last name first.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McGraw-Hill, 1964.

Ong, Walter J.. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Routledge, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central,


Anthology or compilation: Include the role performed by the person or persons whose names appear on the title page.

Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg, editors. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to Present. 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.

Richter, David H., editor. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998.


Work in an anthology: When citing an individual work or entry within a larger anthology, collection, or reference, begin with the author and title of the individual work. The larger collection in which that work or entry is found is its container.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. "Nature of the Linguistic Sign." The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, edited by David H. Richter, 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martin's, 1989, pp. 832-35.

"Semiotics." The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, edited by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray, 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003, pp. 436-38.


Two or more books by the same author: If a works cited list includes two or more books by the author, only the first entry explicitly provides the author's name. Subsequent entries use a series of three hyphens in place of the name. When necessary, include a person's role after the hyphens, as in the third entry below.

Corbett, Edward P. J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. Oxford UP, 1965

---. The Little English Handbook : Choices and Conventions Wiley, 1973.

---, editor. Rhetorical Analyses of Literary Works. Oxford UP, 1969


Book by two authors: Only the first author's name is reversed.

Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg, editors. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie., and Jacqueline S. Palmer. Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America. Southern Illinois UP, 1992.


Book by more than two authors: Provide the first author's name (last name first), followed by "et al." (the abbreviation for et alia, Latin for "and others"). Because it is a common Latin term, "et al." is not italicized.

Tate, Gary, et al. A Guide to Composition Pedagogies. Oxford UP, 2001.


Work with no author: When a work does not provide the name of its author, the citation begins with the second core element of a reference entry, the title of the work. The author should not be listed as "Anonymous." If the specific source that a writer is citing does not list important publication facts that have since become known, the writer should include those facts in his or her citation. The additions should be placed inside brackets. An example might be a book that is originally published anonymously but whose author is now known.

Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney, 1st bilingual edition, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

[Shelley, Mary.] Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. London, 1818. 3 vols.


Work by corporate author: When a corporation, organization, or association is the creator of a work, it is listed as the author. However, if the corporation is also the publisher, the corporation is not named at the start of the reference entry; instead, the entry begins with the title of the work, and the corporation is listed as the publisher.

Ideas Plus: A Collection of Practical Teaching Ideas. NCTE, 1984.

Public Library Association, compiler. The Library Connection: Essays Written in Praise of Public Libraries. ALA, 1977.


Work by government author: Reference entries for governmental sources begin with the name of the government, followed by the agency and any of its responsible entities, listed from largest to smallest. For congressional publications, also include the number and session of Congress, appropriate chamber, and type and number of bill. If you are using more than two sources by the same government, use a series of three dashes for every repeated name in the author section.

United States, Congress, House, Select Committee on Aging. America's Uninsured and Underinsured: A Nation at Risk of Inadequate Health Care and Catastrophic Cost. GPO, 1986. 99th Congress, 2nd Session, Committee Print 99-583.

---, ---, Senate, Special Committee on Aging. Prescription Drug Prices: Are We Getting Our Money's Worth? GPO, 1989. 101st Congress, 1st Session, Committee Print. 101-49.


Court decisions : Begin with the name of the government, followed by the name of the court and case title. The rest of the citation depends upon where the court records were retrieved and accessed. Note that dissenting opinions are part of case records; however, if the focus of a project is the dissent, a writer may treat it as a stand-alone source, as is done in the first example below.

Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. Dissenting opinion. Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. 29 May 2007. Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School,

United States, Supreme Court. Brown v. Board of EducationUnited States Reports, vol. 347, 17 May 1954, pp. 483-97. Library of Congress,

---, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. United States v. One Book entitled Ulysses. Docket No. 459, 7 August 1934.


Article in a scholarly journal: Because an article is not a standalone work, it is not italicized. Instead, place the title of the article in quotation marks. and italicize the title of the journal in which it was published. Be sure to cite a second container if the article was accessed via an electronic database.

Bitzer, Lloyd F. "The Rhetorical Situation." Philosophy & Rhetoric, vol. 1, no. 1, 1968, pp. 1-14.

Vatz, Richard E. "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation." Philosophy & Rhetoric, vol. 6, no. 3, 1973, pp. 154-61. JSTOR, Accessed 22 June 2021.


Article in a newspaper or magazine: Container details for newspapers and magazines include month and day. When pagination is not continuous, provide the first page of the article followed by a plus sign (+). If you wish to indicate that a piece is an opinion piece and not a news story, you may add a description as an optional element at the end of the citation.

Duca, Lauren. "Donald Trump is Gaslighting America." Teen Vogue, 10 Dec. 2016. Accessed 15 June 2020. Op-ed. 

Editorial Board. "Trump is Guilty." New York Times, 12 Feb. 1021. Accessed 12 Feb. 2021.

Lemire, Jonathan. "Trump Admits Son's Meeting with Russians Was to Get Info on Clinton." Austin American-Statesman, 6 Aug. 2018, pp. A1+.


Website and webpage: When provided, begin the citation with the name of the author, editor, or compiler. If you are citing a webpage, give the title of the page in quotation marks; otherwise, skip right to the name of the website, followed by the name of the institution or organization affiliated with the site, the date the content was created or modified, and the URL or permalink. Provide date of access when citing web content. Online reference entries and blogposts follow these guidelines.

Nordquist, Richard. "What Does 'Kairos' Mean in Classical Rhetoric?" ThoughtCo, 11 Aug. 2020, Accessed. 20 Aug. 2020.

Silva Rhetoricae. Brigham Young University, 26 Feb. 2007, Accessed 12 Apr. 2020.

"Procatalepsis." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Aug. 2020, Accessed 5 May 2021.

Wise, Adina. "Military Metaphors Distort the Reality of Covid-19." Observations, Scientific American Blogs, 17 Apr. 2020, Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.


Comment on a website: Begin the citation with the username of the commenter. Then use the phrase Comment on before the title of the article on which the user commented. (Note that the phrase is not italicized in the actual citation.) Provide the date and time of the comment when available.

Ask Better Questions. Comment on "Privilege, Pathology, and Power." New York Times, 1 Jan. 2016. /2016/01/01/opinion/privilege-pathology-and-power.html.


YouTube video: Begin the citation with author, title of video, and name of container, which is YouTube. Next, give the uploader's name, the upload date, and the URL. If the author's name is the same as the uploader, do not repeat it.

Boroditsky, Lera. "How Language Shapes the Way We Think." YouTube, uploaded by TED, 2 May 2018,

Freedom in Thought. "Can You Think Complex Thoughts without Language?" YouTube, 11 Mar. 2018,


Film and television: Reference entries for media such as film and television vary depending on the scope of a writer's research. If a writer's focus is a specific contribution, such as that of an actor, writer, or director, he or she should cite the contribution of the individual, beginning the reference entry with the contributor's name and contribution. If a writer's focus is a single episode of a television series, he or she should cite that specific episode, beginning the reference entry with the title of the episode. However, if a writer's focus is more general than a single episode or individual contribution, he or she may cite the entire work, beginning the reference entry with the title of the work. Key contributors can be listed in the position of other contributors.

Carell, Steve, performer. The Office. Deedle-Dee and Reveille, 2005-2013.

"The Dundies." The Office. Directed by Greg Daniels, written by Mindy Kaling, season 2, episode 1, NBC, 20 September 2005. Netflix, Accessed 19 June 2020.

The Office. Adapted by Greg Daniels, performance by Steve Carell, Deedle-Dee and Reveille, 2005-2013.


Audio recording: When a song or any other type of recorded audio track is part of an album, its title is placed in quotation marks, and the title of the album is italicized. If the track is not part of an album or larger work, its title is not italicized. When a composition is identified by form, number, and key, do not italicize the identifiers or place them in quotes. An album may be cited as a work unto itself when its aggregate is the focus of a project. Whether a writer begins a citation with the composer, performer, or conductor depends largely upon the specific contribution he or she wishes to emphasize.

Beatles. Abbey Road. Capital, 1969. Vinyl LP.

---. "Something." Abbey Road, Capital, 1969. Spotify,

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “I Have a Dream.” 28 Aug. 1963. American Rhetoric,

Norrington, Roger, conductor. Symphony no. 1 in C, op. 21. By Ludwig van Beethoven, performance by London Classical Players, Warner Classics, 1997. Apple Music,

Williams, John, composer. John Williams: A Life in Music. Performance by London Symphony Orchestra. Decca, 2018. Audio CD.


Artwork: Reference entries for a works of art begin with the name of the artist, title of the work, and date of composition. If the work was viewed firsthand in a museum, include the name of the museum and the city in which the museum is located. If the artwork was viewed on a website, include the name of the website, followed by the publisher of the website and its URL. If the title of the website and the publisher are the same, omit the publisher's name.

Foppa, Vincenzo. The Young Cicero Reading. Circa 1464, The Wallace Collection, London.

Foppa, Vincenzo. The Young Cicero Reading. Circa 1464. The Wallace Collection,


Generative AI: According to this post at the MLA Style Center, generative AI tools such as ChatGPT should not be listed as authors. Reference entries begin with a description of what was generated by the tool, which may involve information about the prompt, and are followed by the AI tool that was used, its version, and the company that made the tool. Complete the entry with the date the content was generated and the URL for the tool. Follow the link above for further guidance on paraphrasing and quoting generative AI content.

"Describe the significance of the flag tattoo in 'Battle Royal' by Ralph Ellison" prompt. ChatGPT, 14 Mar. version, OpenAI, 20 June 2023,

"Meta-verse" Shakespearian sonnet about writing poetry. ChatGPT, 14 Mar. version, OpenAI, 21 June 2023,

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