November 08, 2011

Essay Writing 4: Referencing using MLA style

When writing essays it is vital that you reference all primary and secondary resources correctly: most importantly, this will ensure that you avoid plagiarism (an offence treated very seriously by universities- see the Handbook).

There are several different styles of referencing system; the English Department uses the MLA (Modern Languages Association) style.

This is a 2-part referencing system:

  • In-text citation: a short reference that records the author’s name and page number of the book/article immediately after the quote.
  • Bibliography/works cited list: at the end of your essay, the bibliography records the full details of the books that you’ve cited as above.

Referencing is designed to enable readers to trace the quotations you’ve used back to the original source. Using both parts of the reference, anyone reading your work should be able to: identify all the books/articles that you’ve referred to; access the same edition that you’ve used; and locate precisely the quotations cited in your essay.

In-text citation

In-text citations take the form of parenthetical references following a quotation (either a direct quotation in “quote marks” or a summary of information from another source).

The in-text reference always gives the author’s name and the page number where the quotation appears; the format of this information depends on the phrasing of the sentence:

If the author is named in the sentence, put only the page number in brackets: e.g. The poem Howl is concluded by a section titled “Footnote to Howl” in which Allen Ginsberg writes that “Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy” (27) If the author is not named in the preceding sentence then include the author’s name followed by the page number in parentheses: e.g. “Moloch”, repeated through Part II of Howl, has been described as a name created “to characterise the inter-linked technologies of consumerism, capitalism, weapons and the media” (Campbell and Kean, 284).

List of Works Cited

The works cited list appears at the end of your essay and should contain the full details of all the works in the parenthetical in-text citations throughout your essay.

The basic format for listing a book contains the following information, in this exact order: Authors name (surname, first name); title and subtitle of the book (in italics); publication information- place of publication, publisher, and date (year) of publication.


Campbell, Neil, and Alasdair Kean. American Cultural Studies: An Introduction to American Culture. London: Routledge, 1997.

Depending on the source there may also be additional information to include in the reference: editor(s); introduction; translator; edition; anthology.


Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. 1956. Intro. William Carlos Williams. San Francisco: City Lights, 2006.

Lodge, David and Nigel Wood, eds. Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. 1988. 3rd Ed. London: Pearson Longman, 2008.

When you reference a journal article or essay from an edited collection, the essay title is put in quote marks and the name of the book or journal in italics. Include the page numbers of the essay/article at the end of the reference.


Agathocleus, Tanya and Jason R. Rudy. “Victorian Cosmopolitanisms: Introduction.” Victorian Literature and Culture 38.2 (Sept. 2010): 389-397.

Arnold, Matthew. “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.” Lectures and Essays in Criticism. Ed. R. H. Super. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962. 258-285

There are many variations to the basic rule; see here for a full guide to using MLA styleif you cannot find the information you need above.

Other things to note

- The works cited list should begin on a new page, headed “Works Cited”.

- Alphabetise the list by author’s last name; if there is more than one book per author, alphabetise by title of book.

- If a reference runs beyond one line, indent subsequent lines (as above).

- Follow the above examples exactly and you can’t go far wrong!

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