Skip to Main Content
Stony Brook University

Citation Guides

This guide can help you learn how to properly format your bibliographies and papers in AMA, APA, Chicago and MLA citation styles, and avoid plagiarism.

What is MLA?

MLA stands for "Modern Language Association," which provides a style handbook that serves as an important guide for writing and formatting papers. This guide is most often used within arts and humanities disciplines by authors engaging in textual analysis and literary criticism.

MLA citation makes up an important part of the MLA style guide, and is the focus of this page. Many university writing teachers use MLA citation as the default citation style for their students, no matter what the subject of the student's paper is.

How does MLA citation work?

Like most citation styles, MLA works by coordinating an in-text citation--which appears by each paraphrase, summary, or quotation throughout the paper--with a source list at the end of paper, which, in MLA is called the "Works Cited." Here is a sample Works Cited page, provided by the Purdue OWL. Note the "hanging indent" which makes it easy for your reader to scan your source list to find the information referenced in the in-text citation. The formatting and placement of the in-text citations and source list citations can depend on the type of source, whether or not there is an author, how many authors, whether there are page numbers, where you found the source, and a variety of other factors.

An example of an in-text citation for a journal article, as paired with the full citation in the Works Cited, is shown below:

What are MLA "containers"?

MLA "containers" are designed to be flexible ways of thinking about how to label different elements of your citation. The "core elements" are the author and title, each of which are followed by a period, and the "container elements" are any number of elements such as title of container, version, number, publisher, date, and/or location, all of which are separated by a comma with a period after the final element. Not all elements in the container may be relevant to your source. Keep in mind that sometimes there might be only one container, and sometimes there may be more than one container. You can practice creating citations using containers on the MLA Style website's Practice Template.


Sample Papers in MLA Style

Tips for making a Works Cited

  • The Works Cited should start on a new page and be double-spaced with a hanging indent. The hanging indent helps to emphasize the first element of the citation.
  • Alphabetize in together author last names and sources without authors. (Use the title for those without authors.)
  • Remove "http" from URLs (except with DOIs, see below).
  • For academic articles, use the DOI (digital object identifier), if available, rather than the permalink. Include the DOI using the prefix and remove the hyperlink. If there is no DOI, then use the permalink (do not use the URL from the top URL bar).
  • For 3 or more authors: use the first author followed by et al.
  • If you cannot find an example to help you cite the particular source you used, try to fit in the elements using the container method as best as you can, or ask for help.

How do I cite AI text generators such as ChatGPT?

The MLA Style Center has made recommendations for how to cite generative AI, as of March 23, 2023:

MLA: Citing Generative AI

However, be aware that this conversation continues to rapidly evolve about when, whether, and how to use and/or cite AI text generators. Keep in mind the following specifically about ChatGPT:

  • ChatGPT does not cite sources; it not designed as a research tool (as of early 2023). Generative AI is constantly changing and evolving, but it should always be assumed that content generated could be biased, taken out of context, or simply fabricated. 
  • If you do engage with ChatGPT for reasons that are appropriate and permitted, then you might consider including a transcript of your conversation as an appendix to your paper or project, so your reader can reference both your prompt and ChatGPT's entire response. One of the most important reasons to cite your sources is to make the resources findable by your reader, and to make the research replicable. Because ChatGPT's responses are not replicable, providing the transcript allows your reader insights they will not be able to get otherwise.
  • Until the rules are clearer, your most important source of information for when, whether, and how to cite ChatGPT or other text generators in your coursework will be your professor. Always ask your professor if you are allowed to engage with ChatGPT or another text generator as part of your work for your assignment.

SBU Libraries MLA Citation Workshops