What is MLA Documentation Style and How Does it Work?

The MLA documentation style was designed by the Modern Language Association. This group of writers, editors, and teachers created a standardized system for writers of research papers to show readers where their information comes from, that is, to document their research.

The MLA system has two parts:

1. the in-text citation (also called a parenthetical citation) and 2. the works cited page (this is the term MLA uses for a bibliography).

An MLA Style Example

Let’s say you’re writing about horses, and you learned from your research that the height of a horse is measured from its shoulder to the ground. Imagine that you learned this on page 12 of a book written by a woman named Leslie Connor. Here’s how you could present the information in your essay:

The height of a horse is measured from its shoulder to the ground (Connor 12).

The citation tells your reader three things: 1. that you didn’t know this information previously; you learned it by doing research 2. that you acknowledge Ms. Connor and give her credit for her work 3. that the reader can learn more about this by reading Connor’s book.

Now, if you were the reader who wanted to know more about this, the information in the parenthesis wouldn’t be very helpful. You couldn’t go to the library looking for a book by someone named Conner and hope to find the right one, at least not without a lot of effort or luck.

To accomplish number 3, you really need more information about the book. That’s what the works cited page provides. On the list of works cited, for this source you would write:

Connor, Leslie. The Complete Book on Horses. New York: Random House, 2008. Print.

With this information, readers could go to the library and easily find the same book you used in your paper. They could then read it for themselves and learn more about the topic. That’s how MLA style documentation works.

Depending on the kind of source a writer used, the information listed on the works cited page will be different. For example, for readers to find a newspaper article, they would need not only the year it was published, but the exact day. To find a web page, they would need the name of the website. And since some research sources may have more than one author, or may list no author at all, that information will vary too.

So to document your sources in MLA style, all you need to do is find out what information to include in the parenthesis and on the references page for the type of source you’re using and how to arrange it. MLA Style Made Simple will show you how.

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