MLA Style FAQ

Students and parents, please note that this FAQ is a work in progress.

It is based on students’ in-class questions about MLA style, and is updated in response to additional questions that arise about specific assignments.

The FAQ links to authoritative web resources, most often from Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL).

  1. Q: Why do I have to use MLA formatting instead of footnoting or some other reference style, such as APA or Chicago?
    A: Although MLA can be annoying to learn and has many intricacies, it is the documentation style you will be expected to use in your college English courses.  Learning to use it now will help prepare you for college, and will teach you logic, attention to detail, and how to avoid plagiarism. Please remember that while I expect you to pay attention and get better as you use it, I do not expect you to be perfect at it.  I only expect you to keep trying with each assignment and to improve over time.
  2. Q: Why won’t you let me use a citation generator?
    A:  Citation generators frequently give incorrect citations, and do not help you to learn the logic of what you are doing.  It is like using an inaccurate calculator without knowing basic arithmetic.
  3. Q: Why did you say my paper is plagiarized?  I put all my sources on my Works Cited list.
    A: Simply including a source on the Works Cited list is not sufficient documentation of its role in your work.  You must also cite parenthetically in-text to show your reader the source of the idea being discussed at the location it is discussed in the essay.  In other words, a Works Cited list is a list of things cited in the essay.  In-text citation helps to demonstrate the relationship between your own ideas and those of other people.
  4. Q: Why do I have to do in-text citation for paraphrased material? I put it into my own words.
    A: If it is someone else’s idea (as opposed to a widely known fact), you need to cite it both in-text and on the Works Cited list, whether or not you quote it directly.
  5. Q: I am not sure whether to cite this or not.  What should I do?
    A: When in doubt, err on the side of over-citation.  In other words, when in doubt, cite.
  6. Q: Why do you refuse to accept Wikipedia as a credible academic source?  Information wants to be free!
    A: At the college level, Wikipedia is not considered a peer-reviewed, academically accepted source.  In fact, much of the original material is plagiarized.  Since you are preparing for college, collegiate standards for academically credible sources apply.  Please use the databases available through Stuyvesant’s library instead.  Also, please note that crowd-sourced editing is not the same as peer-review.
  7. Q: What are the basic rules for MLA in-text citation?
    A: Please see:
    -OWL Purdue’s “MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics”
    -OWL Purdue’s “MLA Works Cited Page: Basic Format”
  8. Q: How do I format my Works Cited list?
    A: After you review OWL Purdue’s “MLA Works Cited Page: Basic Format,” look carefully at OWL Purdue’s “Sample Works Cited Page.”  Check your alphabetization, indentation, capitalization, italicization, spacing, and punctuation against this example.  For questions about how to format an entry for a specific type of work, check the FAQ questions below.
  9. Q: How do I integrate a quotation into my own sentence?
     A: Please see:
    -Massasoit Community College’s “Integrating Quotations” (featuring the “Quotation Sandwich.” :) )
    -Saint Michael’s College’s page on integration of quotes.
    -University of Wisconsin at Madison’s “Integrating Quotations from a Literary Text into a Literary Analysis Paper.”
  10. Q: How do I cite a translated book?
    A: Please see:
    -OWL Purdue’s “MLA Works Cited Page: Books” (Scroll down to “A Translated Book”)
  11. Q: How do I cite an online article?
    A: Please see:
    -OWL Purdue’s “MLA Works Cited Page: Electronic Sources” (“A Web Page”)
  12. Q: How do I cite a song?
    A: Please see:
    -OWL Purdue’s “MLA Works Cited Page: Other Common Sources (“A Sound Recording”)
  13. Q. How do I cite an image?
    A:
    Please see:
    -OWL Purdue’s “MLA Works Cited Page: Electronic Sources” (Scroll down to “Basic Style for Citations of Electronic Sources [Including Online Databases]”).  Note that this section acknowledges that not every website will provide all the citation information; you should collect as much as possible and use what you can.
    -OWL Purdue’s “MLA Works Cited Page: Electronic Sources” (Scroll down to “An Image [Including a Painting, Sculpture, or Photograph]”).
  14. Q: My question isn’t answered here. Are you going to mark me down if my attempt to cite a confusing thing turns out to be incorrect?
    A: No. If you have a question about MLA style that is not answered here, please do the best you can with OWL.  Remember what I said about the goal being for you to try and to improve, as opposed to doing it perfectly every time.  Then, ask me in class or email me about it, so I can post the question and answer for the benefit of your classmates and future students. 🙂