Introduction to MLA Style

When to Use MLA Style

MLA style, created by the Modern Language Association of America, is the primary citation style used for papers in literature and media studies.

Learning Objectives

Recognize when to use MLA style in writing

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • If you take a writing or literature class in college, you will almost certainly need to write all your papers in MLA style.
  • MLA style is the house style of the Modern Language Association of America (MLA).
  • MLA style provides guidelines for evaluating and documenting sources.

Key Terms

  • MLA style: A common citation and formatting style used in composition, literature, and media studies.

MLA style is one of the most common citation and formatting styles you will encounter in your academic career. Any piece of academic writing can use MLA style, from a one-page paper to a full-length book. It is widely used by in many high school and introductory college English classes, as well as scholarly books and professional journals. If you are writing a paper for a literature or media studies class, it is likely your professor will ask you to write in MLA style.

The Two MLA Style Guides

MLA style, the house style of the Modern Language Association of America (MLA), has two official publications. The most recently published editions of both works have been updated in light of advancements in computer word-processing programs and electronic and digital publishing practices.

For Students

The first MLA style guide is the MLA Handbook. This publication targets high school and college students and teachers, explaining the style and formatting rules relevant to student writing; this is the publication of most interest to you. The most recent version of the MLA Handbook is the eighth edition, published in 2016.

For Academic Professionals

The second is the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, called the MLA Style Manual for short. This publication targets academic scholars and professors, explaining the style and formatting rules relevant to the publication of MLA-style books and journal articles in literature and media studies. The most recent version of the MLA Style Manual is the third edition, published in 2008.

Following the advent of the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook in spring 2016, the MLA stated that the MLA Style Manual would be declared out of print effective September 1, 2016.

The Purpose of the MLA Handbook

The MLA style guide aims to accomplish several goals:

  1. to define plagiarism and explain how to avoid it;
  2. to provide guidelines for evaluating the reliability of sources;
  3. to ensure proper attribution of ideas to their original sources, for the sake of academic honesty and intertextual dialogue;
  4. and to ensure consistent formatting and presentation of information, for the sake of clarity and ease of navigation.