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A Writer's Handbook

MLA Style

For a tutorial on MLA style from the Purdue OWL, click here:

  • MLA page numbering:  This is set in the header of the paper on the top right hand side of the paper and should have your last name and the page number.
  • MLA heading:  This should only be on the first page of your paper (not in the header of the page) and should contain four lines with the following information in this exact order:  Line 1 - Your full name, Line 2 – Instructor name, Line 3 – Class name and number (ENG 101), Line 4 – Date.
  • Title of the Essay:  This should be centered on the page after the heading.  The title of an essay should give the reader a clue as to what the essay is focusing on.
  • Double spacing:  Choose the double space option in the paragraph section when you right click in the document.
  • Font and size:  Times New Roman or Arial font set at 12 point.
  • Works Cited page:  This will be the last page of a paper that uses any kind of source.  Center the words “Work(s) Cited” at the top of the page.  Entries will be listed alphabetically by the first letter of the entry.  Sources used in the paper must be placed on the Works Cited page.


In-text and Works Cited

Online guide for the following information found by clicking: 9th Edition (2021) Updates

The new MLA documentation and citation style centers around elements within “containers.”  Each container has core elements so students can easily put any type of citation together.  Also, these new core elements are now only separated by commas, so no elaborate punctuation is needed; students only need remember that at the end of a container, there is a period; all other information is separated by commas.

Author The original author of the source.
"Title of Article." or Title of Book Source. The title of the specific work you are looking at:  either a "small specific work within a larger one," or the larger on as a whole
Title of Container, The title of the  larger source containing the more specific one you are citing above
Other contributors, A listing of any other editors, translators, or performers:  listed as: edited by John Smith, for example
Version, A notation of the version if multiple versions are available
Number, A notation indicating which of a sequence the source is
Publisher, The name of the sponsor organization or producer of the source
Publication date, The year, month, or specific date the work was published
Location. The location of where the source was found whether it is a page number, web address, lecture, or place of performance

Additional containers would continue the entry if embedded in a database with additional container information.

Paraphrases Versus Quotations

Paraphrasing material from a source is when a writer uses the main idea of selections from that source.  Generally, a few sentences or a small paragraph is the most a writer can effectively paraphrase in his or her own words.  Much more information than this gets into summary and this is usually not recommended.


-from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Indeed, it seemed impossible for either of us to remain much longer in the house:  the fall of coals in the kitchen grate, the very ticking of the clock, filled us with alarms.  the neighbourhood, to our ears, seemed haunted by approaching footsteps; and what between the dead body of the captain on the parlour floor, and the thought of that detestable blind beggar hovering near at hand, and ready to return, there were moments when, as the saying goes, I jumped in my skin for terror” (Stevenson 15).


Jim and his mother were both terrified to the point of wanting to leave because of the odd noises in the eerily quiet inn and the dead man laying before them (Stevenson 15).

Paraphrasing material in multiple sentences from a source does not require a citation after every sentence; however, you must set the chunk of sentences up to allow the reader to recognize that multiple sentences are paraphrased.  Begin a multi-sentence paraphrase by mentioning the source; continue the paraphrase until you are done with the material and cite the chunk of sentences at the end.


-from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Indeed, it seemed impossible for either of us to remain much longer in the house:  the fall of coals in the kitchen grate, the very ticking of the clock, filled us with alarms.  The neighbourhood, to our ears, seemed haunted by approaching footsteps; and what between the dead body of the captain on the parlour floor, and the thought of that detestable blind beggar hovering near at hand, and ready to return, there were moments when, as the saying goes, I jumped in my skin for terror” (Stevenson 15).

Multi-sentence paraphrase:

Stevenson sets an atmosphere of eeriness for Jim and his mother by showing readers how much the two did not want to stay in their house.  There were sounds, even small ones from a clock, that were scaring them.  There were also people, like the dead captain and the vagrant outside the door, that were making them feel uneasy in their house alone (Stevenson 15).

Quoting material from a source is taking the direct wording, style, and formatting from a source – using ellipsis or brackets if the writer takes away (ellipsis), changes (brackets), or adds (brackets) anything of his or her own.  The length of the quotation is up to the paper writer and will need to be in block format if the prose quote is longer than four paper lines or if the poetry quote is longer than 3 consecutive lines or if a drama quote includes back and forth dialogue.


Stevenson writes that Jim and his mother hear “the fall of the coals…[and] the very ticking of the clock” which makes them want to leave (15).

Discussion of Summary

Summarizing material from a source is when a writer takes a large portion of the information and condenses it into one main idea.  This could be as simple as saying a summary of The Hunger Games movie is about a girl named Katniss that volunteers to go through a deadly annual game in place of her sister, and through her trials and determination, she successfully navigates the game and challenge the political system in place at the same time. 

*Often times a summary will be more than one sentence, but note how the whole movie (and almost whole series of movies) is condensed into a very short amount of space, but still illustrates the main point.

Ellipsis and Bracket Use

  • Ellipsis (…) allows a writer to delete information within a sentence that may not be pertinent to the illustration or support at hand. Ellipses will alert the reader that some information from the source was left out.
  • Brackets ( [  ]  ) allow a writer to change grammatical tense/error or add clarification to words or ideas in a sentence to the illustration or support from the source.  Brackets will alert the reader that those words are altered in some way from the original quotation.

Prose Citation:  What Comes After the Quote and Paraphrase Examples

  • Signal Phrase: Critic Mark Towers argues, “The yellow in the brick road symbolizes the gold standard of the times” (54). *Note, if the source did not have a page number, the citation of the author’s name in signal would do it.
  • No Signal Phrase:  In the political climate of the time, the debate between gold and silver split the classes (Towers 54). *Note, if the source did not have a page number, the citation would only list the author’s name.
  • No author:  The CDC advocates, “women should have a yearly mammogram after age 40” (“Breast Cancer”). *Note, what is in the parentheses is what will be in the first part of the Works Cited entry (not author).
  • Quotation from a different source within a work:  Becker and Murphy denote that “…consumption capital…was first used to explain excessive and addicted gambling behavior from and economic perspective” (qtd. in Fiedler 292).
  • Long quotation with omitted information: Critic Alex Harmon notes, “Once the metaphorical sheet has been pulled over their eyes…the parents are blind to their daughter’s evil.” *Note, the lack of parentheses at the end just means this is from a source with no pagination (author mentioned in signal phrase).
  • Quote with information added for clarification from the paper writer:  The ogre marched on as “he carried [the princess] to the dungeon” (Smith 205). *Note, the original wording was “her.”
  • Long quotation (block quotation form): a quotation that is over four lines will have a complete sentence set-up, an indent of two tab spaces, no quotation marks, and the period will come before the parenthetical citation:

Citation Examples

Poetry Citation Examples

The rules for poetry differ from the rules for quoting prose in two key ways:

  • Poetry requires writers to cite line numbers not page numbers
  • Poetry requires writers to keep line breaks intact

Quoting 1, 2 or 3 lines of poetry. You can quote three or fewer lines of poetry without having to place the lines in a block quote. Use quotation marks. Use a slash to indicate the break between lines. Put the line numbers in parentheses. Place the period at the end of the line number(s):

Example:  One poet ponders, “Have I a voice in making a choice/Or is it some force/Determines my course?” (Perrine 1-3).

Quoting 4 or more lines of poetry. If you quote four or more lines of poetry, you need to block indent the poem ten spaces on the left margin (two tabs).

Example:  Bob Dylan makes a call to politicians in his song “The Times They Are A-Changin’:

          Come senators, congressmen

          Please heed the call

          Don’t stand in the doorway

          Don’t block up the hall (23-26)

When citing several single words from different lines, put line numbers after each single word. If you quote several words or phrases from throughout a poem, list the line numbers after each word.

Example:  Lucille Clifton uses imagery such as “big” (1) and “mighty” (11) to describe her wonderful hips.

When quoting one word or phrase, put the line number at the end of the sentence. Just as when quoting a single word of a prose work, put line numbers at the end of a sentence if quoting only one word.

Example: McKay describes America as a “cultured hell” to show the country’s good and bad side (4).

Drama Citation Examples

  • Drama can be written in prose or verse form

When quoting from plays written in verse form, follow the rules for quoting poetry. In addition, if the play is divided into acts and/or scenes, convey this information in parentheses (act #, then scene #, followed by line #).

Example:  Fewer than four lines from an essay on Oedipus the King:

 Knowing he is blind, Oedipus is full of woe and laments, “Death take the man who unbound/My feet on that hillside/And delivered me from death to life! What life!” (Sophocles, Exodos, lines 1301-1303).

Example:  Four plus lines blocked from an essay on Hamlet:

Shakespeare illustrates a debate between the righteousness of life over death or death over life when Hamlet is speaking only to himself:

          To be, or not to be, that is the question:

          Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

          The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

          Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

          And by opposing end them. (III.i.56-60)

When quoting from plays written in prose, follow the rules for quoting prose. Do NOT use slash marks to indicate line division in the original, and use act, scene, and page number in parenthesis (act #, scene #, page #).

Example: From an essay on Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House:

Nora finally realizes she has been nothing but a doll in Torvald’s house when she confronts him saying, “Torvald – in that instant it dawned on me that for eight years I’ve been living here with a stranger, and that I’d even conceived three children – oh, I can’t stand the thought of it! I could tear myself to bits” (Ibsen, III.251)

     **Block format for plays written in prose will be used when the words from a character exceed four lines in your typed essay.

If you are quoting back and forth dialogue, always set the quote off in block format, even if it takes just two lines. Put each character’s name in capital letters, followed by a period. All additional lines spoken by the same character should be indented by an extra quarter inch (approximately three spaces).

Example:  From an essay on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King:

After Teiresias prophecies Oedipus’ horrible fate, the two bicker:

          OEDIPUS. Am I to bear this from him? –

              Damnation/Take you! Out of this place! Out

              of my sight!

          TEIRESIAS. I would not have come at all if

              you had not asked me.

           OEDIPUS. Could I have told that you’d talk

              nonsense, that/You’d come here to make a

              fool of yourself, and of me? (Sophocles,


**Dialog is formatted in block fashion. Notice there are no quotation marks and the parenthetical citation has no period after it.