What is MLA Notation?


MLA notation is a system for citing and documenting sources of information when writing papers in the humanities. It is designed and updated by the Modern Language Association, an organization for scholarship in the modern languages. The MLA system of documentation is used by many disciplines, including English, but it is not the only method of citations. The Chicago system is used by some, particularly for longer works, and other fields have their own systems of documentation. The electronic version of the Bedford Handbook for Writers provides samples of other documentation systems and a list of handbooks for the social sciences (APA), history (Chicago) and science (CBE). Once you have chosen a major, you should become familiar with the system used in your discipline.

Even among those who use MLA there are differences in its application. Some professors will prefer that you single space all inset quotations, for example, even though the current MLA manual uses double spacing. Therefore, you must ask each individual professor what citation system to use; it is then your responsibility to learn it. The advice in this tutorial will, of course, be consistent with what I ask my students to do for my courses, though most of the instructions should be adequate for anyone using MLA notation.

Natalie Grinnell
Wofford College
429 North Church Street
Spartanburg, South Carolina 29303
Last Update: July 17, 2009