1. Identify what the source is, where it’s from, and who it’s by.
Is it a book? A journal article? An interview? Did you access it through an online database? How many authors does it have? The source’s characteristics influence how to reference it.
Say for instance you need to reference a journal article that you found through an online database. Figure 1 shows the information that is at the top of the first page of the article. This information tells you that it is an article from the journal
2. Find a matching example in your style guide.
The aim is to find the closest example possible in your chosen MLA style guide. For the following examples, we’re using the Monash University guide to MLA
In the MLA style guide, you can find examples for an online journal article that is written by one author. Note that reference list entries in MLA use a hanging indent. This is where the second and subsequent lines of the entry are indented. You can select hanging indent in the paragraph options of your document.
3. Write out the reference following the style guide examples.
Your aim at this point is to make the information that you have match the order and formatting of the information from the style guide. This includes the details such as punctuation. If you’re ever unsure, remember that your markers care most of all about consistency and having enough information to be able to locate the source themselves. Check over your references to make sure they’re following the same principles and formatting.
First, you need to identify the author’s surname (also known as their last name, or family name). In this case it is Shaw. Then, you need to work out the author’s first name(s).
Shaw, Debra Benita
Article and journal title
Then comes the article title and the journal name (in italics), as in Figure 3.
After that, you need the volume number and, if available, the issue number, then the year and the page range. Sometimes you may need to look elsewhere in the article or on the journal’s website to find out these details.
Finally, if you found the article in an online database (e.g. ProQuest, JSTOR), you will need to specify which database and give either the DOI or URL. Look to see if the article has a DOI – a Digital Object Identifier. This is like a stable URL. If so, then you will put the DOI after the database. The guide has examples to show this. If there is no DOI, give the URL.
A finished reference
Following the above steps, Figure 4 shows what your reference list entry will look like.
When you use MLA, you need to use parenthetical citations in the body of your work to show where the information comes from. In MLA, in-text citations only need to include the author surname and the page number that you’re referring to. For example, you could write:
According to one author, SF “is an extrapolation” (Shaw 785).
Check out the MLA guide for more examples on using in-text citations.
Check your guide
Always remember to have your chosen style guide open while you are referencing—even if you use referencing software. It’s useful to look out for inconsistencies, and to make sure that you have all the right information in the correct order and format. Check out the style guides listed above.