What is MLA Style?

The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is the style most frequently followed to write papers or written content requiring cited sources within the humanities and the liberal arts, especially on subjects involving language or literature. The key components of MLA style are short, parenthetical citations used to cite sources in text and a corresponding works cited at the end of a piece of written work that lists those sources that are cited.

MLA style is recognized and used internationally in all of North America and in other countries across the globe, including China, India, Japan and Taiwan. This style is also used throughout schools at all levels, from grade school through college levels. In addition, MLA style is used by scholarly journals, magazines, newsletters, university presses and commercial presses.

MLA is first and foremost a set of guidelines for including parenthetical information to cite sources. It focuses on author information when giving credit to sources, so most citation involves using the names of the author or authors of any source.

Reasons to use MLA style

Any written work that references external sources requires giving proper credit, and MLA style is one of many official style guides. When you write following this style correctly, you show accountability to the sources you use to write material. It gives you more credibility. The biggest reason to use MLA style when it is warranted is to protect yourself from plagiarizing when you incorporate information from an outside source.

Another benefit of following the MLA style is that any written work of a similar nature follows the same format, allowing more attention to be given to the individuality of each piece. When a specific style guide is not required, MLA style is frequently used to cite sources since it is so widely used.

The focus of MLA style

Under MLA style, you must cite the author of any information you use from a resource you identify as a result of research. The author of a source takes precedence over the publication date. Whenever you use ideas, quotes or information written by someone else, it is your responsibility to cite from where they originated. This is done through in-text citations. These citations reference the complete list of your sources at the end of a written piece, known as the Works Cited page.

The five basic rules of MLA style

While there are more than five rules with details surrounding specific types of research sources and how you use that information, the following five rules are the backbone of MLA style.

  1. Use caution when selecting quotes. Your quotes should stand out; they should be memorable. You do not want to use a direct quote for everything from any source.
  2. Mix up your sources by avoiding the use of too few sources or only one source. You want as many perspectives as possible or as an assignment requires. The number of sources you use affects the quality of your content.
  3. Write your own content surrounding any direct or indirect quotes. This means commenting, interpreting or analyzing the information you use.
  4. Create a bridge between your words and quotations from or summaries of information from your sources. A signal phrase transitions the content to make it obvious that you are citing another source; that the material is not drawn from your own thoughts, ideas or conclusions.
  5. Cite each and every author you use material from within the text of a written piece. Any cited author must also be listed on your Works Cited page.

As a recognized way to cite sources, MLA style provides you with the tools to add legitimacy to what you write. Whether you are required to use this style or you decide to use it on your own accord, familiarizing yourself with the rules and guidelines of the MLA style allows you to write properly while giving credit where it is due through the citation of sources.