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How to Cite an Essay in MLA


Whether you refer to an essay from a nonfiction author in your literary paper or a work from a political figure in your history essay, you need to include citations that lead your readers to the source material. In Modern Language Association (MLA) format, these citations include the author, essay title and information about the print or online source where you found the essay, such as the editor, publisher name and publication date. MLA style also dictates the use of in-text citations to point the reader to the appropriate works cited entry.

Anthology or Collection Bibliography Citations

It is most likely that you will cite a single essay from a collection or anthology. These kinds of books often have editors, whose names you will need to add to your citation. If you refer to the entire book, which is rare, begin the citation with the editor’s names:

Strayed, Cheryl, and Robert Atwan, eds. The Best American Essays 2013. San Diego: Mariner, 2013. Print.

In the above citation, there are two editors; the first is listed last name - first name, and the second is listed first name - last name. Most often, you need to cite a single essay found in a collection. This changes the citation format slightly because you refer to the author and essay title before the collection, as in the example:

Monson, Ander. “The Exhibit Will Be So Marked.” The Best American Essays 2013. Ed. Cheryl Strayed and Robert Atwan. San Diego: Mariner, 2013. 245-253. Print.

All bibliographic entries in MLA need to use a hanging indent, in which the second and subsequent lines of text for each entry are indented.

Citing Books in MLA

You might need to refer to an entire collection of essays by one author; in this case, you would cite the collection as a book by an author, as follows:

Sedaris, David. Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Back Bay, 2001. Print.

If the book is translated, include the translator in the citation, much like you would for an editor:

de Montaigne, Michel. The Complete Essays. 1572. Trans. M. A. Screech. New York: Penguin Classics, 1993. Print.

This citation includes two dates, because the original essays were published in 1572, while the reprinted edition referred to was published in 1993. If your book source has two or three authors, follow the format of last name - first name for the first author, and use first name - last name format for the subsequent authors. If there are more than three authors, list the first author as last name - first name, followed by “et al.” for “and others.”

Essays Found Online

You might find essays online, which are likely published on a website or as part of an online journal or magazine. To cite the Web page, first list the author and essay title, followed by the name of the website and the date you accessed the site, as in the example:

Gould, Emily. “How Much My Novel Cost Me.” Medium, 2014. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

If the essay came from a Web magazine, also include the magazine’s name and publishing information in your citation:

Comiskey, Nancy. “Dear Kate: Living With Grief.” Indianapolis Monthly. Indianapolis Monthly Publications, 2014. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

MLA format does not require you to write the URL at the end of the citation, but you could include it after the access date.

In-Text Citations

Parenthetical and in-text citations direct your reader to the bibliographic entry in your works cited page. In MLA format, you use the author’s last name followed by the page numbers in parentheses after a sentence or group of sentences referring to the essay. For example, “(Sedaris 25-32)” -- without the quote marks -- would finish your sentence, and you place the sentence's period after the parenthetical citation. If you mention the author within a sentence, only put the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence. Web sources do not require page numbers in the parenthetical citations; use just the author’s last name instead.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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