Standard Documentation Formats
Standard Documentation Formats - MLA
Written by Margaret Procter, Writing Support   
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Standard Documentation Formats
MLA System: Parenthetical Author-Page References (humanities)
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MLA System: Parenthetical Author-Page References (humanities)

Used largely in the humanities, the MLA citation format uses parenthetical in-text citations of author and page, with all sources itemized in the Works Cited. In 2016, MLA released the eighth edition of its Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. In-text citations remain largely unaffected, but references in the Works Cited section have changed significantly. Rather than providing a different protocol for each type of source, the eighth edition lists "core elements" that cover the basic constituents of any source: Author, Title of Source. Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication Date, Location. The container is the larger whole in which the work appears. It can be a journal or website or anthology or database. Some sources may be nested in more than one container—e.g., a journal article that you found in an online database. For each container, provide only those core elements that apply to your source. Note that location refers to where in a container your reader can find your source. For an article in a journal, the location is the page range of the article; for a website, it is the URL for the relevant webpage.

Here are a few of the other changes, large and small, that MLA has introduced in the eighth edition:

  • It no longer insists that there is one correct way of constructing a reference. Though it does supply general guidelines and some specific formatting rules, it asks you to consider relevance to your reader in deciding which elements to include in your reference. And, to help you deal with the proliferation of types of media in the the age of the internet, it encourages you to use common sense in formatting sources not obviously covered by the examples in the Handbook.
  • It no longer includes the city of publication or the medium (e.g., print, web, film) in references.
  • It uses commas between most items in a reference. As in the list of core elements above, it requires a period after the author and the title of your source but commas between all of the other elements in a container. If your reference calls for more than one container, you would place a period between them.
  • In the Works Cited, it calls for p. or pp. in front of the page range. This change does not apply to in-text citations.
  • It asks you to provide fuller information in references to journal articles based on what the journals themselves provide: not only volume, year, and page range, but also issue number, month, and season.
  • It recommends that you provide the URL whenever practicable and potentially useful to readers. But it prefers that you provide a digital object identifier (DOI) in place of a URL when possible.

See also the MLA website for a discussion of what’s new in the eighth edition, or download this movie for a step-by-step guide to formatting using the new MLA guidelines.


When Hamlet protests to his mother, "Leave wringing of your hands" (III.iv.35), he is naming a universally recognizable gesture. As Smith notes, similar broad gestures are "still the most direct way of indicating inner turmoil" (964). Contemporary actors still use this body movement (Zubar), and Renaissance audiences would have recognized it as a signal for inner distress (Brown 111), perhaps for a condition the Elizabethan author Reynolds named "ague of the spirits" (qtd. in Mahieu 69). Poor sight lines in Elizabethan theatres also required highly visible body movements (Smith 964). In her most recent book, Brown attempts to show that such gestures are related to stylized movements from religious ceremonies, among other influences (Brown, Ritual 90).

Works Cited

Brown, Joan. The Renaissance Stage. Toronto: University of Toronto P, 2008. 

---. Ritual and Drama in the Elizabethan Age.Oxford UP, 2014.

Mahieu, Aline. Acting Shakespeare. Shaw, 2009.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, 12th ed., Norton, 2016, pp. 1350-1445.

Smith, John. "Renovating Hamlet for Contemporary Audiences." UTQ, vol. 78, no.1, Fall 2009, pp. 960-69. Project Muse, doi: 10.1353/utq.0.0560.

Zubar, Alisa. "Acting Now." Termagant Society Online,