In previous posts on the Style Center, we have advised writers to use caution when working with online citation generators and provided a lesson plan for instructors to help students work with and correct citations from these generators. Citation generators function by culling bibliographic details associated with published sources in online databases. So the citations generated depend on both how the developers programmed the generator and the specific details about the sources in the databases. For this reason, the quality of the citations can vary according to the accuracy of the programming instructions and the bibliographic information. Some citation generators include warnings to double-check the accuracy of the citations and some do not.

In this post I discuss three representative examples of automatically generated citations in MLA style and show how to correct them using the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook. All three examples refer to a 1995 edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Example 1: WorldCat

The website provides an option to cite any book found in its database. The button to cite a source is located underneath the image of the book’s cover and displays a quotation mark. If you navigate to the page for the 1995 edition of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, click the citation button, and then choose “MLA 9th Edition” from the dropdown menu, the following citation is displayed:

Fitzgerald F. Scott and Matthew J Bruccoli. The Great Gatsby : The Authorized Text. Simon & Schuster 19951992.

There are a few problems with this citation. First is that the author should be Fitzgerald only, not Fitzgerald and Bruccoli. The website specifies that Bruccoli has provided notes for the edition. He is not listed as the editor, so it is not necessary to include his name in the entry, though you can do so if you prefer. Further, the Author element needs a comma: “Fitzgerald, F. Scott.”

The title also needs a bit of revision. Since “The Great Gatsby” is a title within the longer title, it should appear roman: The Great Gatsby: The Authorized Text. Also, according to MLA style, the ampersand in the publisher should be changed to “and.” Finally, the citation generator has mashed two dates together in the Publication Date element at the end. This edition is a 1995 reprint of an edition first published in 1992. Only the date of the specific edition is needed, so the date should read 1995 and be preceded by a comma. Here is the corrected entry:

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby: The Authorized Text. Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Or, with Bruccoli’s role specified:

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby: The Authorized Text. Notes by Matthew J. Bruccoli, Simon and Schuster, 1995. does not include a warning to double-check its citations, but as with all citation generators you should approach its citations as starting points and not as final products.

Example 2: University of Michigan Library

The record for the same book on the University of Michigan Library’s website shows much the same information as the record on But when you click the button with the quotation mark that says “Citation,” you get a much different citation:

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1st Scribner Paperback Fiction ed., Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995.

This citation is listed simply as “MLA citation” and does not specify which edition of the handbook is used. It is fairly close to the ninth edition format, however. The Author element is correctly formatted with a comma. The title is italicized. The Publisher and Publication Date elements are correctly formatted. The only change I would make is to remove the information about the edition. It’s usually not necessary to specify that a work is the first edition. Readers will assume it is the first edition unless otherwise noted in the entry. So the revised entry reads as follows:

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995.

The University of Michigan does include a warning: “These citations are generated from a variety of data sources. Remember to check citation format and content for accuracy before including them in your work.” This particular citation is fairly close to the MLA’s current guidelines, but the quality of other citations generated on the website might vary.

Example 3: University of North Carolina Library

Like the entries on and the University of Michigan Library’s website, the entry for the book on the University of North Carolina Library’s website includes all the basic information about the edition. When you click on the button with the quotation mark that reads “Cite,” you get yet another version of the citation:

Fitzgerald, F S. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995. Print.

This citation is listed under “MLA,” but it clearly is based on the seventh edition of the handbook. The place of publication and the word “Print” at the end are the giveaways. The MLA eliminated those two requirements in the eighth edition. The citation is mostly correct for the seventh edition, except for the Author element, which has omitted Fitzgerald’s middle name and the period after the “F.” To update to the ninth edition, correct the Author element and remove the place and medium of publication:

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995.

The University of North Carolina includes this warning: “These citations are automatically generated and may not always be correct. Double-check your citations to make sure they match an official citation manual or guide.” In this case, it is helpful to know that citation generators will not always specify which version of a citation guide they are using to generate citations. Citation formatting in style guides like the MLA Handbook does sometimes change with new editions, so be sure you are consulting the latest version or the version specified by your instructor or publisher.

Interactive Practice Template

While the MLA does not offer its own citation generator, it does offer an interactive practice template where users can produce their own works-cited-list entries. Users enter the details of their source in the various element slots, and the site generates the entry bit by bit on the top right. This helps students and other writers practice producing their own entries by looking at the details of the sources they’re citing. Online citation generators can be a useful place to start the citation process, but they should always be supplemented by official citation guides like the MLA Handbook and resources like the MLA’s interactive practice template.

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Joseph Wallace

Joseph Wallace copyedits articles for PMLA and writes posts for the Style Center. He received a PhD in English literature from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before coming to the Modern Language Association, he edited articles for Studies in Philology and taught courses on writing and early modern literature.