The MLA’s method for citing sources uses a template of core elements—standardized criteria that writers can use to evaluate sources and create works-cited-list entries based on that evaluation. That new technologies like ChatGPT emerge is a key reason why the MLA has adopted this approach to citation—to give writers flexibility to apply the style when they encounter new types of sources. In what follows, we offer recommendations for citing generative AI, defined as a tool that “can analyze or summarize content from a huge set of information, including web pages, books and other writing available on the internet, and use that data to create original new content” (Weed).
- cite a generative AI tool whenever you paraphrase, quote, or incorporate into your own work any content (whether text, image, data, or other) that was created by it
- acknowledge all functional uses of the tool (like editing your prose or translating words) in a note, your text, or another suitable location
- take care to vet the secondary sources it cites (see example 5 below for more details)
See below for specific examples. And keep in mind: the MLA template of core elements is meant to provide flexibility in citation. So if you find a rationale to modify these recommendations in your own citations, we encourage you to do so. We’ve opened this post up for commenting, so let us know what you think and how you’re using and citing generative AI tools!
Using the MLA Template
We do not recommend treating the AI tool as an author. This recommendation follows the policies developed by various publishers, including the MLA’s journal PMLA.
Title of Source
Describe what was generated by the AI tool. This may involve including information about the prompt in the Title of Source element if you have not done so in the text.
Title of Container
Use the Title of Container element to name the AI tool (e.g., ChatGPT).
Name the version of the AI tool as specifically as possible. For example, the examples in this post were developed using ChatGPT 3.5, which assigns a specific date to the version, so the Version element shows this version date.
Name the company that made the tool.
Give the date the content was generated.
Give the general URL for the tool.1
Example 1: Paraphrasing Text
Passage in Source
Paraphrased in Your Prose
While the green light in The Great Gatsby might be said to chiefly symbolize four main things: optimism, the unattainability of the American dream, greed, and covetousness (“Describe the symbolism”), arguably the most important—the one that ties all four themes together—is greed.
“Describe the symbolism of the green light in the book The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald” prompt. ChatGPT, 13 Feb. version, OpenAI, 8 Mar. 2023, chat.openai.com/chat.
Example 2: Quoting Text
Passage in Source
Quoted in Your Prose
When asked to describe the symbolism of the green light in The Great Gatsby, ChatGPT provided a summary about optimism, the unattainability of the American dream, greed, and covetousness. However, when further prompted to cite the source on which that summary was based, it noted that it lacked “the ability to conduct research or cite sources independently” but that it could “provide a list of scholarly sources related to the symbolism of the green light in The Great Gatsby” (“In 200 words”).
“In 200 words, describe the symbolism of the green light in The Great Gatsby” follow-up prompt to list sources. ChatGPT, 13 Feb. version, OpenAI, 9 Mar. 2023, chat.openai.com/chat.
While we’ve provided fairly detailed descriptions of the prompts above, a more general one (e.g., Symbolism of the green light in The Great Gatsby prompt) could be used, since you are describing something that mimics a conversation, which could have various prompts along the way.
Example 3: Citing Creative Visual Works
If you are incorporating an AI-generated image in your work, you will likely need to create a caption for it following the guidelines in section 1.7 of the MLA Handbook. Use a description of the prompt, followed by the AI tool, version, and date created:
Fig. 1. “Pointillist painting of a sheep in a sunny field of blue flowers” prompt, DALL-E, version 2, OpenAI, 8 Mar. 2023, labs.openai.com/.
You can use this same information if you choose to create a works-cited-list entry instead of including the full citation in the caption (see MLA Handbook, sec. 1.7).
Example 4: Quoting Creative Textual Works
If you ask a generative AI tool to create a work, like a poem, how you cite it will depend on whether you assign a title to it. Let’s say, for example, you ask ChatGPT to write a villanelle titled “The Sunflower” that—you guessed it!—describes a sunflower and then quote it in your text. Your works-cited-list entry might look like this:
“The Sunflower” villanelle about a sunflower. ChatGPT, 13 Feb. version, OpenAI, 8 Mar. 2023, chat.openai.com/chat.
If you did not title the work, incorporate part of or all of the first line into the description of the work in the Title of Source element:
“Upon the shore . . .” Shakespearean sonnet about seeing the ocean. ChatGPT, 13 Feb. version, OpenAI, 8 Mar. 2023, chat.openai.com/chat.
For guidance on using descriptions and text from the work itself in the Title of Source element, see the MLA Handbook, 5.28 and 5.29.
Example 5: Citing Secondary Sources Used by an AI Tool
You should also take care to vet the secondary sources cited by a generative AI tool—with the caveat that AI tools do not always cite sources or, when they do, do not always indicate precisely what a given source has contributed. If you cite an AI summary that includes sources and do not go on to consult those sources yourself, we recommend that you acknowledge secondary sources in your work.
For example, let’s say that you ask Bing AI to explain the concept of the political unconscious, citing sources, and it provides the following answer:
Let’s say that you then decide to quote from the final sentence. You need to click through to the source listed in the note in order to get more information than just a URL for the source. There, you will read the following:
Now, you can treat Oxford Reference as your source since Bing AI was merely a research conduit to the source (see MLA Handbook 5.34 for more information). If for some reason you want to treat a source cited in a generative AI tool as an indirect source–and you know it is, in fact, the source for the information provided by the AI, follow the guidance in section 6.77 of the MLA Handbook.
1. At the time of writing this post, ChatGPT doesn’t have a built-in feature to create a unique URL to the conversation. However, an outside tool like the Chrome extension ShareGPT can generate such a link. If you use that type of outside tool, include the unique URL that the tool generates instead of the general URL.
DALL-E allows users to download the AI-generated images they create or generate a publicly-available URL that leads to an image. If you choose to create a shareable link for an image you generate with DALL-E (or other similar AI image generators), include that unique URL that leads to the image instead of the general URL.
MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2021. MLA Handbook Plus, 2021, mlahandbookplus.org/.
Weed, Julie. “Can ChatGPT Plan Your Vacation?” The New York Times, 16 Mar. 2023, www.nytimes.com/2023/03/16/travel/chatgpt-artificial-intelligence-travel-vacation.html.