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If I’m citing an entire play reprinted in an anthology, does it appear in italics?

Yes. As the MLA Handbook explains, the title of an independent work (that is, a work that usually stands alone, such as a play, novel, or artwork) is styled in italics, even when the work is contained in another independent work (27):

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. The Riverside Shakespeare, edited by G. Blakemore Evans et al., vol. 2, Houghton Mifflin, 1974, pp. 1307-42.

The following example shows an entry for a work of art contained in a Web site:

Bearden, Romare. The Train. 1975. MOMA,

Published 3 May 2017

How do I cite the program of a theater performance?

To cite the program of a theater performance, follow the MLA template of core elements. Begin with a description of the program as the title and include any important identifying information in the description, such as the name of the theater where the performance took place and its location. Then provide the name of the program’s publisher and the publication date.

Program for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the Walter Kerr Theatre, New York. Playbill, 2016.

Cite a contribution to a program, like an essay, as follows:

Simonson, Robert. “Marquee Player.” Program for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the Walter Kerr Theatre, New York, Playbill, 2016, pp. 4–6.

Published 20 April 2017

Documenting Legal Works in MLA Style

By Angela Gibson

Gaining familiarity with the legal-citation practices used to document legal works may be impractical for student writers and sometimes even for scholars working in nonlegal fields. Nonspecialists can use MLA style to cite legal sources in one of two ways: strict adherence to the MLA template of core elements or a hybrid method incorporating the standard legal citation into the works-cited-list entry. In either case, titles of legal works should be standardized in your prose and list of works cited according to the guidelines below.

Legal Style

Legal publications have traditionally followed the style set forth in the Harvard Law Review Association’s Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, although some law reviews, such as the University of Chicago Law Review, have published their own style manuals. A more streamlined version of the Bluebook’s legal-citation method, the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation, was introduced in 2000. The Legal Information Institute, a nonprofit associated with Cornell Law School, publishes an online guide to legal citation geared toward practitioners and nonspecialists instead of academics.

Those working in law are introduced to the conventions of legal citation during their professional training. Legal style is a highly complex shorthand code with specialized terminology that helps legal scholars and lawyers cite legal sources succinctly. It points specialists to the authoritative publication containing the legal opinion or law, regardless of the version the writer consulted.

MLA Style

Students and scholars working outside the legal profession and using MLA style should follow the MLA template of core elements to cite laws, public documents, court cases, and other related material. Familiarize yourself with the guidelines in the MLA Handbook, section 2.1.3, for corporate authors and government authors.

Following one of the fundamental principles of MLA style, writers citing legal works should document the version of the work they consult—not the canonical version of the law, as in legal style. As with any source in MLA style, how you document it will generally depend on the information provided by the version of the source you consulted.

Titles pose the greatest challenge to citing legal works in MLA style. Since MLA style keys references in the text to a list of works cited (unlike court filings, which cite works in the text of the brief, or academic legal writings, which cite works in footnotes ), writers should, with a few exceptions (noted below), standardize titles of legal sources in their prose and list of works cited. Following the MLA Handbook, italicize the names of court cases (70):

Marbury v. Madison

When you cite laws, acts, and political documents, capitalize their names like titles and set them in roman font (69):

Law of the Sea Treaty
Civil Rights Act
Code of Federal Regulations

When a legal source is contained within another work—for example, when the United States Code appears on a Web site that has a separate title—follow the MLA Handbook and treat the source as an independent publication (27). That is, style the title just as you would in prose—in italics if it is the name of a court case, in roman if it is a law or similar document; even though the legal source appears within a larger work, do not insert quotation marks around the title:

United States Code. Legal Information Institute, Cornell U Law School,

For more on titles in legal citations in MLA style, see “Tips on Titles,” below.

Commonly Cited Sources

A few examples of using MLA style for commonly cited legal sources follow.

United States Supreme Court Decisions

Where you read the opinion of a United States Supreme Court decision will dictate how you cite it in MLA style. Legal-citation style, in contrast, points to the opinion published in the United States Reports, the authoritative legal source for the United States Supreme Court’s decisions, and cites the elements of that publication.

For example, the case Brown v. Board of Education is commonly abbreviated “347 U.S. 483” in legal citations: 347 is the volume number of United States Reports; “U.S.” indicates that the opinion is found in United States Reports, which is the official reporter of the Supreme Court and indicates the opinion’s provenance; and the first page number of the decision is 483. (The American Bar Association has published a useful and concise overview of the components of a Supreme Court opinion.)

Regardless of the version you consult, you must understand a few basic things about the source: that it was written by a member of the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the majority and that, when you cite the opinion, the date on which the case was decided is the only date necessary to provide.

Following are examples of works-cited-list entries in MLA style for Brown v. Board of Education. The entries differ depending on whether the information was found on the Legal Information Institute Web site, published by Cornell University Law School, or on the Library of Congress Web site.

Legal Information Institute

The works-cited-list entry includes

  • the government entity as author
  • the name of the case (“Title of source” element)
  • the year of the decision; it would also not be incorrect to include the day and month if it appears in your source
  • the title of the Web site containing the case (“Title of container” element)
  • the publisher of the Web site
  • the Web site’s URL (“Location” element)
United States’ Supreme Court. Brown v. Board of Education. 17 May 1954. Legal Information Institute, Cornell U Law School,

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress site allows researchers to link to or download a PDF of the opinion from the United States Reports. To locate the case, the researcher must know the volume number of the United States Reports in which Brown v. Board of Education was published. A works-cited-list entry in MLA style would include the author (the government entity) and the title of the case, as well as the following information for container 1:

  • United States Reports (“Title of container” element)
  • vol. 347 (“Number” element)
  • the date of the decision (“Publication date” element)
  • page range (“Location” element)

Container 2 includes the name of the Web site publishing the case and its location, the URL. The publisher of the site is omitted since its name is the same as that of the site.

United States Supreme Court. Brown v. Board of Education. United States Reports, vol. 347, 17 May 1954, pp. 483-97. Library of Congress,

United States Supreme Court Dissenting Opinions

Sometimes, Supreme Court justices write dissenting opinions that accompany the published majority opinion. They are part of the legal record but not part of the holding—that is, the court’s ruling. If you cite only the dissent, you can treat it as the work you are citing:

Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. Dissenting opinion. Lily Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. United States Reports, vol. 550, 29 May 2007, pp. 643-61. Supreme Court of the United States,

Federal Statutes (United States Code)

In MLA style, it will generally be clearest to create an entry for the United States Code in its entirety and cite the title and section number in the text, especially if you are referring to more than one section of the code.

If an online search directs you to the Web page for a specific section of the United States Code, it would not be incorrect to cite the page for that section alone. For example, if you want to use MLA style to document title 17, section 304, of the United States Code—commonly abbreviated 17 U.S.C. § 304 in legal citations—title 17 can be treated as the work and thus placed in the “Title of source” slot on the MLA template, or if you cite the United States Code in its entirety, title 17 can be placed in the “Number” slot.

Your entry will once again depend on the version you consult. Below are examples from various Web sites.

Web Site for the United States Code

On the Web site for the United States Code, you would likely determine that the United States House of Representatives is the author of the code. The United States Code is the title of the source, and since the source constitutes the entire Web site, no container needs to be specified: the source is self-contained, like a book (see p. 34 of the MLA Handbook). The site lists the Office of the Law Revision Counsel as publisher, so you would include that name in the “Publisher” slot, followed by the date on which the code was last updated, and the URL as the location:

United States, Congress, House. United States Code. Office of the Law Revision Counsel, 14 Jan. 2017,

The body of your text or your in-text reference must mention title 17 and section 304 so the reader can locate the information you cite. It would not be wrong to include chapter 3 as well (title 17, ch. 3, sec. 304), although a discerning researcher will note that section numbers (304) incorporate chapter numbers (3), making “chapter 3” unnecessary to include.


If you do not include title 17 and section 304 in the text, you must include that information in the works-cited-list entry:

United States, Congress, House. United States Code. Title 17, section 304. Office of the Law Revision Counsel, 14 Jan. 2017,

Legal Information Institute

A nonspecialist would not be able to determine from the Legal Information Institute site that the United States House of Representatives is the author of the United States Code. A basic citation would include the title of the code as displayed on the site, the title of the Web site as the title of the container, the publisher of the Web site, and the location:

United States Code. Legal Information Institute, Cornell U Law School,

Government Publishing Office Web Site

The Web site of the Government Publishing Office (variously referred to as the Government Printing Office) displays each statute heading (or “title”) as a Web page:

You can treat title 17 as the work and the United States Code as the title of the container, as follows:

Title 17. United States Code, U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2011,

Or you can treat the United States Code as the title of the source and title 17 as a numbered section within the code, by placing title 17 in the “Number” slot on the MLA template:

United States Code. Title 17, U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2011,

Below are examples of how to cite other common legal sources in MLA style.

Public Laws

United States, Congress. Public Law 111-122. United States Statutes at Large, vol. 123, 2009, pp. 3480-82. U.S. Government Publishing Office,

Federal Appeals Court Decisions

United States, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Moss v. Colvin. Docket no. 15-2272, 9 Jan. 2017. United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, /decisions.html. PDF download.

It is customary to title court cases by using the last name of the first party on each side of the v. You may also wish to shorten a long URL, as we have done here.

Federal Bills

United States, Congress. Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act of 2016., 114th Congress, 2nd session, House Resolution 6394, passed 6 Dec. 2016.


United States, House, Committee on Education and Labor. The Future of Learning: How Technology Is Transforming Public Schools. United States Government Publishing Office, 16 June 2009, Text transcription of hearing.

Executive Orders

After a president signs an executive order, the Office of the Federal Register gives it a number. It is then printed in the Federal Register and compiled in the Code of Federal Regulations. Executive orders usually also appear as press releases on the White House Web site upon signing.

United States, Executive Office of the President [Barack Obama]. Executive order 13717: Establishing a Federal Earthquake Risk Management Standard. 2 Feb. 2016. Federal Register, vol. 81, no. 24, 5 Feb. 2016, pp. 6405-10,

State Court of Appeals, Unpublished Decisions

Minnesota State, Court of Appeals. Minnesota v. McArthur. 28 Sept. 1999, Unpublished opinion.

State Senate Bills

Wisconsin State, Legislature. Senate Bill 5. Wisconsin State Legislature, 20 Jan. 2017,


If a constitution is published in a named edition, treat it like the title of a book:

The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription. National Archives, United States National Archives and Records Administration, 28 Feb. 2017,

The Constitution of the United States, with Case Summaries. Edited by Edward Conrad Smith, 9th ed., Barnes and Noble Books, 1972.

References to the United States Constitution in your prose should follow the usual styling of titles of laws:

the Constitution

But your in-text reference should key readers to the appropriate entry:

(Constitution of the United States, with Case Summaries)

If the title does not indicate the country of origin, specify it in the entry:

France. Le constitution. 4 Oct. 1958. Legifrance,


Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. United Nations, Multilateral treaty.

United States, Senate. Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances., Treaty between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

International Governing Bodies

Swiss Confederation. Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft. 18 Apr. 1999. Der Bundesrat, 1 Jan. 2016,

United Nations, General Assembly. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Resolution 217 A, 10 Dec. 1948. United Nations, PDF download.

Writing for Specialists: A Hybrid Method

A writer using MLA style to document a legal work for a specialized readership that is likely to be familiar with the conventions of legal documentation may wish to adopt a hybrid method: in place of the author and title elements on the MLA template of core elements, identify the work by using the Bluebook citation. Then, follow the MLA template of core elements to list publication information for the version of the source you consulted.

For example, to cite the United States Code using the hybrid method, treat the section cited as the work. As above, you can omit the title of the Web site, United States Code, since the code constitutes the entire Web site and is thus a self-contained work.

17 U.S.C. § 304. Office of Law Revision Counsel, 14 Jan. 2017,

If you are citing a court case, begin the entry with the title of the case before listing the Bluebook citation. In the hybrid style, cite Brown v. Board of Education as found on the Legal Information Institute Web site thus:

Brown v. Board of Education. 347 U.S. 483. Legal Information Institute, Cornell U Law School,

Other sources (public laws, federal appeals court decisions, etc.) can be handled similarly.

If using the hybrid method, do not follow the handbook’s recommendation to alphabetize works that start with a number as if the number is spelled out. Instead, list works beginning with numbers before the first lettered entry and order numbered works numerically.


Styling titles when you document legal sources in MLA style may be challenging. Below are some guidelines.

  • Standardize titles of legal sources in your prose unless you refer to the published version: as the MLA Handbook indicates, italicize the names of court cases, but capitalize the names of laws, acts, and political documents like titles and set them in roman font.
  • When a legal source is contained within another work—for example, when the United States Code appears on a Web site with another title—follow the MLA Handbook, page 27, and treat the work as an independent publication. That is, style the title just as you would in prose—in italics if it is the name of a court case, in roman if it is a law or similar document; even though the legal source appears in a larger work, do not insert quotation marks around the title.
  • In the names of court cases, use the abbreviation v. consistently, regardless of which abbreviation is used in the version of the work you are citing.
  • To determine the name of a court case, use only the name of the first party that appears on either side of “v.” or “vs.” in your source; if the name is a personal name, use only the surname.
  • To shorten the name of a court case in your prose after introducing it in full or in parenthetical references, use the name of the first-listed nongovernmental party. Thus, the case NLRB v. Yeshiva University becomes Yeshiva. If your list of works cited includes more than one case beginning with the same governmental party, list entries under the governmental party but alphabetize them by the first nongovernmental party:

    NLRB v. Brown University

    NLRB v. Yeshiva University

    Refer to the nongovernmental party in your prose and parenthetical reference, alerting readers to this system of ordering in a note.


Special thanks to Noah Kupferberg, of Brooklyn Law School, for assistance with these guidelines.

Published 5 April 2017

Make MLA Style Work for You: Create Your Own House Style

By Russell Grooms

Most writers think of citation styles as monolithic, inflexible sets of rules, but MLA 8 is a method that was built for customization. It is meant to be adapted by different users for different purposes, as I explained in an earlier post. This is a great strength of the style given that it is used in such a wide variety of contexts, from K–12 education to the highest levels of academe to the larger world of publishing. Individuals or groups—teachers, educational institutions, and publishers—may develop their own variations on MLA style, as long as they adhere to a few core principles: follow the template of core elements to cite traits common to most works (e.g., author and title); there may be many equally correct ways to document a source; documentation should be useful to readers and include all relevant bibliographic information (MLA Handbook 3–4).

Personal preference is built in to MLA 8, especially for online sources. One teacher might prefer that her students provide hyperlinks in the works-cited list because the links help her access the sources with a single click, allowing for faster source checking and evaluation. Another might think that the blue, underlined links look sloppy and clutter the page. He might prefer shortened URLs or no URLs at all. The MLA Handbook leaves this decision to the discretion of the teacher (48). Others may want access dates for all sources, even though these are not required for sources with clear publication dates. The style’s built-in options mean that all these variations are “correct” in MLA 8, because they serve the needs of the reader—in this case, the teacher.

Just as publishers often develop a “house style” sheet that supplements whatever published style guide they use and addresses their specific needs and preferences, so too can teachers. What gives teachers the power to deviate from “standard” MLA style? They are the primary readers of a student’s research, and in the MLA Handbook readers are the ultimate authority: “Make your documentation useful to the reader” (4). Teachers act as surrogate readers, standing in for the writer’s audience. By representing the reader, they help students develop the judgment and flexibility needed to anticipate the needs of readers and adapt documentation to those needs.

Deviating from the norm, however, creates an obligation for teachers. You have a responsibility to clearly communicate your expectations to students early in the research process. If a “house style” is used, provide samples (just as publishers do) and explain why you have a preference. For instance, “I require live hyperlinks, because it helps me find your sources faster. I like to see what sources you found and how you used them.” This creates a prime opportunity to ignite a discussion on scholarly communication that will help students understand how citations are used and why they are important: citations enable students to connect their research with others’ work and to join the greater scholarly conversation.

Work Cited

MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

Published 24 February 2017

How do I cite a book for which no organization is named as the publisher?

As noted on page 42 of the MLA Handbook, if the book is published by its author or editor, omit the publisher’s name from the works-cited-list entry:

Hocking, Amanda. Fate. 2010.

If the publisher is unknown—as in the example below—follow the guidelines on page 20 of the handbook: “An element should be omitted from the entry if it’s not relevant to the work being documented.”

Cummings, E. E. The Enormous Room. 2017.

Keep in mind, though, that a source whose publisher is unknown may not be reliable. Established publishers generally ensure that the texts they publish are accurate versions of the author’s work. A source from an unknown publisher could be missing text or contain inaccurate text, so if a version of the source is available from an established publisher, consider using that version instead.

Published 9 March 2017

How do I cite a quotation that I’ve altered?

In almost all cases you should transcribe a quotation exactly as it appears in the source. However, you may occasionally want to italicize words in a quotation to call special attention to them. If you add italics for emphasis, indicate that you’ve altered the quotation by using the phrase emphasis added (or my emphasis), like this:

Lincoln specifically advocated a government “for the people” (emphasis added).

To include an in-text citation with a quotation you’ve altered, put the citation first, followed by a semicolon, and then the words emphasis added:

Lincoln specifically advocated a government “for the people” (Brown 512; emphasis added).

For more on permissible alterations to quotations, see the MLA Handbook, eighth edition, section 1.3.6.

Published 1 March 2017

Commonsense MLA 8: Documentation for the Reader

By Russell Grooms

As a librarian at one of the largest community colleges in the nation, I constantly field questions about MLA citation from students, faculty members, and other librarians. Over the years, I have become our library’s citation guru, and I confess to being a citation nerd. I read The MLA Handbook (8th ed.) from cover to cover, and this post explains why you should too.

You might be skeptical. After all, you probably didn’t read every page of the seventh edition. If you are like me, you had a little sticky note on page 123, telling you which section to refer to for citing each type of source. The seventh edition is a reference work: to use it, you look up how to form individual citations for particular source types. The eighth edition is different. Half of the book is not meant to be used as a reference at all: instead, the foreword, preface, and entirety of part 1 explain the method for citing sources developed by the MLA and the reasons behind it. Part 1, which focuses on the concepts behind each element on the template and how to structure works-cited-list entries, is the key to understanding the new style. Part 2 offers mechanical details that show the implementation of the style; it can be consulted like a reference work later, but reading through it once will give you an understanding of the method behind the new style.

Most questions I encounter about citations can be answered by reflecting on the reasons behind the new method, set forth by the three guiding principles in the MLA Handbook:

Cite simple traits shared by most works.

Remember that there is often more than one correct way to document a source.

Make your documentation useful to readers. (3–4)

These principles direct us to take a commonsense approach to citing sources. All too often, I see writers overfocused on citation mechanics. They lose sight of the goal of documentation: “enabling readers to participate fully in the conversations between writers and their sources” (MLA Handbook xii). You can answer any tricky documentation question by stepping back and asking yourself, How am I using my sources and how can I cite them in a way that helps my reader?

For example, consider how students with different goals might cite the same source: Grimm’s Fairy Tales. A student doing a close reading of one version of the tales in an introductory English composition class will likely use the MLA template of core elements to create a very basic works-cited-list entry with author, title, publisher, and year. A fourth-year student writing an honor’s thesis comparing German translations of folk tales might list the translator as the primary author and the Grimm brothers as other contributors. Another student writing a thesis about illustrations in nineteenth-century children’s literature would likely indicate the illustrator first. A student using a rare first edition from the library’s special collections may need to include the physical location of the item. An important point here is that a single student’s use of MLA style could evolve as course work becomes more specialized and documentation needs change. Teaching MLA style as a rigid set of rules simply will not work. The flexibility of MLA 8 also creates an opportunity for faculty members to develop their own “house style” that meets their needs as well as students’. You can read more about this in my second post, to be published later this week.

Interestingly, the same guiding principles appear in the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook (129). The difference is that in MLA 8, these concepts move from the background to the forefront, informing every decision that we make as writers. It is essential to read the entire MLA Handbook, because it clarifies the logic underlying the style. If you let these concepts guide your way, you can handle any citation in MLA 8. Just remember that, above all, documentation is for the reader.

Works Cited

MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2009.

Published 22 February 2017

5 Tips for Documenting Sources in a Talk

By Angela Gibson

Speaking at the MLA convention in Philadelphia? Remember a key principle of MLA style: it’s important to credit ideas and quotations borrowed from others. This is true even when delivering an oral presentation. Here are five easy tips:

1. When introducing a source for the first time, provide enough information about it for others to locate it and understand its context. Typically, the author, title, and date of the source are needed. Other publication information can be mentioned if relevant.

2. Use clear and varied phrases to introduce a source that you quote or paraphrase.

3. Conclude quotations clearly, by reestablishing yourself as the speaker (e.g., “In this quotation we see”; “As we can discern from Katz’s statement”; “Jefferson’s words are especially apt because”).

4. Avoid “quote . . . unquote.”

5. If your presentation includes slides or a handout, include a works-cited list for your presentation.

Good luck, and we’ll see you in Philly at the MLA Style Workshop!

Published 3 January 2017

How do I cite an image found through an online search engine like Google Images?

To cite an image found through Google using the image-search function, you must identify the Web site—that is, the container—where the image was posted. For example, let’s say you found this image of The Muleteer by searching “Pompeii” and then “Bodies.”

Viewing the image thumbnail in the search-results list is not sufficient. You must click through to view the image on the site where it was posted: Decoded Past.

Since the artwork is contained in a blog post on a Web site, the works-cited-list entry would be composed of two containers:

Sheldon, Natasha. Photo of The Muleteer. “Human Remains in Pompeii: The Body Casts,” by Sheldon, 23 Mar. 2014. Decoded Past,

A second option would be to refer to the title of the image and its author in the body of your paper and then key your in-text citation to an entry for the blog post in the works-cited-list entry:

Sheldon, Natasha. “Human Remains in Pompeii: The Body Casts.” Decoded Past, 23 Mar. 2014,

Published 4 January 2017

How do I document a source when I can’t use a works-cited-list entry or an endnote?

Sometimes, a source needs to be cited in a piece of prose that doesn’t lend itself to the kind of documentation appropriate for research papers. In a short, informal, or nonacademic piece of writing—such as a letter to the editor or an informational brochure like the one shown in the examples below, from an art school’s one-page tip sheet for new graduates looking for ad agency jobs—the MLA’s guidelines for formatting a works-cited-list entry can easily be adapted to a parenthetical citation.

When bibliographic facts are stated in parentheses, follow the same pattern as in the works-cited list, with two exceptions: the name of the author is given in normal order (not reversed), and periods after elements are converted into semicolons.

Tip 5: Your resume should stick to the facts—“Don’t do a cute resume” (Luke Sullivan; Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads; 4th ed., Wiley, 2012, p. 325).

If the name of the author and the title of the work are given in the running text, they do not need to be repeated in parentheses. The parenthetical information begins with the element that follows the title of the source.

Tip 5: Your resume should stick to the facts. As Luke Sullivan advises in Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads: “Don’t do a cute resume” (4th ed., Wiley, 2012, p. 325).

Captions, too, may need to document a source. Sources are documented the same way in captions that they are in parentheses.

Fig. 1. Charles Rennie Mackintosh; chair of stained oak; 1897–1900, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Published 5 January 2017

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