Works-cited-list entries in MLA style are structured according to the concept of containers. But it’s often tricky to determine when a work accessed online is contained in another work. This post provides some examples to help you see when a website is and is not a container. 

Rule of Thumb

A website is a container when it is the platform of publication of the particular version of the work you consult. It is not a container when it is a passive conduit providing access to the work.

Sites That Are Containers

Here are a few examples of sites that are containers:

  • Twitter is the platform of publication for tweets.
  • Google Books is the platform of publication for digitized versions of complete print books.
  • Facebook is the platform of publication for comments by your friends.

In all these instances, what we are calling a container is the platform of publication of the source. 

Sites That Aren’t Containers

So what’s not a container? A website is not a container when it merely provides a link to a work. Here are some examples:

  • Any site that acts as a mere portal to a work published elsewhere is not a container.
  • Online stores. If you purchase and download a song or book from the Apple store, the website is not the container of the song or book. It’s the store you purchased the work from and thus a conduit for access.
  • Search engine results, like the thumbnail from a Google image search or the results displayed for books by the “look inside” function on Amazon are not works, and thus they are not containers. To consult the work, you must click through to the site hosting the image or buy the complete book sold through the Amazon website.
  • An app downloaded from a website to a personal device is also not a container for the purposes of the style.

For more help in determining when a website is a container, including a chart with examples, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.