Can an MLA list of works cited be divided into subheads like “primary sources” and “secondary sources”?

Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.

Subheads are not necessary in works-cited lists for most student work or essay-length publications but can be useful in some lengthy or complex publications geared toward a specialist audience. The important rule of thumb is this: only divide a works-cited list if it helps readers navigate the list. All too often, readers do not know enough about a work to determine where to locate it in a subdivided list.

Grouping entries can sometimes be helpful in books about a single author or a single work. For example, the MLA’s Approaches to Teaching Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, second edition (2014), discusses the various editions of Chaucer’s poem. Thus in the works-cited list, editions of The Canterbury Tales are listed under the subhead “Editions.” Complete works, translations, and so on are listed under the appropriate rubrics, along with a list of primary and critical works. The subheads are organized as follows:

   Works by Chaucer

      Complete Works

      Editions of The Canterbury Tales

      Translations of The Canterbury Tales

      Facsimile Editions of The Canterbury Tales

      Other Works

   Primary and Critical Works

Another reason for subdividing entries is to group unusual types of works that would be difficult to integrate into an alphabetical list—numbered boxes from an archive, for example—or that are especially important to highlight for readers. In the MLA’s Academic Collective Bargaining, bargaining agreements are grouped together in one essay’s works-cited list.