Works Cited: The Basics


If you’re writing a paper for a college English class, chances are you’ll be asked to use MLA documentation style. MLA, or Modern Language Association, is a style of documentation generally used in Humanity or Liberal Arts fields (though not always). Research sources for MLA use authorpage number for in-text citations, as opposed to the year that APA (American Psychological Association) uses. The reason for this difference is that the currency of research is of greater importance in the sciences, which usually requires APA documentation.

For MLA, writers must compile a Works Cited page at the conclusion of their essay. A Works Cited is an alphabetical list of all the sources you used in your paper. Your instructor might ask for a Works Consulted page, which is all the sources you have read in preparation for your paper, not only the ones you have referenced in the text.

Basic Format

If your essay is 10 pages long, Works Cited will be page 11. Even if the essay only falls onto the first or second line of page 10, Works Cited must begin on the following page.

The title, Works Cited, should be centered on the page. It is not necessary to bold, italicize, or enlarge the font of the title. All lines will be double-spaced, including from the title to the first entry.

Hanging Indent

If the entry is long enough to run onto a second line, a hanging indent will be used. A hanging indent is exactly the opposite of a traditional indent; instead of indenting the first line, with all subsequent lines flush left, the first line of the entry will be flush left, with all subsequent lines indented, regardless of number. The reason for a hanging indent on a Works Cited page is so a reader can easily find the source’s name or title while scanning the Works Cited page. The page will look like this:

(ex. from Purdue Owl Online)

(ex. from Purdue Owl Online)






To easily format for a hanging indent in MS Word, under the “Home” tab, click on the “Paragraph” arrow to open; on the right of the box, you should see “Special” with “none” as the default. Click the arrow beside “none” and “Hanging” should be the last item. If you format the hanging indent before you enter your sources, it will automatically create a hanging indent for each entry.

Other Basics

 Titles of Works

Knowing when to italicize or put quotation marks around titles of works is tricky for beginning writers. If you can just remember that small works – for instance, chapter titles found in anthologies – are placed in quotation marks; larger works – like a book or journal – are italicized. So, for instance, the journal article, “Five Fallacies of Education,” will be in quotation marks, and the journal, Harvard Review will be in italics. A newspaper article will be in quotation marks, and the name of the newspaper italicized, like this:

“Iowa Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill.” Des Moines Register.

It gets more complicated with websites, but just remember the smaller work is placed in quotations and the larger work in italics.

Multiple Works by Same Author

It’s actually quite common to find several different articles by the same expert, so you might cite more than one work by the same author. On your Works Cited, give the author’s name in the first entry only. Every entry after the first one with the full name, type three hyphens, which stand for the name in the preceding entry.  The three hyphens, like the name, will be followed by a period. Alphabetize all entries by title. It will look like this:


Knopp, Lisa. Field of Vision. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1996. Print.

—. The Nature of Home: A Lexicon and Essays. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2002. Print.

(ex. from



Final Thoughts


Students often find Works Cited pages to be a bit confusing to put together.  Always refer to your handbook or a respected website, such as Purdue Owl or Bedford St. Martin, both great resources to utilize as you work through the process of compiling your source page. Click the links below to go to their websites.

It’s always best to compile your Works Cited manually, meaning avoid the automatic citation help in MS Word and other computer-generated software, which may incorrectly format an entry if the writer fails to plug in the correct information.

For more questions about Works Cited or MLA, visit Purdue Owl or Bedford St. Martin’s.



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