Works Cited: Common Questions Explained

(This post originally appeared Nov. 2013)

Below we’ve compiled a list of the most common student questions related to Works Cited pages, and attempted to clarify what many students find to be the most complicated and perplexing part of the research writing process.

Q  Where do I put the URL in the Works Cited entry?

A  The newest guidelines from the 7th edition of the MLA (Modern Language Association) Handbook have removed the URL from web sources. Now writers will include the medium of publication. For web sources you would simply add “Web” at the end of the entry in place of the URL. Book and other types of print medium, such as newspapers or journals, will add “Print.” Other common sources may be Film or DVD. However, ALWAYS follow instructor guidelines, as many still require the inclusion of URLs.

My source doesn’t have an author. Should I list it as “Anonymous”?

It’s actually quite common for web sources not to list an author. If the author of the source is unknown, list the source by the first word in the title, disregarding A, An, or The. So as you alphabetize the entries, you would alphabetize by the first word in the title. If the title is more than a few words, use a shortened version of the title in the in-text citation.

My instructor says I need to use a “hanging indent” on my Works Cited page.  What exactly is a hanging indent?

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.

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.

Q  I have several quotes by the same author but from different texts. How do I account for this on my Works Cited?

When conducting research, it’s common to find several different articles by the same expert. 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.

I placed quotation marks around the title of the book I referenced, but the instructor said it should be italicized. I then italicized the title of a journal article, but was told that’s incorrect too! Which is it?

This is one of the most confusing rules for most students. If you can just remember that small works – for instance, chapter titles in anthologies – are placed in quotation marks; larger works – like a book or journal – are italicized. So, for instance, the 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. It gets more complicated with websites, but just remember the smaller work is placed in quotations and the larger work in italics.

Other directives from the MLA Handbook:

Italics: books, plays, poems published as books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, journals, web sites, online databases, films, television and radio broadcasts, CDs, albums.

Quotation Marks: articles, essays, stories or poems published within larger works, book chapters, pages in web sites, and individual episodes of television and radio broadcasts.

 (for a complete list, see MLA Handbook for writers of Research Papers 7th Edition)

My instructor said it was okay to interview my supervisor as one of my sources. How would I cite my interview?

If you have conducted the interview, begin the entry with the name of the person you have interviewed, the kind of interview, whether it was a Personal interview, Telephone interview, or E-mail interview, and conclude with the date the interview took place.

Ex.:     Karr, John. Personal interview. 14 Oct. 2013.

Final Thoughts

Students often find Works Cited pages to be extremely overwhelming to understand.  Your handbook or Purdue Owl’s website are great resources to utilize as you work through the process. All you need to know is the type of medium you are using, so make sure you have identified the type of source correctly, whether it be a print journal, web site, or library database. It’s always best to compile your Works Cited manually, meaning avoid the automatic citation help in MS Word and NoodleTools Express, which will incorrectly format an entry if the writer fails to insert the correct information.

One last piece of advice: It’s much  easier to compile the Works Cited page as you go, as opposed to waiting until the paper is finished.  Creating the source list as you go will save time in the end, and you’ll have the citation right in front of you for the in-text citations.

To view a sample paper with a Works Cited page, visit Purdue Owl here:  MLA Sample Paper.


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