The MLA Scholarly Citation Style on How to Cite a Book

by Lori L. Woods, Demand Media

The Modern Language Association sets style rules and guidelines for citing books within the fields of the humanities and liberal arts. Many professors of literature and language classes will require students and scholars to use MLA style in citing books. In addition, many scholarly journals in these fields also require MLA style. If you are unsure what style your professor or publisher prefers, be sure to ask what is expected.

General Rules

Citing books in MLA style consists of finding certain available components of a book and listing them in a prescribed order on a "works cited" page or a bibliography. In citing books, gather as much information as possible in the following order: name of the author, authors, editor, organization, compiler, or translator; title of the work; edition used; volume used; city of publication; name of publisher; year of publication; and medium. Book titles are always italicized unless you are handwriting your paper, in which case you may underline the titles.

Single Author

For books by a single author, give the author's name exactly as it is shown on the title page, but in reverse order. List the author's last name, followed by a comma, first and middle name, followed by a period. Omit titles and degrees, but use suffixes, such as Jr. or Sr. For example, "Rust, Arthur George, Jr." Next, list the title of the book in italics, followed by a period, the city of publication, followed by a colon, the name of the publisher, followed by a comma, and the year of the publication, followed by a period. Lastly, list the medium of the publication, followed by a period. For example: "Erdrich, Louise. The Round House. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. Print." Italicize the title or underline it if handwritten. If you are citing more than one book by the same author, list the books in alphabetical order by title. Then, cite the first entry in the normal MLA format and subsequent books using three dashes and a period in place of the author's name. For example: "Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. New York: Picador, 2001. Print." The next citation by the same author would look like this: "---. Freedom. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. Print."

Multiple Authors

When citing a book with more than one author, list their names in the same order as on the book's title page. Only the first author's name appears in reverse order. Write the remaining authors names with the first name followed by the last. For example: "Abcarian, Richard, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen. Literature: The Human Experience. 11th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012. Print." For books with more than three authors, you may list them all or just give the first author's name, followed by "et al."

In-Text Citations

In MLA style, you must use a parenthetical citation within your paper that refers to the source in your works cited page. To do this, list the author's last name and the page number in the book that corresponds to the quotation or reference in your paper. For example: "The challenge of eating today is choosing real food" (Pollan 7). If you have already stated the author's name in your writing, you may cite just the page number or numbers. For example: "Pollan tells us the challenge today is eating real food. (7)."


  • "MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing," Third Edition
  • "MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers," Seventh Edition

About the Author

Lori L. Woods is a writer, educator and communicator in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more than 15 years, she has been covering the environment, food, health, entertainment and education issues for various magazines and online publications. Woods holds a bachelor's degree in world arts and cultures from UCLA, as well as a graduate degree in English and education from California State University, Northridge.

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