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How to Cite an Essay

15 April 2023

What are citations anyway?

If you've never heard of the term ‘citations‘, you might be even curious what it means. As a college student, you will often use ideas, thoughts, and writings of others to illuminate your own work. You are still learning how to formulate your own ideas; therefore, you will turn to established academics to help you. This is essentially what RESEARCH is. However, when you use someone else’s ideas or writing, you must communicate that to the reader. Thus, citations give credit to your sources.

Many students struggle with the question of how to cite sources in an essay. How to present your research varies depending on the style guide you are using. For English Literature essays, students must use the MLA style guide. And since every student in Canada must take at least ONE college level English class and at least TWO senior high school level English classes, every student in Canada will encounter this style guide several times.

This articles discusses some of the most common types of essay citations using MLA. So feel free to use it as a reference guide for you next assignment.

In-text citations and lists of references

There are two things to take into account when citing an essay. The first is called in-text citations and these are done directly within the body of the essay. The second is the Works Cited page. All of your research sources are listed on this very page, which should be located at the conclusion of your essay. Both in-text citations and the Works Cited Page show your reader that you have used someone’s thoughts, ideas, or research and shows them exactly where you got that information from.

While they both show the reader where the information came from, the Works Cited page and In-text citations do not require exactly the same information, though. Here are two simple tables that illustrate what is required of each.

MLA works cited for books


In-text citations

Paraphrasing, quoting, summarizing Directly within the body of the essay
Author last name and page number Enclosed in brackets

As you can see, in-text citations are far simpler than a Works Cited page because all you need is the author’s last name and the page number. Furthermore, if there is no page number, then all you need is the author’s last name. A Works Cited page, on the other hand, requires a lot of details about the source. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at this Works Cited page and the various types of sources you might encounter.

Specific instructions about ‘Works Cited’ references

As a basic rule of thumb, sources on your Works Cited page should include the following:

  1. The author’s name: first and last
  2. Title or name of the source
  3. The title of the container (if the source has one)
  4. Other contributors (if they are listed in your source)
  5. Version (if different versions of the same source exist)
  6. Number (if the source contains multiple issues of different numbers)
  7. The name of the publisher
  8. The date of publication
  9. Location

It is very important to note that the title of a book appears in italics while an article or chapter from a larger work appears in quotations. It is your responsibility to find all this information. Without all the correct information, your Works Cited page will be technically incorrect and you could lose marks on your paper, or be asked to revise it. A reader should be able to look at your Works Cited page, and know:

  • Who wrote the source?
  • Where did the source come from?
  • When was the source published?
  • Where was it published?

A reader should be able to follow the information, and find the source. From there, the reader can use your in-text citations to locate the exact place from within the source. Therefore, if your information is incomplete, the reader cannot find the exact source. At Mrs. Writer, we have specialists that can help with citations. They will make sure that your work will have all the information you need to list because they are aware of all these strict MLA citation rules

As you can well imagine, your sources aren’t always straight-forward. A book by one author is easy to cite, but what about a book by multiple authors? In the academic world, there is a huge variety of sources, including the following ones:

  • A book with multiple authors
  • A translation
  • An article in a collection
  • A website or online source

The MLA Style Guide has detailed information about all these scenarios, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ve highlighted some of the more common types of citations below with examples of each for you to follow.

Books with different types of authors

When conducting your research, you will likely come across books that have different types of authors. There could be multiple authors, editors, or even translators. So let’s take a look at how to cite sources that have different types of authors.

A book with one author

A book with one author is the easiest type of source to cite. You only need the following:

  • The author’s first and last name
  • The title of the book (in italics)The name of the publisher
  • The date of publication

Example 1: Smith, Mary. How to Catch a Rabbit . Penguin, 1991.

Example 2: Konkin, David. The Last Unicorn. Scholastic, 2008.

It gets a little more complicated when we add additional writers.

Book with more than two authors

If there are two authors, simply list in the same order that they appear in the book. So the first name that appears in the book is the one that is listed first. The first name is listed using the last name first and the second name is listed using the first name first. Confused? Here’s an example to illustrate:

Example 1: Sheffeld, Mary, and Michael Thornback. The Mysteries of the Galaxy . Penguin, 1997.

Example 2: Smith, David, and Sally Sternberger. Wild Horses , Sept and Everything After . MacIntosh Press, 1976.

As you can see, each of the aforementioned books has two authors. But what should you do, though, when your source has numerous authors? Do you list every author in the citation? No, you do not.

A book with multiple authors

If there are more than TWO authors, then you only list the first author that appears in the book and you follow the author’s name with the phrase ‘et al’. This phrase is Latin for ‘and others’ and is used to indicated that there are several more writers.

Example 1: Wynehousen, Amy, et al. Communications in the New World . Random House, 1994.

Example 2: Silverstein, Harry, et al. The Art of Fine Dining . Penguin, 1956.

Sometimes, books don’t have a person as an author. Here are some other situations you might encounter and how to cite them.

Books with other types of authors

Put the name of the organization where you would put the author’s name Use the title of the book first (where the author’s name would normally go) List the translator AFTER the title of the book List the editor after the title of the book
This is the same for any corporation, too Remember to still list it alphabetically with your other entries Put: ‘Translated by’ before the translator’s name Put: ‘Edited by’ before the editor’s name

With practice, you can get the hang of how to cite books even when there are different types of authors. But what if you’re not using the whole book? The MLA Style Guide has a perimeters for that, too. Let’s take a look.

How to cite one part of a collection or anthology

If you are using the book as a whole in your essay as a research source, then you need to list the entire book, as we discussed in the above section. However, sometimes books are collections, or anthologies and your source is only a PART of a bigger work. For example, your source might be:

  • A short story in an anthology of stories
  • An essay in a collection of essays
  • A particular or specific chapter

If you are only using a PIECE or PART of a larger work, then you need to let your reader know that. How? By citing the PIECE first (to show the specific part you used), followed by the larger work (the book) to show the reader where that piece came from.

Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds. Here’s the general rules for citing a work in a collection or anthology:

  • Last and first names of the author
  • The title of the essay/chapter/story (of the piece you're citing)
  • The title of the book or collection (where the piece cited by you comes from)
  • The name(s) of the editor(s) of this book or collection
  • The publisher
  • The year of publication/release of the collection
  • The page range of the essay/chapter/story, etc

Here are some examples:

Example 1: Stollart, James. “The Bubble Machine.” The Best Inventions of the Century , edited by Mary Mulls, Penguin, 1995, pp. 84-96.

Example 2: Toth, Kira. “How to Write a Thesis Statement.” Writing For College Students , edited by Marcus Lancanster and Joseph Hill, Random House, 1972, pp. 24-65.

The important thing to note about this type of citation is that the smaller piece (the essay or story or chapter) appears in quotations while the larger work (the title of the book, collection, or anthology) appears in italics. If you need your citations formatted for you, we at Mrs. Writer have a fast and efficient essay editing service that can take care of your task.

Other types of citations: Outliers

The wild and wonderful world of citing is confusing and problematic at best. At Mrs. Writer, we know this. There are SO many other types of source you can encounter and finding the correct way to cite them can be very difficult and time-consuming.

We cannot possibly cover every type of citation in this article. But as a quick reference point, here are some types of citations that have their own set of rules that stray from simple book or anthology citations:

  • The Bible
  • Pamphlets
  • Government sources
  • Volumes of works
  • Encyclopedias
  • Websites

Books and anthologies are the most common types of sources for college level students, so you should become familiar with how to cite those. However, if your research is taking you somewhere else, and you find yourself trying to cite an ‘outlier’ (something a little off the beaten track) then reach out for help. Our specialists at Mrs. Writer are standing by, 24/7 to assist you with all your citation needs. They are qualified essay writers who know all citation requirements. In the meantime, we hope that this article will serve as a handy reference for you while you create your next Work Cited Page.

How to cite an essay FAQs

Can I use one style guide for all my college level papers?

No, you cannot. The type of style guide you use is dictated by the academic discipline. For English Literature, for example, students are required to use the MLA style guide. But students in the Social Sciences are often required to refer to the APA Style Guide. If you still feel confused, just ask your professor! He or she will inform you of the necessary style manual for your course. And yes – they all have different rules regarding HOW sources are presented. If you require additional help, you can pay for essay editing at Mrs. Writer.

What happens if I don’t include citations in my essay format?

When you use someone else’s ideas, research, or thoughts, you MUST give them credit. If you do not, then that’s considered stealing. If you do not use citations, you could fail your paper or worse – be accused of plagiarism and expelled from the school. Therefore, citing is not a choice – it’s a mandatory requirement of ALL research essays.

Andrew Preston

As a knowledgeable writer in the fields of health, biology, and psychology, I ensure the delivery of top-notch articles that have been instrumental in the success of many students.

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