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Declaration Essay Definition Dictionary

MLA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.

Contributors: Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Maryam Ghafoor, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2017-11-15 10:10:43

The following FAQs address issues in MLA citation and/or formatting. Further information on MLA style and citation can be found at the Purdue OWL’s MLA Style and Formatting resource.

I have to write a paper in MLA format. Where can I learn more about writing in MLA?

The Purdue OWL maintains an extensive resource that deals with MLA style. See our MLA Formatting and Style Guide. Additionally, the MLA Style Center is an official resource that provides answers to frequently asked questions, guidance on formatting research papers, documentation tips, and other assistance in writing paper in MLA format.

How do I use MLA citations and list of works cited in a PowerPoint presentation?

To cite sources in a slide presentation, MLA suggests including brief citations on each slide that includes material from your sources, including quotations, summaries and paraphrases, images, or data. Include a works-cited list on a slide at the end of your presentation. MLA also suggests providing your list of sources to your audience, either through a URL or printed copy that you hand out in your presentation. For more details, see the MLA Handbook, 8th ed., pp. 127-28.

How do I cite email?

When you document an email in your list of works cited, use the subject of the message as the title. The title should be capitalized and in quotation marks.

Boyle, Anthony T. “Re: Utopia.” Received by Daniel J. Cahill, 21 June 1997.

What is a container? 

Unlike earlier versions, the eighth edition handbook refers to containers, which are the larger wholes in which the source is located. For example, if you want to cite a poem that is listed in a collection of poems, the individual poem is the source, while the larger collection is the container. The title of the container is usually italicized and followed by a comma, since the information that follows next describes the container. A container could be a television series, which is made up of episodes, a website, which contains articles and postings, or many other sources within sources.

Bazin, Patrick. “Toward Metareading.” The Future of the Book, edited by Geoffrey Nunberg, U of California P, 1996, pp. 153-68.

“Hush.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar, season 4, episode 10, Mutant Enemy, 1999.

What is a DOI?

A DOI, or digital object identifier, is a series of digits and letters that leads to the location of an online source. Articles in journals are often assigned DOIs to ensure that the source is locatable, even if the URL changes. If your source has a DOI, use that instead of a URL.

Chan, Evans. “Postmodernism and Hong Kong Cinema.” Postmodern Culture, vol. 10, no. 3, May 2000. Project Muse, doi: 10.1353/pmc.2000.0021.

Do I need to include a URL when I document online sources in my list of works cited?

MLA’s eighth edition handbook recommends including URLs when documenting an online source. This is so your readers have the most specific information when attempting to locate your source. If your teacher prefers that you do not include URLs in your works-cited list, be sure to follow her/his instructions.

Gay, Roxane. “Who Gets to be Angry?” The New York Times, 10 June 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/opinion/sunday/who-gets-to-be-angry.html?_r=0

When the title of a newspaper begins with an article (the, a, an) do I need to include it when I list the title in my citation?

Yes. This is one of the changes in the eighth edition handbook. Previously, MLA did not require the article in the title of a periodical (newspaper, journal, magazine), but the updated handbook states that the article should now be considered part of the title. The article should be capitalized and italicized. For example, refer to The New York Times, (rather than New York Times), when citing it in your text or works-cited list.

How do I cite e-books or Kindle books?

An e-book is considered a version, so it should be listed after the title of the book, before the publication information. If you know the type of e-book you used (such as Kindle or Ebook library), be sure to specify that. Avoid using device-specific numbering systems, since they will vary among different devices. If the book has chapters, sections, or other stable numbering systems, it is permissible to identify parts of the text that way.

Theile, Verena and Linda Tredennick, editors. New Formalism and Literary Theory. Kindle ed., Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

How do I cite a tweet?

The full text of the tweet should be your title. Enclose the text in quotation marks, and include the date, time, and URL.

@persiankiwi. “We have report of large street battles in east & west of Tehran now - #Iranelection.” Twitter, 23 June 2009, 11:15 a.m., twitter.com/persiankiwi/status/2298106072.

If you know the real name of an author listed under a pseudonym, add it in parenthesis (this information is not required, but include it if it will be helpful to your readers).

@lclambeck (Linda Lambeck). “The #bridgeport school funding upshot: the state legislature lacks political will to do right thing.” Twitter, 7 June 2016, 5:59 p.m., twitter.com/lclambeck/status/ 752985641261162496.

How do I cite a book that I accessed online?

Cite the book just like you would if it were in print. Then add the name of the database or website you used to access the online book, and add a URL or other location indicator at the end of the citation.

Pettegree, Andrew. The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know about Itself. Yale UP, 2014. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), 0-search.ebscohost.com.iii-server.ualr.edu/ login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=692353&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

How do I cite an unpublished manuscript/document? 

Author. Title of Manuscript/Document. date of composition (at least year), along with "the name and location of the library, research institution, or personal collection housing the material."

Henderson, George Wylie. Baby Lou and the Angel Bud. Collection of Roslyn Kirkland Allen, New York.

How do I cite the US Constitution?

In general, do not italicize or enclose in quotation marks the title of laws, acts, and similar documents in either the text or the list of works cited (Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, Taft-Hartley Act). Such titles are usually abbreviated, and the works are cited by sections. The years are added if relevant.

Because these directives aren’t very specific, you can use the following example as a guide for the Works Cited entry:

U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend. XII, Sec. 3.

You need only provide either the article number or the amendment number as appropriate.

The complementary parenthetical citation is written as (US Const. amend. XII, sec. 3). You might also reference the U.S. Constitution in the sentence itself and only provide the amendment and section number in the parentheses at the end of the sentence.

How do I cite a definition from an online dictionary, like Dictionary.com?

In most cases, a word defined in an online dictionary is within two containers: the original source and the web source. Be sure to italicize both containers, and include the URL. The access date is optional, but include it if it will best help your readers locate the source.

“Perchloric acid.” The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin, 1995. Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/ browse/perchloric-acid?s=t. Accessed 13 Dec. 2010.

How do I cite a footnote?

The eighth edition handbook does not address this question, so we advise following the format traditionally recommended by the MLA style guidelines. This states that citing another author’s footnote in your own text should include the following, in parentheses: author’s name, the page number, the letter n (to indicate note), and the note number. There are no spaces between the page number, the letter n, and the note number.

How do I cite genealogies and birth/death certificates?

This is a very particular and a very peculiar case. MLA does not offer any guidelines on how to handle genealogies and birth certificates. However, after searching through web, we have found the following resources that might be useful to you:

Genealogy.com offers a method of citing birth/death certificates. Follow the link and scroll down to “Official Records.”

In addition, Archive.gov offers a leaflet called Citing Records in the National Archives of the United States.

How do I cite the information from food nutrition labels?

Treat food nutrition labels as you would any other source. Make sure to include the core elements, in the proper order, and provide as much information as your readers will need to locate the source.

“Nutrition Label of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.” Kraftfoods, Pay Less Supermarket, 2016.

How do I cite an informational plaque or an information card?

Treat informational plaques/cards as you would any other source. Make sure to include the core elements, in the proper order, and provide as much information as your readers will need to locate the source. Use the title of the plaque as the title of your source. If you have experienced an object firsthand, such as in a museum, give the name of the place, the city in which it is located, and the dates of the exhibition.

“Alexander McQueen’s Gothic.” Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion and its Legacy, Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut, March 5-July 10, 2016.

When I am repeatedly quoting or paraphrasing the same source in my paper, do I have to keep citing that source at the end of each sentence?

When you reference the same source more than once in the same paragraph, and no other source intervenes, you may give the in-text citation just once at the end of the paragraph. If, however, this technique creates any ambiguity about your reference, it is better to cite the source every time you reference it.

For example:

Romeo and Juliet presents an opposition between two worlds: “the world of the everyday,” associated with the adults in the play, and “the world of romance,” associated with the two lovers. Romeo and Juliet’s language of love nevertheless becomes “fully responsive to the tang of actuality” (Zender 138, 141).

This makes clear that the first quotation is from the first page number in the parentheses, and the second quotation is from the second number.

There are other ways to do this as well. You may cite the author’s name with the page number after the first direct quotation, and just list the page number after the second quotation.

Romeo and Juliet presents an opposition between two worlds: “the world of the everyday,” associated with the adults in the play, and “the world of romance,” associated with the two lovers (Zender 138). Romeo and Juliet’s language of love nevertheless becomes “fully responsive to the tang of actuality” (141).

If I quote from two different sources in the same sentence, how do I cite both?

While the MLA does not prohibit references to more than one source in the same sentence, it is generally best to begin a new sentence when referring to a new source. Your goal is to present your information as clearly as possible so that your readers can best follow your points. With that in mind, if you find yourself attempting to cite two sources in the same sentence, chances are, your ideas will be clearer if you break them into two sentences.

For example:

There is no official consensus on how to define the new formalism. Some scholars assert that the method is difficult to pin down (Wolfson 9). On the other hand, some say that a neoformalist approach may be used to examine a text’s transhistorical effect (Marcovits 591).

If I “just know” a fact or idea (something I learned in high school, for example), do I have to cite my high school course or textbook?

This question falls under the issue of common knowledge. Common knowledge generally includes biographical information, dates of historical events, and other undisputed, widely available information. If you think that your average, reasonable reader already accepts this information as fact, it is not necessary to document it.

In a definition essay, you explain the meaning of a certain term by giving a detailed description of it, and support your definition with clear examples or facts. Such explanations are needed if a term is special, abstract, disputed, or does not have a common meaning. For instance, individuals can interpret the definition of the words ‘freedom’ or ‘abuse’ quite differently.

Steps for Writing a Definition Essay

  1. Choose a term you want to define, and introduce it to your readers. This can be done in several ways, but your main goal at the outset is to indicate the contents of your paper clearly.
  2. Use several sources (dictionaries or encyclopedias) to see how the term you have chosen is usually defined. Then, think of a way to combine or merge them to give your own, unique definition.
  3. Present the term you’ve chosen to your readers in the introductory part of your paper.
  4. In the main body paragraphs, provide your readers with information about the term. Along with your own description, you can point out some cases in which this term is used, as well as historical information about its origins and the evolution of its use in literature. Also, you can highlight any common mistakes in its definition.
  5. Think of a couple of sound examples that will fully illustrate and explain your definition.

Definition Essay Topics

There are plenty of terms we use every day. Many of them are clear to almost everybody, but still there is a vast body of abstract or scientific terms that can become a topic of discussion. While all of us know what a phone, TV, or dog is, concepts such as happiness, faith, love, or calmness may be difficult for some people to grasp. Some terms that could be chosen as a topic for your definition essay are listed below:

  • Laziness
  • Success
  • Marriage
  • Family
  • Real estate
  • Attitude
  • Love
  • Religion
  • Christianity
  • Endurance
  • Love
  • God
  • Hatred
  • Beauty
  • Morale
  • Good and evil
  • Enlightenment
  • Happiness
  • Confidence
  • Intelligence

Key Points to Consider

  1. Giving a definition is not just copying what has been written in other dictionaries. If you cannot define a new meaning for some concept on your own, then use the definition that already exists, but give your own interpretation of it.
  2. Choose terms you understand, or ones that have impacted your own personal experience. Do not try to define a term you don’t understand, or else you will confuse your readers with the wrong explanation.
  3. You can define a term by explaining its functions, structure, or nature. You can also define the term by specifying what it does not mean, or by comparing it with other members of the same class of words and emphasizing the differences.
  4. Follow a determined structure. It would be logical to present your term in the introduction, give extended explanations in the main body paragraphs, and end with brief conclusions.

Do and Don’t

  • Do narrow the term if it has an excessively wide meaning. For instance, you might need to write many pages to define the term ‘fear’ adequately, but if you limit your topic to ‘panic fear,’ it will be much easier for you to craft your essay.
  • Do look for solid transitions to connect the parts of your essay together.
  • Do try to think of a definition that would be uniquely yours. Don’t be afraid to be creative in giving non-standard explanations—that approach should be encouraged.
  • Do proofread your essay carefully to avoid factual mistakes.
  • Don’t use definitions like: ‘X is when’ or ‘Y is where.’ Try to make you definitions look more scientific. For example, compare these two definitions: “Totalitarianism is when the state tries to control the society” and “Totalitarianism is a political regime which presumes that the state holds authority over society and controls various aspects of its life such as….”
  • Don’t try to write a paper on too narrow of a topic or a well-known, obvious term.
  • Do not write in an overly-detailed manner. However, don’t be too brief either. Consider the word limit of your essay before you begin writing.
  • Don’t repeat the defined term within the bounds of the definition itself. No one will appreciate your prose if you write along the lines of “Swine flu is a flu that people can catch from swines.”

Common Mistakes When Writing a Definition Essay

– Trying to define a term that is too broad in scope for the essay.

– Forgetting to emphasize the term that one is defining. In this case, it may be hard for readers to understand what your essay is ultimately about.

– Writing about terms that are well-known and which do not have conflicting interpretations.

– Ignoring the necessity of examples. No matter how detailed and clear your definition is, without concrete examples, it may be difficult for readers to understand how or when a certain term should be used.

– Copying the existing definition word-by-word. Instead, reinterpret the meaning. Do not be afraid to use your own thoughts for a new, unique definition.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic definition essay writing tips and rules, you can check out our definition essay samples to link theory with practice.

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Samples for Writing a Definition Essay

The True Meaning of Absurd

The term absurd is used when an individual faces an occurrence that is beyond his or her comprehension, when he or she is anxious, or cannot deal with a certain issue (Fen 23). It would be rather fair to say that, in many cases, people avoid makin...


The word “zombie” is not as clear cut as one might think. It can infer a fictional, undead creature, a state of stupor, or an act of mindless devotion. The term has been a part of popular culture the world over for over a century. Not only is a zombie ...


A conserved quantity of motion Your first encounter with the conservation of momentum may have come as a small child unjustly confined to a shopping cart. You spot something interesting to play with, like the display case of imported wine down ...

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