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How to Cite a Dissertation in MLA Style

Dissertations are valuable sources of original research in academic writing. Citing dissertations in MLA style requires specific elements: author’s name, dissertation title, institution, year, and publication status. These details apply to both in-text citations and Works Cited entries. Proper citation of dissertations ensures credit to researchers and maintains academic integrity when referencing unpublished or published theses.

Basic Format for Citing a Dissertation

The General Structure

When citing a dissertation in MLA style, the basic format includes the author’s name, the title of the dissertation (italicized), the type of document, the academic institution, and the year of publication. For example:

Author’s Last Name, First Name. Title of Dissertation. PhD diss., University, Year.

Examples of Basic Dissertation Citations

Here’s a basic example to illustrate:

Smith, John. Explorations in Quantum Physics. PhD diss., Harvard University, 2020.

Citing a Published Dissertation

Published vs. Unpublished Dissertations

Published dissertations are those available through a database or as a book, while unpublished dissertations are usually only accessible through the academic institution. The citation format varies slightly between the two.

Example of a Published Dissertation Citation

For a published dissertation:

Doe, Jane. Cultural Transformations in Medieval Europe. PhD diss., Princeton University, 2018. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.

Citing an Unpublished Dissertation

Identifying Unpublished Dissertations

Unpublished dissertations can be identified through university archives or repositories. They often lack a formal publication process, making proper citation even more critical.

Example of an Unpublished Dissertation Citation

For an unpublished dissertation:

Brown, Michael. The Evolution of Renaissance Art. PhD diss., Yale University, 2019.

In-Text Citations for Dissertations

How to Include Dissertations in Your Text

In-text citations for dissertations follow the standard MLA format: the author’s last name and page number in parentheses. This method integrates sources seamlessly into your writing.

Examples of In-Text Citations

For instance, citing a dissertation by Smith might look like this:

(Smith 45)

This format ensures clarity and keeps your references organized.

Special Cases in Dissertation Citations

Multiple Authors

When citing a dissertation with multiple authors, list them in the order they appear on the document. For example:

Jones, Emily, and Sarah Clark. Advances in Genetic Research. PhD diss., Stanford University, 2017.

Citing Specific Chapters or Sections

To cite specific parts of a dissertation, include the chapter or section title. For example:

Lee, Robert. Impact of Climate Change. PhD diss., Columbia University, 2021. Chapter 3.

Citing Online Dissertations

Online dissertations require the inclusion of the URL or DOI. For instance:

Taylor, Amanda. Modern Architectural Design. PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2015. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.

Tips for Accurate and Effective Citation

For precise citations, consider using WriterBuddy’s MLA Dissertation Citation tool, which provides automated and accurate citations, saving time and reducing errors. Access it at WriterBuddy.


What is the basic format for citing a dissertation in MLA style?

The basic format includes the author’s name, the title of the dissertation (italicized), the type of document, the academic institution, and the year of publication.

How do you cite a published dissertation differently from an unpublished one in MLA?

A published dissertation includes the database name or publisher, whereas an unpublished dissertation does not and typically only includes the institution and year.

Can I cite specific chapters of a dissertation in MLA style?

Yes, you can cite specific chapters or sections by including the chapter or section title along with the dissertation details.


The MLA dissertation citation process involves including author information, title, institution, year, and publication details. Following these guidelines helps properly attribute original research and provides readers with the necessary information to locate the dissertation.

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