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How to Cite a Government Document in MLA Style

Government documents are important sources for academic research. These include reports, legislation, court decisions, and other official publications. Citing government documents in MLA style requires specific elements such as the government agency, document title, publication date, and URL for online sources. This information applies to both in-text citations and Works Cited entries.

Identifying the Necessary Information

Locating Author Information

The author is often a department or agency for government documents, not an individual. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be the author of its reports.

Determining the Title of the Document

The title of the document should be easily identifiable and accurately transcribed. It should be italicized or placed in quotation marks depending on its length. For instance, a report titled “National Health Statistics” should be italicized.

Finding the Publishing Agency

The publishing agency is typically a government body responsible for the document. This information is usually found on the title page or the document’s cover. For example, the United States Government Publishing Office (GPO) often publishes federal documents.

Noting the Publication Date

The publication date is crucial for locating the document and verifying its currency. If multiple editions exist, ensure you use the most recent version. For example, a document published in 2020 should be cited as (2020).

Formatting the Basic Citation

Structure of a Standard Government Document Citation

The standard format for a government document in MLA style includes the following elements in this order: Author. Title of Document. Publisher, Year of Publication. For instance:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Health Statistics. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2020.

Examples of Basic Citations

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate the structure:

Print Document:

United States, Department of Health and Human Services. Health, United States, 2019. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2019.

Online Document:

United States, Environmental Protection Agency. Air Quality Index: A Guide to Air Quality and Your Health. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2020, www.epa.gov/air-quality-index.

Handling Specific Types of Government Documents

Citing Print Government Documents

When citing a print government document, include the standard elements (author, title, publisher, date) and specify the format. For example:

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015.

Citing Online Government Documents

For online documents, include the URL or DOI at the end of the citation. For example:

United States, Department of Energy. Energy Savings Performance Contracting: Guidelines for Developing and Managing ESPC Projects. U.S. Department of Energy, 2019, www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2019/04/f62/espc_guidelines.pdf.

Citing Government Reports and Studies

Government reports and studies should be cited similarly to other government documents, with the addition of any report numbers if available. For example:

United States, Department of Justice. Crime in the United States, 2018. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2019, www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ucr/publications.

Dealing with Unique Situations

Multiple Authors or Agencies

When multiple authors or agencies are involved, list them in the order they appear on the document. You can use “et al.” after the first author’s name if there are more than three. For example:

National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et al. Guide to Community Preventive Services. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2017.

No Author or Publishing Date

If no author is listed, start with the title. Use “n.d.” (no date) if no date is available. For example:

Global Warming Impacts. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.

Documents from International Governments

When citing documents from international governments, include the country name at the beginning. For example:

Canada, Ministry of Health. Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy. Government of Canada, 2017.

In-Text Citations and Works Cited Entries

Creating In-Text Citations for Government Documents

In-text citations for government documents follow the same basic principles as other sources. Use the author’s name or the document’s title if no author is available, along with the page number if applicable. For example:

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 25)

Formatting the Works Cited Page

The Works Cited page should be alphabetized by the author’s last name or the document’s title if no author is available. Each entry should follow MLA formatting guidelines, with a hanging indent for each line after the first. For example:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Health Statistics. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2020.

United States, Department of Health and Human Services. Health, United States, 2019. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2019.

FAQs

What do I do if I can’t find an author for a government document?

Start your citation with the document’s title if an author isn’t listed. For example, Global Warming Impacts. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.

How should I cite a government document with multiple authors or agencies?

List all authors or agencies in the order they appear on the document. If there are more than three, you can use “et al.” after the first author’s name.

How do I handle citing a government document with no publication date?

If no date is available, use “n.d.” to indicate no date. For example, Global Warming Impacts. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.

Conclusion

Citing government documents in MLA style involves including the relevant government agency, document title, publication details, and access information for online sources. Format in-text citations with the agency name or document title. Create a full entry in your Works Cited list. Always check the latest MLA guidelines for current rules. Proper citation of government documents ensures accurate attribution and supports the credibility of your research.

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