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Citation Guides

Guides on everything related to citing sources: MLA and APA style, citing websites, and avoiding plagiarism.

MLA in-text citations

What is an in-text citation, and how is it different from the Works Cited list? (MLA Handbook pp. 227-284)

The in-text citation is a way to quickly acknowledge where you got the idea or quote you used in your writing. It also points your reader to the complete citation for that source in your Works Cited list, because the in-text citation starts with the first word(s) of your Works Cited citation.

When should I use in-text citations in my writing?

Use an in-text citation when you summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote a source. If it isn't your original idea, cite it. 

What is included in the in-text citation?
  1. The most important, and sometimes only element of your in-text citation is the first word(s) of the Works Cited entry for that source. This is often the author's last name.
  2. If no author is given, the title (or just the first few words for a longer title) is given instead.
  3. The in-text citation might be included in parentheses at the end of the sentence that includes the reference, or it might be included within the sentence as part of the "signal phrase". See examples of parenthetical and signal phrase in-text citations below.
  4. The page number of the quote or information referenced is also included, for publications with page numbers. 
In what order do I put the quotation mark, parentheses, and period?

At the end of a quotation: closing quotation mark, opening and closing parentheses, then period.

" treatment" (Wall 809).

At the end of a sentence: closing parenthesis, then period.

Others found many changes (Andrews and Curtis 65).

At the end of a block quote: place ending punctuation first, then the parentheses.

...In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever. (Dickens 1)

What if there are no page numbers in my source?

Only use page numbers if they are given in the source. You do not need to count paragraphs or pages, just leave the page number out. See below for more details on numbered paragraphs and sections. 

Use of parentheses or signal phrase

Examples of parenthetical and signal phrase in-text citations:

In-text example in parentheses. In this example there are two authors, and the reference is a paraphrase of an idea in the source:

...they are careful to use words that make it clear they aren't trying to control someone's behavior (Deci and Flaste 106-8).

Below is the same citation, but with use of a signal phrase. Notice that the information included in the signal phrase (the authors' names) is not repeated in the parentheses. Only the page number is needed there:

Deci and Flaste demonstrate that they are careful to use words that make it clear they aren't trying to control someone's behavior (106-8). 

In-text examples with different authors

One author, examples:

Brown based his book Play on research done by experts in many different fields of biology (6).

The study of play in humans has lately been informed by research in many different fields of biology (Brown 36).

Two authors, examples:

Bede and Xing found that the most commonly prescribed treatment was often ineffective (10).

Some experts disagree, claiming that global warming is nothing new (King and Nguyen 22-23).

Three or more authors: include the first name then the phrase "et al.":

...these symptoms don't appear until age 14 on average (South et al. 7).

Group, Corporate, Government author:
  • If the corporate name is long, it is better to cite it in the signal phrase text rather than interrupting the writing with a long parenthetical citation.
  • Common abbreviations may be used when citing a corporate author parenthetically.

...United States Environmental Protection Agency found that river water quality is profoundly improved with the addition of wetlands in surrounding areas (42).

Another study found that water quality was improved by nearly 38% (United States, Environmental Protection Agency 51).

No author given:
  • Use the title in full or shortened to the first noun phrase. If the title doesn't start with a noun phrase shorten to the first word. However give additional words if needed for clarity.
  • Exclude initial articles (a, an, the).
  • Titles of short works go in quotation marks. Titles of longer works are italicized, as they are in the Works Cited citation.

("Study" 301).

(Depression 141-48).

Multiple works by the same author:
  • To distinguish between the multiple works, include all or part of the title in addition to the author's last name in the in-text citation.
  • In parenthetical references a comma is inserted after the author name.

...arrived, about 100 million years after the first reptiles" (Brown, "Through the Lens" 8).

In "Through the Lens of Play" Brown cites evidence that play has been around since "the earliest warm-blooded creatures" roamed the earth (8).

Multiple sources in a single parenthesis:
  • Use a semi-colon to separate multiple in-text citations from different sources, in a single parentheses.

(Baron 194; Jacobs 55)

No page numbers:
  • If paragraphs are numbered use those instead with abbreviation "par.".
  • If sections are numbered use those with abbreviation "sec.".
  • If the parenthetical citation includes the author or title, a comma is inserted after the name.
  • If there are no page numbers or paragraphs numbers, cite only the author or title.

...United Stated Environmental Protection Agency found that water quality is profoundly improved with the addition of wetlands in the landscape (par. 8).

...findings were inconclusive (Thomas, sec. 3).

Citing indirect sources (second-hand quoting):
  • Citing a source indirectly should be avoided if possible by locating the original source of the quote.
  • If that isn't possible, the abbreviation "qtd. in" is used.
  • Include the last name of the person being quoted within the sentence, and include the author of the source you used in the parentheses, as well as the page number if available.

Mary Jones admitted that she had lied "to protect the honor of her father" (qtd. in Hammond 201).

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