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MLA Citation Guide

In-Text Citations

In addition to crediting other creators, the point of in-text citations is to get your reader to the long-form citation on the Works Cited page. According to the MLA Handbook, the citation should interrupt the text of your essay as little as possible (227). There are two ways to do this:

  • Signal phrase ("Citation in prose" in the MLA Handbook): Introducing the name of the author or the work's title in the text of your sentence.
  • Parenthetical citation: Paraphrasing an idea or using a quotation without the author/title in your sentence text. The author/title goes in parentheses at the end of your sentence.

Signal Phrase

Format: Signal phrase, "quote" or paraphrase (page number).

The signal phrase lets your reader know that you are paraphrasing or quoting an idea from someone else's work. If your paper deals with a particular work of literature, or if you are relying heavily on the work of one or more sources, a signal phrase introducing the source is recommended.

  • Page or paragraph numbers go in parentheses at the end of your sentence. (If your source has no page/paragraph numbers, do not include them.)
  • If you are quoting a source, the in-text citation always comes after the closing quotation mark.
  • If there is no author, use the title of the work in your signal phrase.

Examples of a Signal Phrase

In her work Pride and Prejudice, Austen makes the famous observation that "it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" (3).
Duhigg argues that we can change our habits, but because they are deeply ingrained into the brain, it can be a struggle to do so (20).
Kite reports that Kansas has 5,446 lead pipes per 100,000 residents, the third highest rate in the United States.
The MLA Handbook encourages writers to use they as a singular pronoun instead of the phrase he or she (91-92).

Parenthetical Citations

Format: "Quote" or paraphrase (Author Page).

When you do not include the author/title in your sentence text of the paragraph, a complete parenthetical citation is necessary.

  • Quotes in your paper flow better when they are integrated the into a sentence.
  • If the work has no author, use a shortened version of the title in your parenthetical citation.
  • Page or paragraph numbers come after the author or shortened title.

Examples of a Parenthetical Citation

We can change our habits, but because they are deeply ingrained into the brain, it can be a struggle to do so (Duhigg 20).
Although "research is a collective process, one shared and added to by all researchers," it is not OK to plagiarize someone else's work (Upson et al. 90).
Kansas has 5,446 lead pipes per 100,000 residents, the third highest rate in the United States (Kite).
Writers may use they as a singular pronoun instead of the phrase he or she (MLA 91-92).

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. The Modern Library, 1995.

Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House, 2012.

Kite, Allison. "Report: Residents in Kansas, Missouri Get Drinking Water from Lead Pipes at High Rates." Kansas Reflector, 15 Jul. 2021, kansasreflector.com/briefs/report-residents-in-kansas-missouri-get-drinking-water-from-lead-pipes-at-high-rates/.

MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2021.

Upson, Matt, et al. Information Now: A Graphic Guide to Student Research. U of Chicago P, 2015.

Author Named in Your Paper

Format: Signal phrase with author's name, "quote"  or paraphrase (page if available).

Examples

Duhigg argues that we can change our habits, but it can be a struggle to do so (20).

Kite reports that Kansas has 5,446 lead pipes per 100,000 residents, the third highest rate in the United States.

Two Authors Named in Your Paper

Format: Signal phrase with author's name, "quote"  or paraphrase (page if available).

Example

Strunk and White argue that writers should use the active voice because it is "direct and vigorous" (18).

Three or More Authors Named in Your Paper

For a source with three or more authors, the MLA Handbook recommends using the first author's name followed by one of the following phrases: "and colleagues" or "and others" (232-233).

Format: Signal phrase with author's name and colleagues/others, "quote"  or paraphrase (page if available).

Example

Taylor and colleagues explore doctors' responses to patients with chronic illnesses after the doctors' diagnoses with long COVID (839).

One or Two Authors Not Named in Your Paper

Format: Signal phrase, "quote" or paraphrase (Author page).

Examples

We can change our habits, but because they are deeply ingrained into the brain, it can be a struggle to do so (Duhigg 20).

Writers should use the active voice because it is "direct and vigorous" (Strunk and White 18).

Three or More Authors Not Named in Your Paper

Format: Signal phrase, "quote" or paraphrase (Author et al. page).

Example

Although "research is a collective process, one shared and added to by all researchers," it is unacceptable to plagiarize someone else's work (Upson et al. 90).

No Author

If the source has no named author, your in-text citation will be an abbreviated version of the title. If it is a very short title, you may use the entire title. If the work without an author is an article, put quotes around the shortened title in the parenthetical citation; if it is a book, italicize it.

Format: Signal phrase, "quote" or paraphrase (Shortened Title page).
Format: Signal phrase with title, "quote" or paraphrase (page).

Examples

Full Title: Go Ask Alice

The diarist describes her first experience with LSD as "tremendous and wonderful and miraculous" (Go Ask 30).

In Go Ask Alice, the diarist describes her first experience with LSD as "tremendous and wonderful and miraculous" (30).

Source with No Page Numbers

When citing an article without page numbers in your paper, omit the page element from your in-text citation.

Format: Signal phrase with author's name, "quote" or paraphrase.
Format: "Quote" or paraphrase (Author).

Examples

According to DeRuy, a baby’s caretakers "have an enormous role in creating an environment where children have both the freedom and support to learn."

A baby’s caretakers "have an enormous role in creating an environment where children have both the freedom and support to learn" (DeRuy).

Works Cited

DeRuy, Emily. “The Complex Lives of Babies.” The Atlantic, 20 June 2016, www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/06/the-complex-lives-of-babies/487679/.

Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House, 2012.

Go Ask Alice. 1971. Simon Pulse, 2006.

Strunk, William, Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 4th ed., Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

Taylor, Anna K., et al. “‘Reluctant Pioneer’: A Qualitative Study of Doctors’ Experiences as Patients with Long COVID.” Health Expectations, vol. 24, no. 3, June 2021, pp. 833–842. doi.org/10.1111/hex.13223.

Upson, Matt, et al. Information Now: A Graphic Guide to Student Research. U of Chicago P, 2015.

To avoid overusing the words "say/says" and "according to," try mixing it up with one of the verbs listed below. For example, instead of writing the following sentence:

Powers says that digital connectedness leads to a lack of reflective thinking and the production of fewer ideas (pp. 27-29).

Try:

Powers asserts that digital connectedness leads to a lack of reflective thinking and the production of fewer ideas (pp. 27-29).

Using a variety of verbs can make your writing more interesting to your reader.

Alternatives to "Says"

acknowledges
adds
admits
agrees
argues
asserts
believes
claims
comments
compares
confirms
contends
declares
denies
disputes
emphasizes
endorses
grants
illustrates
implies
insists
notes
observes
points out
reasons
refutes
rejects
reports
responds
suggests
thinks
writes

Work Cited

Powers, William. Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. Harper Perennial, 2011.

Quoting Sources

When you quote a source, you include the author's exact words in your text. Use "quotation marks" around the author's words. Include signal phrases and an in-text citation to show where the quote is from.

Examples

Bad Example

The example below is technically correct, but the quote disrupts the flow of the essay.

Jane Austen's work frequently makes observations about her characters' socioeconomic status. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" (Austen 3).
Better Example

The sentences below have better flow because the quote is introduced with a signal phrase.

Jane Austen's work frequently makes observations about her characters' socioeconomic status. For example, in her novel Pride and Prejudice, Austen observes that "it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" (3).

Paraphrasing and Summarizing Sources

When you paraphrase or summarize a source, you restate the source's ideas in your own words and sentence structure. Select what is relevant to your topic, and restate only that. Changing only a few words is not sufficient in paraphrasing or summarizing. Instead, you need to completely rephrase the author's ideas in your own words. Since you are restating the idea in your own words instead of quoting it, do not use quotation marks.

Always use in-text citations when you paraphrase or summarize so that the reader will know that the information or opinion comes from someone other than you. Continue to use signal phrases as well.

Examples

Original quote: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" (Austen 3).
Plagiarism Example

The example below does not significantly change the source material - it uses the same sentence structure and most of the same words for key ideas. It is also plagiarism because it does not provide a citation.

An acknowledged truth in England in the 1800s was that single men with fortunes also wanted wives.
Correctly Paraphrased Example

The next example is not plagiarism - it restates the author's idea, and it provides a citation in MLA format.

The opening of Pride and Prejudice observes 19th-century English women's need to marry financially stable men (Austen 3).

Work Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. The Modern Library, 1995.