MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics
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: 2017-10-23 08:53:38
Guidelines for referring to the works of others in your text using MLA style are covered in chapter 6 of the MLA Handbook and in chapter 7 of the MLA Style Manual. Both books provide extensive examples, so it's a good idea to consult them if you want to become even more familiar with MLA guidelines or if you have a particular reference question.
Basic in-text citation rules
In MLA style, referring to the works of others in your text is done by using what is known as parenthetical citation. This method involves placing relevant source information in parentheses after a quote or a paraphrase.
- The source information required in a parenthetical citation depends (1.) upon the source medium (e.g. Print, Web, DVD) and (2.) upon the source’s entry on the Works Cited (bibliography) page.
- Any source information that you provide in-text must correspond to the source information on the Works Cited page. More specifically, whatever signal word or phrase you provide to your readers in the text, must be the first thing that appears on the left-hand margin of the corresponding entry in the Works Cited List.
In-text citations: Author-page style
MLA format follows the author-page method of in-text citation. This means that the author's last name and the page number(s) from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken must appear in the text, and a complete reference should appear on your Works Cited page. The author's name may appear either in the sentence itself or in parentheses following the quotation or paraphrase, but the page number(s) should always appear in the parentheses, not in the text of your sentence. For example:
Wordsworth stated that Romantic poetry was marked by a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" (263).
Romantic poetry is characterized by the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" (Wordsworth 263).
Wordsworth extensively explored the role of emotion in the creative process (263).
Both citations in the examples above, (263) and (Wordsworth 263), tell readers that the information in the sentence can be located on page 263 of a work by an author named Wordsworth. If readers want more information about this source, they can turn to the Works Cited page, where, under the name of Wordsworth, they would find the following information:
Wordsworth, William. Lyrical Ballads. Oxford UP, 1967.
In-text citations for print sources with known author
For Print sources like books, magazines, scholarly journal articles, and newspapers, provide a signal word or phrase (usually the author’s last name) and a page number. If you provide the signal word/phrase in the sentence, you do not need to include it in the parenthetical citation.
Human beings have been described by Kenneth Burke as "symbol-using animals" (3).
Human beings have been described as "symbol-using animals" (Burke 3).
These examples must correspond to an entry that begins with Burke, which will be the first thing that appears on the left-hand margin of an entry in the Works Cited:
Burke, Kenneth. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966.
In-text citations for print sources by a corporate author
When a source has a corporate author, it is acceptable to use the name of the corporation followed by the page number for the in-text citation. You should also use abbreviations (e.g., nat'l for national) where appropriate, so as to avoid interrupting the flow of reading with overly long parenthetical citations.
In-text citations for print sources with no known author
When a source has no known author, use a shortened title of the work instead of an author name. Place the title in quotation marks if it's a short work (such as an article) or italicize it if it's a longer work (e.g. plays, books, television shows, entire Web sites) and provide a page number if it is available.
We see so many global warming hotspots in North America likely because this region has "more readily accessible climatic data and more comprehensive programs to monitor and study environmental change . . ." ("Impact of Global Warming").
In this example, since the reader does not know the author of the article, an abbreviated title of the article appears in the parenthetical citation which corresponds to the full name of the article which appears first at the left-hand margin of its respective entry in the Works Cited. Thus, the writer includes the title in quotation marks as the signal phrase in the parenthetical citation in order to lead the reader directly to the source on the Works Cited page. The Works Cited entry appears as follows:
"The Impact of Global Warming in North America." Global Warming: Early Signs. 1999. http://www.climatehotmap.org/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2009.
We'll learn how to make a Works Cited page in a bit, but right now it's important to know that parenthetical citations and Works Cited pages allow readers to know which sources you consulted in writing your essay, so that they can either verify your interpretation of the sources or use them in their own scholarly work.
Author-page citation for classic and literary works with multiple editions
Page numbers are always required, but additional citation information can help literary scholars, who may have a different edition of a classic work like Marx and Engels's The Communist Manifesto. In such cases, give the page number of your edition (making sure the edition is listed in your Works Cited page, of course) followed by a semicolon, and then the appropriate abbreviations for volume (vol.), book (bk.), part (pt.), chapter (ch.), section (sec.), or paragraph (par.). For example:
Marx and Engels described human history as marked by class struggles (79; ch. 1).
Citing authors with same last names
Sometimes more information is necessary to identify the source from which a quotation is taken. For instance, if two or more authors have the same last name, provide both authors' first initials (or even the authors' full name if different authors share initials) in your citation. For example:
Although some medical ethicists claim that cloning will lead to designer children (R. Miller 12), others note that the advantages for medical research outweigh this consideration (A. Miller 46).
Citing a work by multiple authors
For a source with two authors, list the authors’ last names in the text or in the parenthetical citation:
Best and Marcus argue that one should read a text for what it says on its surface, rather than looking for some hidden meaning (9).
The authors claim that surface reading looks at what is “evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts” (Best and Marcus 9).
Corresponding works cited entry:
Best, David, and Sharon Marcus. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations, vol. 108, no. 1, Fall 2009, pp. 1-21. JSTOR, doi:10.1525/rep.2009.108.1.1
For a source with three or more authors, list only the first author’s last name, and replace the additional names with et al.
According to Franck et al., “Current agricultural policies in the U.S. are contributing to the poor health of Americans” (327).
The authors claim that one cause of obesity in the United States is government-funded farm subsidies (Franck et al. 327).
Corresponding works cited entry:
Franck, Caroline, et al. “Agricultural Subsidies and the American Obesity Epidemic.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine, vol. 45, no. 3, Sept. 2013, pp. 327-333.
Citing multiple works by the same author
If you cite more than one work by a particular author, include a shortened title for the particular work from which you are quoting to distinguish it from the others. Put short titles of books in italics and short titles of articles in quotation marks.
Citing two articles by the same author:
Lightenor has argued that computers are not useful tools for small children ("Too Soon" 38), though he has acknowledged elsewhere that early exposure to computer games does lead to better small motor skill development in a child's second and third year ("Hand-Eye Development" 17).
Citing two books by the same author:
Murray states that writing is "a process" that "varies with our thinking style" (Write to Learn 6). Additionally, Murray argues that the purpose of writing is to "carry ideas and information from the mind of one person into the mind of another" (A Writer Teaches Writing 3).
Additionally, if the author's name is not mentioned in the sentence, you would format your citation with the author's name followed by a comma, followed by a shortened title of the work, followed, when appropriate, by page numbers:
Visual studies, because it is such a new discipline, may be "too easy" (Elkins, "Visual Studies" 63).
Citing multivolume works
If you cite from different volumes of a multivolume work, always include the volume number followed by a colon. Put a space after the colon, then provide the page number(s). (If you only cite from one volume, provide only the page number in parentheses.)
. . . as Quintilian wrote in Institutio Oratoria (1: 14-17).
Citing the Bible
In your first parenthetical citation, you want to make clear which Bible you're using (and underline or italicize the title), as each version varies in its translation, followed by book (do not italicize or underline), chapter and verse. For example:
Ezekiel saw "what seemed to be four living creatures," each with faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (New Jerusalem Bible, Ezek. 1.5-10).
If future references employ the same edition of the Bible you’re using, list only the book, chapter, and verse in the parenthetical citation.
Citing indirect sources
Sometimes you may have to use an indirect source. An indirect source is a source cited in another source. For such indirect quotations, use "qtd. in" to indicate the source you actually consulted. For example:
Ravitch argues that high schools are pressured to act as "social service centers, and they don't do that well" (qtd. in Weisman 259).
Note that, in most cases, a responsible researcher will attempt to find the original source, rather than citing an indirect source.
Citing non-print or sources from the Internet
With more and more scholarly work being posted on the Internet, you may have to cite research you have completed in virtual environments. While many sources on the Internet should not be used for scholarly work (reference the OWL's Evaluating Sources of Information resource), some Web sources are perfectly acceptable for research. When creating in-text citations for electronic, film, or Internet sources, remember that your citation must reference the source in your Works Cited.
Sometimes writers are confused with how to craft parenthetical citations for electronic sources because of the absence of page numbers, but often, these sorts of entries do not require any sort of parenthetical citation at all. For electronic and Internet sources, follow the following guidelines:
- Include in the text the first item that appears in the Work Cited entry that corresponds to the citation (e.g. author name, article name, website name, film name).
- You do not need to give paragraph numbers or page numbers based on your Web browser’s print preview function.
- Unless you must list the Web site name in the signal phrase in order to get the reader to the appropriate entry, do not include URLs in-text. Only provide partial URLs such as when the name of the site includes, for example, a domain name, like CNN.com or Forbes.com as opposed to writing out http://www.cnn.com or http://www.forbes.com.
Miscellaneous non-print sources
Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo stars Herzog's long-time film partner, Klaus Kinski. During the shooting of Fitzcarraldo, Herzog and Kinski were often at odds, but their explosive relationship fostered a memorable and influential film.
During the presentation, Jane Yates stated that invention and pre-writing are areas of rhetoric that need more attention.
In the two examples above “Herzog” from the first entry and “Yates” from the second lead the reader to the first item each citation’s respective entry on the Works Cited page:
Herzog, Werner, dir. Fitzcarraldo. Perf. Klaus Kinski. Filmverlag der Autoren, 1982.
Yates, Jane. "Invention in Rhetoric and Composition." Gaps Addressed: Future Work in Rhetoric and Composition, CCCC, Palmer House Hilton, 2002.
One online film critic stated that Fitzcarraldo "has become notorious for its near-failure and many obstacles" (Taylor, “Fitzcarraldo”).
The Purdue OWL is accessed by millions of users every year. Its "MLA Formatting and Style Guide" is one of the most popular resources (Russell et al.).
In the first example, the writer has chosen not to include the author name in-text; however, two entries from the same author appear in the Works Cited. Thus, the writer includes both the author’s last name and the article title in the parenthetical citation in order to lead the reader to the appropriate entry on the Works Cited page (see below). In the second example, “Russell et al.” in the parenthetical citation gives the reader an author name followed by the abbreviation “et al.,” meaning, “and others,” for the article “MLA Formatting and Style Guide.” Both corresponding Works Cited entries are as follows:
Taylor, Rumsey. "Fitzcarraldo." Slant, 13 Jun. 2003, www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/fitzcarraldo/.
Russell, Tony, et al. "MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Purdue OWL, 2 Aug. 2016, owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/.
To cite multiple sources in the same parenthetical reference, separate the citations by a semi-colon:
. . . as has been discussed elsewhere (Burke 3; Dewey 21).
Time-based media sources
When creating in-text citations for media that has a runtime, such as a movie or podcast, include the range of hours, minutes and seconds you plan to reference, like so (00:02:15-00:02:35).
When a citation is not needed
Common sense and ethics should determine your need for documenting sources. You do not need to give sources for familiar proverbs, well-known quotations or common knowledge. Remember, this is a rhetorical choice, based on audience. If you're writing for an expert audience of a scholarly journal, for example, they'll have different expectations of what constitutes common knowledge.
Citing References in Scientific Research Papers
Compiled by Timothy T. Allen, revised 2000. This paper greatly expands upon a handout originally prepared by an unknown author for distribution to students in introductory earth science courses at Dartmouth College. The work is presented here without copyright, although acknowledgement is (of course) appreciated. This document is also available in in Adobe Acrobat Format
It is important to properly and appropriately cite references in scientific research papers in order to acknowledge your sources and give credit where credit is due. Science moves forward only by building upon the work of others. There are, however, other reasons for citing references in scientific research papers. Citations to appropriate sources show that you've done your homework and are aware of the background and context into which your work fits, and they help lend validity to your arguments. Reference citations also provide avenues for interested readers to follow up on aspects of your work -- they help weave the web of science. You may wish to include citations for sources that add relevant information to your own work, or that present alternate views.
The reference citation style described here is a version of the "Author, Date" scientific style, adapted from Hansen (1991) and the Council of Biology Editors (1994). Harnack & Kleppinger (2000) have adapted "CBE style" to cite and document online sources.
When to Cite References in Scientific Research Papers
You should acknowledge a source any time (and every time) you use a fact or an idea that you obtained from that source. Thus, clearly, you need to cite sources for all direct quotations. But you also need to cite sources from which you paraphrase or summarize facts or ideas -- whether you've put the fact or idea into your own words or not, you got the fact or idea from somebody else and you need to give them proper acknowledgement (even if an idea might be considered "common knowledge," but you didn't know it until you found it in a particular source).Sources that need to be acknowledged are not limited to books and journal articles, but include internet sites, computer software, written and e-mail correspondence, even verbal conversations with other people (in person or by telephone). All different kinds of sources must be acknowledged. Furthermore, if you use figures, illustrations, or graphical material, either directly or in modified form, that you did not yourself create or design, you need to acknowledge the sources of those figures.
Details of Citing References in your Text
When you cite a reference in your text you should use one of the following three formats:
(1) Mention the author by last name in the sentence and then give the year of the publication in parenthesis:
According to Rodgers (1983), the Appalachian mountains were formed in three events.
(2) Give the facts or ideas mentioned by the author and then attribute these facts or ideas by putting both his or her last name and the date in parenthesis:
The first of the three events occurred in the Ordovician, the second in the Devonian, and the third in the Carboniferous and Permian Periods (Rodgers, 1983).
(3) Quote the author exactly--be sure to put the quoted phrase between quotation marks--and then list the author's name, the date, and the page number in parenthesis:
"All the climaxes produced mountainous islands or highlands that shed vast amounts of debris westward to form clastic wedges or delta complexes on the continental margin." (Rodgers, 1983, p. 229).
You only need to include the page number in the citation if you are quoting directly, or if the source is very long and the specific fact or idea you are citing can only be found on a specific page. Direct quotations that are more than 4 lines long should be set off from the rest of your paper by use of narrower margins and single spaced lines.
If you have more than one source by the same author published in the same year, distinguish them both in the in-text citation and in the reference list, by appending the letters a, b, c... to the year, in the order in which the different references appear in your paper. (For example: Allen 1996a, 1996b.)
If the reference you are citing has two authors, use the following format:
Periods of glaciation have a large effect on sea level (Ingmanson and Wallace, 1985).
If the reference you are citing has more than two authors, use the following format:
Hot spots are formed by the drift of plates over mantle plumes (Vink et al., 1985).
If your source of information is from a personal verbal communication, you would use the following format for the first citation from that person:
It is possible to correct the raw dD values measured on the mass spectrometer (Mark Conrad, Lawrence-Berkeley National Lab, personal communication).
Later citations to the same person can be shortened, as in:
The reproducibility of dD determined by these methods is thought to be about +/- 2 per mil (Conrad, personal communication).
If your source of information is from written correspondence (a letter or e-mail), you would substitute the word "written" for the word "personal" above, and you would add the date of the letter (if dated). Personal communications are generally not included in the References Cited or Bibliography section, although unpublished papers, reports or manuscripts should be.
If your source of information has no individual identifiable author, use the name of the organization to which the work can be attributed in place of the author's name:
The reference citation style described here is a version of the "Author, Date" scientific style, adapted from the Council of Biology Editors (1994).
For internet sources without any identifiable author or date, simply use the URL address as the in-text citation:
As New England is located at the convergence of several distinct storm tracks (http://www.mountwashington.org/mtw_mtn.htm), we expect to find clear differences in isotopic composition among seasons and potentially among different rain storm events (Fig. 1).
Such a source would be omitted from your References Cited or Bibliography section.
Details of Formatting Reference Lists
Your list of References Cited should include all of the references you cited in your paper, and no more! It should be arranged in alphabetical order by the last name of the first author. If you have more than one entry by the same author, they should be further ordered by increasing publication date (more recent papers last). If you have multiple sources from a single author published in the same year, distinguish them both in the in-text citation and in the reference list, by appending the letters a, b, c... to the year, in the order in which the different references appear in your paper. (For example: Allen 1996a, 1996b.) You should include enough information that your readers will be able to find these sources on their own. The exact format is not critical, but consistency and completeness is. Reference lists are generally reverse-indented--this just helps the reader to find references to specific authors that much faster. Follow the examples given below and you will be all set.
- For Books
- List all authors by last name and initials, separated by commas if there are more than two authors. Put an "and" before the last author in the list. Then put the year of publication, the title of the book (in italics if possible), the publisher, the city, and the number of pages in the book.
Gould, S. J., 1983, Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, W. W. Norton, New York City, 413 p.Two or more authors:
Ingmanson, D. E. and Wallace, W. J., 1985, Oceanography: An Introduction, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, 530 p.
- For Articles or Chapters with separate authors from a Book or Compilation
- List the author(s) of the article using the same format given above for books, then give the year, the title of the article or chapter (no quotes, italics or underlines), then the name(s) of the editor(s) of the book or compilation, followed by "ed." or "eds.". Then put the title of the book (in italics if possible), the publisher, the city, and the page numbers where the article can be found:
Rodgers, J., 1983, The life history of a mountain range-- Appalachians, in Hsu, K. J., ed., Mountain Building Processes, Academic Press, Orlando, p. 229-243.
- For an Article from a Journal or Magazine
- List the author(s) of the article using the same format given above for books, then give the year, the title of the article or chapter (no quotes, italics or underlines), then the title of the journal or magazine (in italics if possible), the volume number of the journal (do not use the publication date), and page numbers where the article can be found:
Maddox, J., 1987, The great ozone controversy, Nature, v. 329, p. 101.Two or more authors:
Vink, G. E., Morgan, W. J., and Vogt, P. R., 1985, The Earth's hot spots, Scientific American, v. 252, p. 50- 57.
- For Internet sources
- Give the author's last name and initials (if known) and the date of publication (or last modification). Next, list the full title of the work (e.g. the specific web page), and then the title of the complete work or site (if applicable) in italics (if possible). Include any version or file numbers, enclosed in parentheses. Most important, provide the full URL to the resource, including the protocol, host address, and the complete path or directories necessary to access the document. Be sure to spell this out exactly! (best to use an electronic "copy" from the "location" box of your browser and "paste" into your word processor). Finally specify the date that you last accessed the site, enclosed in parentheses.
Focazio, M.J., Welch, A.H., Watkins, S.A., Helsel, D.R., and Horn, M.A., 1999, A retrospective analysis on the occurrence of arsenic in ground-water resources of the United States and limitations in drinking-water-supply characterizations, U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigation Report 99-4279, http://co.water.usgs.gov/trace/pubs/wrir-99-4279/ (August 1, 2000)
Adapt these formats as necessary for other types of sources, including unpublished reports or manuscripts -- just be sure to include sufficient information that your readers could find or obtain these sources themselves, if need be.
Further information can be found by consulting Hansen (1991), Council of Biology Editors (1994), and Harnack & Kleppinger (2000), particularly their chapter on Using CBE Style to Cite and Document Sources.
References Cited (in this document)
Council of Biology Editors, 1994, Scientific style and format: the CBE manual for authors, editors, and publishers, 6th edition, Cambridge University Press, New York. 825 p.
Hansen, W. R. (editor), 1991, Suggestions to authors of the reports of the United States Geological Survey, 7th edition, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 311 p.
Harnack, A., and Kleppinger, E., 2000, Online! A reference guide to using internet sources, Bedford/St. Martin's, http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/online/index.html (August 1, 2000).
Last modified August 7, 2000