Whenever you incorporate outside sources into your own writing, you must provide both in-text citations (within the body of the paper) and full citations (in the works cited page). The in-text citations point your reader toward the full citations in the works cited page.

That's why the first bit of information in your in-text citation (generally, the author's name; if no name is provided, the title of the article/book/webpage) should directly match up with the beginning of your works cited entry for that source.

"Formatting In-Text Citations (MLA)" was written by Jennifer Yirinec and Lauren Cutlip

How might you format your in-text citations so that they're more compliant with MLA guidelines?

You already know why MLA formatting guidelines are an important part of an academic paper, but let’s face it—who can remember all those rules about when and where certain citation information is requisite and when and where particular punctuation is appropriate?

1. Is the heading in the upper left-hand corner of the first page? 

2. Does the heading include:

  • Your name?
  • Your Instructor's name?
  • The course name?
  • The date?

3. Does the paper have an original title (other than something like "Final Paper")?

  • Is the title presented without being bolded, italicized, or placed in quotation marks

4. Does the paper have 1" margins on all sides?

5. Is the paper written in Times New Roman (or another standard font your professor allows) and in 12-pt. font?

6. Is everything double-spaced (including any notes and the works cited page)?

7. Are your last name and the page number in the upper right-hand corner of each page (0.5" from the top, or inserted using the "header" function in Word)?

8.If you've used outside sources, do you have a works cited page? Is it titled "Works Cited" (without the quotation marks)? Does it have a page number (that follows the last page of your paper) and your last name?

9. Are the entries in your list of works cited in alphabetical order by the author's last name?

  • Does each source have an entry on the works cited page?
  • Are all direct quotes in quotation marks?
  • Do all paraphrases and summaries clearly indicate that they come from other sources?
  • Does each in-text reference include a parenthetical citation that includes the author’s last name (unless it is obvious from the context of the sentence who you are referencing) and the page number from which the information was taken?
  • If a quotation is 4 lines or more, is it block-quoted? (i.e. double-spaced, indented 1 inch from the left margin)
  • Have you clearly indicated where you found all information you did not previously know?
  • Does your works cited page conform to MLA format?

Look at the sentences below, each of which contains an incorrectly formatted in-text citation. Specify the error made in each sentence; then, write a new sentence in which the in-text citation is correctly formatted.

1. The parlor metaphor of writing describes writing as entering into a conversation, as in arriving late and a parlor and talking to guests who have been there long before you have (7).

2. In “Argument as Emergence, Rhetoric as Love,” Jim Corder explains that “Everyone is an argument.” (1)

3. David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day takes place at a school in Paris (Sedaris 1).

Click the "Read More" below to view the article diagram. 

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How should section and subsection headings be formatted in APA style?

A research paper written in APA style should be organized into sections and subsections using the five levels of APA headings. APA recommends using subheadings only when the paper has at least two subsections within a larger section. Notice how sections contain at least two smaller subsections in the example below:

When should footnotes be used?

The APA suggests two instances in which footnotes may be used:

  • Content Footnotes: to offer further information on a topic that is not directly related to the text. As content footnotes should be concise, avoid writing lengthy paragraphs or including extraneous information.
  • Copyright Permission Footnotes: to cite adapted or reprinted materials in the paper, especially data sets, tables, and quotations that exceed 400 words. Consult the APA Publication Manual (6th ed.) for more information about copyright permissions.


The abstract acts as the second major section of the document and typically begins on the second page of the paper. It follows directly after the title page and precedes the main body of the paper.

The abstract is a succinct, single-paragraph summary of your paper’s purpose, main points, method, findings, and conclusions, and is

Learn how to format the abstract of your paper in APA style. For additional information about formatting the abstract in APA, see also: 

Formatting the Abstract Page (APA)


As the first major section of the document, the title page appears at the top of the first page.


The title page is comprised of a few key elements:

  • Running head (or shortened title) and label
  • Page number
  • Full title of the paper

Learn how to format the title page of your paper in APA style.

apa title


Beginning at the top of a new page, the main body of the research paper follows the abstract and precedes the References page. Comprised of the introduction, method, results, and discussion subsections, the main body acts as the third major section of the document and typically begins on the third page of the paper.

When should a block quotation be used?

A block quotation is an extract consisting of more than 40 words from another author’s work. Block quotations should be used in moderation, typically when using another writer’s words is a more effective way of illustrating an idea. Avoid using block quotations excessively as this practice gives the reader the impression that you are inexperienced in the subject or are simply filling pages to meet a word count requirement.

What punctuation should be used to indicate omitted words from a direct quotation?

When a portion of a sentence (or sentences) is not included in a quotation, three ellipsis points should be typed in place of the omitted material. However, ellipsis points do not need to be included at the beginning or end of a quotation; the reader will assume that additional material is present in the original text before and after the quotation.

How should words emphasized by the writer be indicated in a direct quotation?

Use italics to add emphasis to a specific word or words in a direct quotation that were not originally emphasized by the author. Additionally, type the phrase emphasis added and enclose it in brackets directly after the emphasized words to indicate to the reader that the emphasis is not present in the original text.

Let's look at an example:

Consider this excerpt from Katherine Cullen’s book, Biology: The People Behind the Science:

“Nature selects variations that are advantageous for survival and reproduction in a particular environment [emphasis added], just as farmers artificially select for economically desirable characteristics” (Cullen, 2006, pp. 52-53). [1]

Note: The phrase emphasis added is placed inside brackets and is not italicized.

 [1] Cullen, K. E. (2006). Biology: The people behind the science. New York, NY: Chelsea House.

How should a parenthetical in-text citation be formatted?

An essential component of a research paper, in-text citations are a way of acknowledging the ideas of the author(s) of a particular work.

Each source that appears as an in-text citation should have a corresponding detailed entry in the References list at the end of the paper. Including the required elements in every citation allows other researchers to easily track the references used in a paper and locate those resources themselves.

How should a paraphrased passage be cited?

When paraphrasing a passage, it is essential to express the ideas of the author in your own original words; however, the author’s message and meaning should always be preserved.

Charges of plagiarism can be avoided by including the proper citation of the work you are drawing from in your paraphrase. The APA requires a paraphrase to include the author’s last name and the work’s year of publication, but also suggests that the page number of the original text be included.

Let’s look at an example of a cited paraphrase:

Original text: “A yellow flower is yellow because it reflects yellow light and absorbs other wavelengths. The red glass of a stained glass window is red because it transmits red light and absorbs other wavelengths. The process by which we perceive the colours of natural objects around us can therefore be described as a ‘subtractive’ process” (Pender, 1998, p. 14). [1]

Paraphrase: Pender explains that through subtractive process, humans see the color of objects based on the wavelengths of light that are absorbed by each object (Pender, 1998, p. 14). [1]

Note: The paraphrase maintains the ideas of the original passage while expressing the message in a new voice. The original author is also cited properly.

How should a summarized passage or work be cited?

When summarizing a passage or work from another writer, briefly outline in your own original words the major ideas presented in the source material. As brevity is the key feature of a summary, it is essential to express the main concepts of the original passage in as concise a manner as possible. Consider using a summary—rather than a short or block quotation—when preserving the original wording of the source material is not necessary for the reader to understand the ideas under discussion.

Let’s look at an example of a cited summary:

Original text: “In their everyday life, people generally assume that they see the world around them the way it really is. When camping in Colorado, hikers believe they see the horizon as dotted with snow-covered mountaintops. When laying on the beach in North Carolina, sunbathers believe they see pelicans flying above the breaking waves. And these people would nearly always be right. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine not believing that the sights and sounds delivered to conscious awareness by perceptual systems are accurate renderings of the outside world. It would be difficult to know how to act if one could not trust one’s senses to accurately report what the world outside is like” (Balcetis, 2010, p. 77). [2]

Summary: In Social Psychology of Visual Perception, Balcetis (2010) argues that because humans rely on the sensory information received from their body, they form preconceived beliefs about their surroundings that manifest as imaginary visual occurrences (p. 77). [2]

Note: The summary maintains the ideas of the original passage while concisely expressing its main concepts. The original author is also cited properly.

How should multiple sources be cited in a single parenthetical reference?

If multiple works need to be cited in the same set of parentheses, simply arrange them in alphabetical order by the author's last names, or the order in which they would be listed in the References page. Use a semicolon to separate each work from the next one.

Let’s look at an example of multiple authors being cited:

In the past thirty years, Parkinson’s disease has been written about extensively by recognized figures in the field (Dorros, 1989; Duvoisin, 1991; Hauser & Zesiewicz, 1996). [3][4][5]

Note: This example includes the in-text citations of three works arranged in alphabetical order by authors' names, separated by semi-colons, and enclosed in parentheses.


See also:

[1] Pender, K. (1998). Digital colour in graphic design. Burlington, VT: Elsevier Science & Technology.

[2] Balcetis, E. (2010). Social psychology of visual perception. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor & Francis.

[3] Dorros, S. (1989). Parkinson’s: A patient’s view. Cabin John, MD: Seven Locks Press.

[4] Duvoisin, R. C. (1991). Parkinson's disease: A guide for patient and family. New York, NY: Raven Press.

[5] Hauser, R. A., & Zesiewicz, T. A. (1996). Parkinson's disease: Questions and answers. Coral Springs, FL: Merit.