MLA Citation – MLA In Text Citation

MLA Citation refers to conventions for citing sources according to MLA Handbook, 9th Edition. Even if you plan to use an MLA Format Citation Generator, you can benefit from understanding the basics of MLA citation. Being conversant in MLA in text citation is a basic literacy in the knowledge economy.
a protestor's sign reads "citation needed"

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a protestor's sign reads "citation needed"

What is MLA Citation?

MLA Citation refers to the guidelines for citing sources according to the MLA Handbook, 9th Edition.

  • MLA refers to the Modern Language Association, an international organization that informs the discourse practices of teachers, scholars, and students in the humanities
  • The 9th Edition is the current, official handbook of the MLA.

MLA Citation Format provides writers with two major ways to attribute sources:

  1. in the actual text using a parenthetical system 
  2. at the end of a text on a Works Cited Page.

MLA In Text Citation vs. MLA Works Cited

The bibliographical information (e.g., who is the author? publisher? and so on) that MLA requires for in text citation differs from the bibliographic information MLA requires for Works Cited Pages:

In Text Citation
See the article below to explore creative ways to introduce and vet sources inside the body of your paper in MLA citation style.

Works Cited Page
See MLA Works Cited Page for a summary of MLA’s guidelines for constructing a list of references at the end of your paper.

Synonyms

MLA Citation is also known as

  • MLA In Text Citation
  • MLA Citation Format
  • MLA Format Citation
  • In text Citation MLA
  • MLA Style
  • Parenthetical Citation

Related Concepts: Annotated Bibliography; Copyright & Writing; Intellectual PropertyPage Design; Plagiarism; Rhetorical Analysis; Textual Research Methods


Why Does MLA Citation Matter?

Writers, speakers, and knowledge workers in humanities-related disciplines use MLA Citation to acknowledge when they are

  1. summarizing
  2. paraphrasing or
  3. quoting information.

Words matter. Ideas matter. People want to be acknowledged when others use their ideas, whether those ideas are expressed in conversations or texts.

Words are a form of intellectual property, and they are governed by copyright. Failure to cite sources and acknowledge the ideas of others is called plagiarism. Acts of plagiarism are a violation of ethics and integrity.

Correct MLA In text citation is a signal of professionalism across workplace and academic contexts. Lack of correct usage suggests a failure to attend to detail or a lack of respect of intellectual property and copyright policies, conventions, and laws.

Beyond being required by law and academic policies governing academic honesty and integrity, MLA citation matters

  • in school settings:
    • teachers want to see that students can accurately summarize information and introduce it in ways that support rather than detract from your purpose, voice, and ethos.
  • in workplace settings:

Even if you use an MLA Format Citation Generator to compile a Works Cited page, you still need to know how to introduce sources into the body of your text in ways that support rather than weaken your thesis, research question, hypothesis.

Knowledge of correct MLA Citation practices

  • helps you identify citation errors in your work and the work of others
  • empowers you to write your own citations, which can be less time consuming than using a citation tool.

MLA Format Citation

The MLA Handbook, 9th Edition provides a number of different ways to format in text citations, depending on the bibliographical information available about the source.

Most generally, a standard MLA in text citation typically includes

  1. the author’s last name
  2. the page number of the source if available.

Note: Unlike APA’s or Chicago’s author-date system, MLA does not provide the date of publication along with the author’s name inside the parentheses. Most likely MLA excludes the date reference because writers using MLA are often citing literary classics, which are often reprinted on various dates by multiple publishers.

This lack of a date in the parenthetical citations in MLA puts a bit of pressure on the writer to clarify the dates of publications when that’s important information for the reader to have. This rhetorical situation often comes up because writers are often articulating how ideas evolve over time thanks to ongoing investigations, ongoing scholarly conversations.

Example of Standard MLA Template

If you were quoting or paraphrasing from this source,

Martyna, Wendy. “What Does ‘He’ Mean? Use of the Generic Masculine.” Journal of Communication, vol. 28, no. 1, 1978 pp. 131–138. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1978.tb01576.x

then your in text citation needs to reference Martyna–the author’s last name–and the page number. If you don’t have a page number because the source isn’t paginated, no worries: just list the author’s last name.

You have multiple ways to introduce sources:

In the beginning of a sentence

You can put Martyna (the author’s last name) in the beginning of the sentence. Remember, the beginning of the sentence is the most important part of the sentence–that, and the end of the sentence.

Sample Paraphrase

  • Martyna argues there were three major problems with using the generic he to refer to both men and women: (1) ambiguity (2) exclusiveness, and (3) inequity.

At the end of a sentence

Sometimes it can feel intrusive to introduce an author by first or last name in a text. You will have occasions when you want to put the author — or sometimes multiple authors — at the end of a sentence.

Sample Paraphrase

  • (1) Ambiguity (2) Exclusiveness, and (3) Inequity — these are the three central problems with using the generic he to refer to both men and women (Martyna 131).

MLA Advice on First Name and Last Name on First Introduction

MLA style suggests that you include both the first and last name of the author when you first mention the source it in your paper.

Thus, rather than the above, on first mention the following might be more appropriate:

  • Using “he” as a “generically human term” creates (1) ambiguity . . . (2) exclusiveness . . . (3) inequity” (Martyna 131).

MLA Approaches to Establishing Credibility

Sometimes it makes sense to establish the credibility of a source when it is introduced into a text. Qualifications can be addressed succinctly. For instance, to continue the example from above, the following might work:

MLA Template for In Text Citation at the End of a Sentence

Sometimes, when composing a text, you may feel that it’s a bit intrusive to keep introducing sources by listing first and last names. Sometimes you may want to keep the flow of the sentence on another subject other than the first and last name of a source’s creator. In that instance you can follow this template:

  • Sentence (Author Last Name).

MLA Format Templates for Special Circumstances

Because many sources have more than one author and no page numbers (particularly electronic sources), the basic format discussed above won’t always work. See the chart below for common templates for MLA in text citations.

OccasionExplanationExample
Citing a source with no authorCite the next item in the bibliographic entry–typically the title. Shorter works should be in quotation marks, and longer works should be italicized.(“Transparency”)
(Encyclopedia of Rare Birds)
Citing a source with no page numberCite the author’s last name (if available. If not, cite the title)(Baron)
(“Transparency”)
Citing a source with a long titleWhen citing a title (for sources with no author), truncate the title down to the first few main words“Gender Affirmation through Correct Pronoun Usage: Development and Validation of Transgender Women’s Importance of Pronouns Scale”

“Gender Affirmation”
Citing a source with two authorsList both last names in the parenthetical citation with “and” between them  (Ahmaud and Jones)

Citing a source with more than two authors
Include the name of the first author listed (NOT the first alphabetically) along with “et al” (from the Latin “and others”).(Xiao et al)

Citing multiple works by the same author
Include the author’s last name followed by a comma, and the title(Baron, “Pronoun Showdown”)

Citing two different authors with the same last name
Include the author’s last name and first initial followed by a period (or first name if the first initial is also the same).  D. Smith   J. Smith    

Citing information quoted by your source
Include the last name of the original source, the words “qtd. in” and your source’s last name.(Lylye qtd. in Baron)
Citing Poetry
Include the line number(s) in your parenthetical citation. Line numbers should be preceded by the word line or lines.
(lines 7-8)
Citing Shakespeare
Include the act, scene, and line numbers and separate each with a period
(3.3.27-28)  
Citing the Bible
Begin with the italicized version of the bible you’re referencing (which will be the first item in your bibliographic entry), followed by the book name and the verse number.  
(New International Version, Mark 1.3-4)  

Citing a tweet or social media post
Use the author’s handle or screen name(@MoteMarineLab)  

MLA In Text Citation Templates

If you have included any of the bibliographical information ordinarily included in a parenthetical citation (e.g., the authors’ names), you do not need to repeat that information in the parenthetical citation. After all, brevity is a major textual attribute of effective academic and workplace writing.

ScenarioExampleExplanation
Citing a source that you’ve fully introduced; no page numberAccording to journalist and Harvard University foreign policy scholar Fareed Zakaria, “Russia’s actions in Ukraine are perfectly predictable.Because the source has been fully introduced in the signal phrase and there is no page number to cite, a parenthetical citation is not needed.  
Citing a source that you have not introduced, no page numberIt’s notable that “Putin describes Ukraine as inseparable from Russia in much the same way France described Algeria in the 1950s” (Zakaria).  In this example the author must be named in the parenthetical citation because he is not named in the signal phrase.  
Citing a source that you’ve introduced; with page number
According to journalist and Harvard University foreign policy scholar Fareed Zakaria, “Russia’s actions in Ukraine are perfectly predictable”(A1).
   
Because the source is fully introduced, only the page number needs to be included in the parenthetical citation.  
Citing a source that you have not introduced; with page numberIt’s notable that “Putin describes Ukraine as inseparable from Russia in much the same way France described Algeria in the 1950s” (Zakaria A1).  Because the author isn’t named in the signal phrase, the parenthetical citation must include the author’s last name and page number  

**The same rules apply to summary and paraphrase. You should introduce your sources and cite them even if you are not using their exact language.

In Text Citation Rubric

The criteria for evaluating in text citations may vary across academic and professional disciplines. Below are some commonplace rhetorical moves writers make when introducing sources or putting sources in conversation with one another.

Fragmented, Writer-Based Citations

C- grades and lower
Developing Awareness of Citation Practices

Grade: C to B+
Professional, Reader-Based Citations

B+ grades and above
SourcesSome sources cited in the text are not  listed on the works cited

It’s unclear when the writer is introducing sources or quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing sources


It’s unclear which ideas are the authors vs. the authors’ sources


The author rarely, if ever, takes a moment to contextualize sources — to introduce new information so that it’s vetted from an information literacy perspective (e.g., Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose)

Some sources listed on the works cited page are not listed  in the text


 
Most sources cited in the text are listed on the works cited.

Most sources listed on the works cited are cited in the text

The authors’ use of sources suggest they understand Information Literacy Perspectives & Practices

Most sources are fully introduced on first use

Most information from outside sources is clearly cited using MLA in text citation
All sources listed on the works cited are cited in the text;

All sources cited in the text are listed on the works cited

Sources are fully introduced on first use
Information from outside sources is clearly distinguished as such
All information from outside sources (including paraphrase and summary) includes parenthetical citations/and or signal phrases 

The authors introduce bibliographical information when appropriate (e.g., as an appeal to pathos or ethos) and when they summarize, paraphrase or quote sources
Synthesis/ SourcesSome sources cited are credible and relevant
Source selection focuses on a single viewpoint, and may exclude important information that conflicts with central claims
Writing incorporates multiple sources, but they are treated individually, rather than synthesized.
Sources cited are mostly credible and relevant

Source selection considers at least two viewpoints, and avoids excluding ideas that conflict with their central claim

Writing synthesizes ideas in a way that is logical, but does not necessarily extend or add to the scholarly conversation
Sources cited are credible and relevant
Source selection considers multiple viewpoints, and doesn’t exclude ideas that are inconvenient to the claims

Writing synthesizes ideas from multiple sources in a way that contributes to the scholarly conversation and finds cogent and meaningful connections between them

In Text Citation Exercises

Look at the sentences below, each of which contains an incorrectly formatted in-text citation. Identify the errors in each.

  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. The narrator “and why pretend? But lunch tomorrow? No?” (Collins line 4).
  4. The opening lines of the novel are “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins” (Nabokov, 1).
  5. he opening lines of the novel are “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins” (Lolita 1).

Key

  1. The citation identifies the page number but not the source.
  2. The punctuation should be outside the parenthetical citation, not inside the quote.
  3. There should not be any punctuation after the citation when the quote ends with a question mark.
  4. There should not be a comma between the author and page number.
  5. The citation should include the author’s last name, not the book title.

4 Steps for Using Sources

Step 1: Identify Needed Information/Sources

The first step to finding appropriate sources is to reflect on your information needs.

During the preliminary stages of a writing project, when you’re engaged in prewriting, drafting, and rhetorical reasoning, take a moment to reflect on what’s been published about a topic in the archive. Here be careful to make distinctions in the authority of available information.

When discussing their sources for inspiration, writers often talk about the importance of reading other writers. They say they get their best ideas by reading the works of others. Sometimes people write to vet or refute the works of others. Other times people aspire to extend or develop knowledge on a given topic.

How to Identify Needed Information

  1. What’s the status of ongoing scholarly conversations about the topic? What’s available in the archive, the gated web, the open web, on the topic?
    1. Which texts are canonical?
    2. Who are the thought leaders?
    3. What are the major turns in the conversation?
    4. What are the current scholarly debates? What are the research questions scholars are pursuing in professional, peer-reviewed, academic journals and presses?
  2. Who is your audience?
    1. Does the audience privilege anecdotal evidence, textual evidence, empirical evidence? What media, genre, rhetorical moves, research methods are you expected to use in order to communicate with your audience?
    2. What citation style does your audience expect you to use? MLA? APA?

Step 2: Conduct a CRAAP Test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose) of Each Source

Before you cite a text, be sure to critique it.

Sarah Blakeslee’s (2004) CRAAP Test provides five critical frameworks for evaluating the usefulness of a source:

CurrencyIs the information current? Does the information reflect a turn in the conversation–some sort of new thinking about the topic?
RelevanceHow does the information relate to your claims and purpose for writing? Why does the information matter?
AuthorityWho is the author? What are their credentials? Who is the publisher? Is the information peer reviewed? What research methodologies were used?
AccuracyIs the information peer reviewed? Is it published by a reliable publisher?
PurposeWhat can you determine about the source’s purpose? Does it have political, ideological, cultural, or other biases that may slant the information?

Step 3: Introduce Your Source

When you first introduce a source, MLA recommends that you put the first and last name of the author in the sentence:

When writing about non-fiction, tell your readers where the information came from. Where was it published? Who wrote it? What makes the writer credible?

  • Example: The generic “he” is described by Dr. Dennis Baron, professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois and author of What’s Your Pronoun, as “the grammatical equivalent of manspreading.”

In subsequent uses of the same source, you don’t have to fully introduce your source, but you still need to contextualize the quote for your reader.

  • Example: The grammatical inconvenience of this missing part of speech resulted in calls for a gender-neutral singular pronouns. Baron notes that the singular “they” first appeared in writing in 1370 and in 1792, a Scottish economist suggested adopting “ou” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.
  • Example: After describing the natural diet and habitat of the flamingo and delineating its revered place in religion and myth, Price notes that New Englanders have “reproduced [the flamingo] and brightened it and sent it wading across an inland sea of grass.”

When writing about literature, tell your readers who is speaking to whom about what. Orient them to what is happening in the story. 

  • Example: Upon hearing that Romeo has murdered her cousin, Juliet exclaims,  “Oh serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!”

Step 4: Integrate Your Source into Your Text

When using direct evidence in academic essays, writers shouldn’t ever start a sentence with a quote. Instead, the quote should be smoothly integrated into your sentence. There are three methods for embedding sources:

Dialogue Introduction:

  • Use some version of “he says” or “she says,” followed by a comma and a quote (the quote needs to be a complete sentence).
    • Correct: Price says, “Americans in temperate New England reproduced it, brightened it, and sent it wading across an inland see of grass.”
    • Incorrect: Price says, “wading across an inland see of grass.”
      • Alternatives to “says”: admits, emphasizes, responds, agrees, insists, replies, argues, notes, suggests, asserts, observes, thinks, believes, points out, writes, claims, reasons, denies, compares, refutes, confirms, rejects, contends, reports, declares

Introduction with a colon:

  • Introduce the quote with a complete sentence, followed by a colon and quote (the quote needs to be a complete sentence).
    • Correct: Price ends the piece by noting the unnatural nature of the decorative flamingo trend: “Americans in temperate New England reproduced it, brightened it, and sent it wading across an inland see of grass.”
    • Incorrect: Price ends the piece by noting: “reproduced it, brightened it, and sent it wading across an inland see of grass.”

Narrative Introduction

  • Smoothly embed key words and sections of a quote into your own language. The key here is that if you are reading it aloud, it should be totally seamless. If you were to read it aloud, it would not be clear to listeners where your language ends and the writer’s language begins. However, readers can discern this difference when writers use expected citation conventions for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting,
    • Correct: Price notes that the flamingos stand out “loudly” as they are “sent wading” through the lawns of “temperate New England.”
    • Incorrect: Price says “loudly” and “wading across an inland sea of grass.”

Step 5: Quote your source

When incorporating quotes from outside sources, it’s important to quote the language of the original source exactly. However, sometimes quotes need to be adapted for space or clarity. When making adaptations it is essential that

1) the changes are noted using brackets or ellipses

2) the changes do not alter the meaning of the original quote

At times, quotes will need to be adapted by pronouns to more specific nouns or vice versa for clarity or to avoid redundancy.

  • After Mr. Smith spent all day spying on his neighbors, [he] was dismayed to have discovered nothing.”
  • In response to the unwarranted attack, “[Mallory] launched into a passionate defense of herself.”

Particularly when integrating narratively, it might also be necessary to change verb tense to conform with the grammar of your sentences.

  • When Gene “[jounces] the limb,” Finny crashes onto the muddy riverbank below and “[shatters] his leg.”  

Finally, you may find that you want to omit non-essential information from the middle of a quote. In these cases, use ellipses (…) to note where content has been omitted. Use three dots for brief omissions, and four dots if a sentence or more has been removed.

  • Morgan asserts, “The Russian sailor as a Harlequin thus is an archetype for Marlow’s descent into the heart of darkness…but where Marlow returns home transformed, the Russian sailor remains behind, slipping back into the darkness” (37). 

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t ever use ellipses to note when something has been removed at the start or end of a quote. Except in the unlikely event that you are quoting the very first or very last line of a text, readers can always assume that something preceded or followed quoted material, so ellipses to start or end a quote are superfluous.

Step 6: Cite your source

As explained in detail above, the last step when incorporating outside evidence is to credit the original source via citation. Remember to include the first item listed in the bibliographic entry (author’s last name or source title) along with a page number if there is one.

Works Cited

Blakeslee, Sarah (2004). “The CRAAP Test”LOEX Quarterly. 31 (3).