BK Writing Lab

In-Text Citation Basics (MLA)
Paul DiGeorgio, Ph.D.


When you write a paper in MLA format, you have to include citations (also called references) in parentheses. You can't just put whatever you want in parentheses, though -- you have to follow the specific MLA requirements, and failure to do so could result in major points off in your paper!

You also have to make sure that everything that is cited in your paper, whether directly quoted or paraphrased, has a corresponding entry on your Works Cited Page. You should never cite something that does not appear on your Works Cited Page, and you should never have something on your Works Cited Page that is not actually cited in the paper!

MLA in-text citation is in the "author-page" style. While there are some exceptions depending on your source (see below), you will typically include the author's last name and the page where you found your quotation or the page where you paraphrased (hyperlink). You never include a comma in between the last name of the author and the page number (see examples below -- no comma).

You also must remember that the period at the end of the sentence comes after the parenthetical citation, not before.

While you are free to include the author's last name in the sentence itself, as you will see in some of the examples below, the page number (if there is one), should always be in parentheses and not in the sentence. If you don't have a page number, such as when you are citing from a web page, you must include a paragraph number. If you fail to provide the required information, you basically did not include a citation, which, at the college level, could be judged as plagiarism.

There are two types of in-text citation: direct and indirect.

Direct citation is quoting a source word for word, with no changes.

Example 1 of direct citation: "[I]t is an inspection on the part of the mind alone" (Descartes 22).

Example 2 of direct citation: Descartes indicates that "it is an inspection on the part of the mind alone" (22).

Indirect citation is the same as paraphrasing (hyperlink), which is changing the wording of a source. You should make sure that you change the wording significantly or you might be committing plagiarism.

Example 1 of indirect citation: It is my mind that is able to tell that it's the same wax candle even after it has burned down (Descartes 22).

Example 2 of indirect citation: Descartes points out that it is the mind that is able to tell that it's the same wax candle even after it has burned down (22).

For more than one author

To cite a book or article with two authors, you give the last name of each author in addition to the page. Format: (last name 1 and last name 2 page #)

e.g. (Doner and DiGeorgio 7)

For three or more authors

To cite a book or article with three or more authors, you provide only the first author's last name, and then replace the rest of the names with "et al." (literally "and others").

e.g. (DiGeorgio et al. 12)



Sometimes you will not have an author's last name for a citation, such as when you are citing from a webpage, or citing a document that was published by a group or organization and not an individual person. 

Situation 1: You don't have an author's last name, but you have the name of a group, organization, corporation, etc.

Solution: In parentheses, you should include the name of the group, organization, corporation, etc., but you should abbreviate if possible. For example, abbreviate "international" as "int'l" and "organization" as "org." and so on.

e.g. (World Health Org. 55)

Situation 2: You don't have any author information at all (not even a group, organization, etc.)

Solution: In parentheses, you should include the work's title, but shorten it. You should make sure that the shortened title you give the source is sufficiently different from the title of all of your other sources in the essay or paper. Remember that you need to place the title of a short story or article or web page in quotation marks, and italicize the title of a novel (or any book), film, television show, play, or record.

e.g.To cite this web article you would abbreviate the title, "A Heart to Heart with Maned Wolves" to something like "Heart to Heart" or "Maned Wolves." So in parentheses, you would have ("Heart to Heart"). For this particular source, you would not have page numbers since the article is a web page. On your Works Cited page you would need to provide the full, non-shortened title of the article, as well as the URL. For more information on citing internet sources, click here.


If you have any questions, send us an email at bkwritinglab@bishopkennyhs.org!


Image Credit: Citation by Nithinan Tatah from the Noun Project

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