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MLA Style: In-Text Citations

A guide to writing papers and citing sources in Modern Language Association style.

Signal Phrases

Signal phrases are phrases in your paper that provide attribution outside of the parenthetical citation. Typically this consists of the author's name- "Wordsworth says...", "According to Gordon...", et cetera. Using a signal phrase allows you to shorten or eliminate the parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence. Because the idea is already attributed to the author, you no longer have to include their name in the citation. However, you should still include any page numbers, paragraph numbers, or time stamps to guide your reader to the exact location of the source.

As a note, follow the same rules for multiple authors as you would use for a standard parenthetical citation- "Best and Marcus state...", "As presented by Franck et al.,".

General Rules

In-text (or parenthetical) citations are used in the body of your paper in order to direct readers to the full citation in the Works Cited page. They also help indicate where in the source that the citation appears. Any time you reference a source in your paper, you need to provide a citation to properly attribute the concept to the original author. The parenthetical citation goes at the end of the sentence in which the reference appears, before the period.

Sources With Page Numbers

Many sources you use will have page numbers- beyond books, most periodicals and scholarly journals provide you with numbered pages. When citing from a source which has both an author and a page number, include both in your citations. If not using a signal phrase (see sidebar), your parenthetical citation should include the author's last name and the page number (or numbers) on which the information you are referencing appears. You should use no punctuation in such a citation, as seen below.

(Burke 3) 

If you are citing a work with two authors, list both authors' last names separated by an 'and'. If the work has three or more authors, list the primary author followed by 'et al.'. Include the period after 'al' here; otherwise, no punctuation is needed in the citation.

(Best and Marcus 9)                               (Franck et al. 327)

If your source is from a corporate author- an article published by National Geographic as an institution, for example- it is acceptable to use the corporation's name as the author. Where appropriate, abbreviations are acceptable so as to avoid overly long parenthetical citations- so instead of National Geographic you may say Nat'l Geo or Nat Geo.

If you have no known author for a source, identify the source by the title and include a page number if available.

If you are citing from an anthology or collection with works by multiple authors, cite the author of the internal source- the article or essay which you wish to reference, not the anthology or collection as a whole.

If you are referencing two different authors who have the same last name, include their first initial to differentiate. If they share the same first initial, include their full first name instead.

If you cite more than one work by the same author, include a shortened version (if needed) of the title of the work in the citation. Remember to put short stories and articles in quotation marks and books and films in italics.

(Lightenor, "Too Soon" 38) (Lightenor, "Hand-Eye Development" 17)

When citing from more than one volume of a multivolume source, include the volume number followed by a colon. Put a space after the colon and then provide the page number(s). If you only use one volume, there is no need to include the volume number.

(Quintilian 1: 14-17)

If you are citing from the Bible, include the translation you are using in your first citation. If using the same translation throughout the paper, you can leave out the version in later citations. Always include an abbreviated title of the book of the Bible, chapter(s), and verse(s) in your citation.

(New Jerusalem Bible, Ezek. 1:5-10)

Transcripts, Plays, and Screenplays

There are additional rules to citing from sources that provide a dialog between two or more participants. Include the speaker's name in all caps at the beginning of each line of dialog, indented half an inch and followed by a period. Follow with the line of dialog, including any pieces of stage direction. When a new character speaks, start their dialog in the same fashion on a new line. Your parenthetical citation comes at the end of the dialog. It is suggested that you provide the author and potentially title of the work in a signal phrase (see sidebar), so your parenthetical citation can just include information such as page number or act and scene number. If using act and scene, write them as numbers separated by a period. See an example from O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh:

Alcohol makes an early appearance in O'Neill's play. In the very first scene, O'Neill's characters treat alcohol as a pancaea for their ills:

WILLIE. (Pleadingly) Give me a drink, Rocky. Harry said it was all right. God, I need a drink.

ROCKY. Den grab it. It's right under your nose.

WILLIE. (Avidly) Thanks. (He takes the bottle with both twitching hands and tilts it to his lips and gulps down the whiskey in big swallows.) (1.1).

Non-Print Sources

You may find yourself citing a source which does not include a page number. Oftentimes this takes the form of a digital-only journal, an online news report, a website, a film, or a speech or presentation. In this case, identify the source by the first item you have in the Works Cited entry for the work. Typically this will be an author's name or title for an article or film. If you list a URL, only use a partial URL or, preferably, a domain name like Forbes.com or CNN.com. In many cases, you can indicate the author or source via a signal phrase and not have to include a parenthetical citation at all.

When citing a source with a runtime, such as films, music, and podcasts, include the range of hours, minutes, and seconds you wish to reference in the following format: (00:02:15-00:02:35). This would indicate the twenty seconds between 2 minutes 15 seconds and 2 minutes 35 seconds of the source.

Example Attribution

All examples on this page taken from Purdue Online Writing Lab (https://owl.purdue.edu)