MLA In-Text Citations

What is a citation system?

What is the point of a citation system?  Avoiding Plagairism

What if I already know what is in a source?

How to cite a source when a person is named as an author

How to cite a source when there is more than once source written by the same author

Signal phrases (words that say who says the quote) with full sentence quotes

Partial sentence quote; distinguishing a signal phrase

Test Yourself – Part A

Two or more authors

How to cite sources when there is no person named as an author

How to cite when the same information comes from more than one source

Quoting a quote from the source - Indirect quotes

Length of quotations

Paraphrasing and summarizing requires citation

Use of Ellipsis (…) to show omitted words or sentences from a quote

Identifying Internet sources

Page Numbers: When and how to use; When you don’t know the actual page number

Page Numbers: Poetry and Plays

Test Yourself – Part B

What is a citation system

A citation system is a set of rules for giving credit to sources and avoiding plagiarism. All publications have a set of rules to do this.  In academic institutions, these systems include MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), and CBE (Council of Biology Educators), among others. Generally, MLA is used in English and non-technical courses. Once you learn how to follow the rules for one style system, you should be able to look up and follow the rules for any style system. Basically, you need to know how to give credit to the sources in the paper (in-text citations) and how to list them at the end of the paper.

Why do we need a citation system?

The point of a citation system is to have a uniform way of giving credit to a source in order to avoid plagiarism.

Here are some important details to remember about citing sources:

  • You must give credit to the source whether you use exact words from the source (quote) or put information into your own words (paraphrase).
  • It is critical to give credit in each sentence with information from the source.  It is not all right to have several sentences with information from the source and then cite the source at the end. The reader has no way of knowing which, if any at all, of the previous sentences have information from the source.

When do I need to cite a source?

When your assignment calls for including information from sources such as a research paper, you must cite each source in every sentence  with information from a source- whether you are using exact words (quoting) or are paraphrasing (putting the information intro your own words). It should be clear to a reader where the information is from.

However, there are some types of assignments where citing the source may not be required or may not be required in each sentence such as a summary of a source where all the information in the assignment is from only one source or an assignment to answer questions based on information from one source. While it is always a good idea to give credit to the source of information in every sentence with information from a source using a specific style system, the extent to which formal citations are required in a specific assignment that is not a research paper assignment are determined by your instructor.

In addition, there are other assignments where you incorporate information from others which do not require citation such as a paper completed after a classroom discussion.

Always check with your instructor if you have any questions about the requirements for citing.

What if I already know what I found in a source?

Research papers are supposed to include information from sources along with your own analysis and common knowledge.  Common knowledge is information that is generally known.

Some information from a source may be information you already know.  To avoid any issue of plagiarism, you should give credit to the source in those sentences. You could use phrasing to point out that the author is restating a common belief:  Jones follows the commonly held belief that there will be an earthquake in California in the near future.

How to cite when a person is named as an author

In MLA, the general rule is to use the last name of the author and the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence to give credit to the source. Note that it is the last name only and not the first name and/or the title of the article or magazine, journal, or website. Also, the page number refers to the page number the specific information was printed on in the original publication, not a page number assigned in a website.  When the page number is not known, you just don’t list a page number. Sources posted to the Internet from a hard copy or pages on an web only site will not have a page number as part of the citation.

MLA is called a parenthetical documentation system because of the use of parentheses. Here’s a sample quotation where there is a known page number from a hard copy publication:

“While tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (Anderson 50).

Anderson is the name of the author of the source. The specific information is on page 50 in a print version of the source.

If there are two or more authors, see below.

Here’s the information from the source paraphrased instead of quoted.

Tattoos are popular today and were common even in old civilizations (Anderson 50).

Here’s a combination of a quote and a paraphrase. See how the parentheses goes at the end of the sentence, not the end of the quote:

“While tattoos may be popular today,” they were common in some old civilizations (Anderson 50).

Note that there is no p. or pg. or anything else that refers to page. Note also that it is only the last name of the author. The end quotation mark goes after the words quoted, not the parentheses. The parenthetical documentation is part of the sentence, but it is not part of the quote. There is no punctuation before the parentheses except for the end quotation mark: no comma or period goes before the parentheses.

You can tell the reader the name of the author in the sentence. If you do, you should not put the name in the parentheses. Interestingly, since we don’t usually know a page number (specific page the information was printed on in the original print publication) when we access sources through the Internet, we would not have any parentheses for documentation when the source is named in the sentence. Remember that a page number created on a website is not the type of page number this rule is referring to.

How to cite a source when there is more than one source written by the same author

When you have more than one source from the same author, you must distinguish between them in the citation by adding the title: (Mirando, “Dinosaurs”) and (Mirando, “Jurassic Wilderness”).

Signal phrases (words that say who says the quote) with full sentence quotes

Signal phrases are phrases that identify the source of a full sentence quote.

According to Anderson, “While tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (50).

The word According to Anderson are a signal phrase.

Note that there is a comma separating the signal phrase from the quote and that the first letter of the first word of the quote starts with a capital.  That is because what is in a quote after a signal phrase is considered a sentence.

The signal phrase could be at the end of the sentence.

“While tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies,” according to Anderson (50).

Note that the comma goes before and not after the end quotation mark.

The signal phrase could be in the middle of the sentence.

“While tattoos may be popular today, ” according to Anderson, “few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (50).

Signal phrases are limited to words that identify the source of the quote such as the following:  Jones says, According to Chan, “Dinosaur Extinction” claims.

The addition of other words such as the word that changes a signal phrase to just the beginning of a sentence that happens to contain some quoted words so that what is in the quotation marks is a continuation of the sentence and is not considered a separate sentence.  In these cases, there should not be a comma, and the first letter of the quote should not be capitalized since it is not considered to be the first word in a sentence.

Partial sentence quotes; distinguishing a signal phrase

Sometimes a sentence includes words that identify the source or quoted words, but the quote is not a complete sentence. This is a partial sentence quote, and the words that identify the source are not considered a signal phrase to be separated by a comma.  They are just part of a sentence that happens to begin outside the quote.

Anderson says that “[w]hile tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (50).

See how the quoted words are now  part of a sentence which begins outside the quote simply by adding the word that. I put the letter w in brackets since I changed something in a quote. The letter w is in brackets to indicate a change to the quote of making the w a small letter rather than a capital.

Here’s another example:  Anderson’s explanation shows “[w]hile tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (50).  See that there is no comma and no capital.

Two or more authors

If there are two authors, use both last names separated by the word and. The authors should be listed in the same order as they are listed in the source.

“There is increasing evidence that birds descended from dinosaurs” (Simpson and Bernini 326).

According to Simpson and Bernini, “There is increasing evidence that birds descended from dinosaurs” (326).

If there are more than one author with the same last name, use both last names: (Carter and Carter) or (Simpson, Simpson, and Bernini).  Note that MLA uses the word and and not an ampersand &.

If there are three authors, use all three last names as follows: According to Simpson, Bernini, and O’Reilly…. or (Simpson, Bernini, and O’Reilly).  Note that there are commas after each name except the last name since there are more than two items in a series(including before the word and).

If there are more than three authors named, you can either list them all or use the first listed last name and et al. which is the Latin abbreviation for and others: Simpson et al instead of Simpson, Bernini, O’Reilly, and Werner or (Simpson et al.). Whichever you choose, be consistent in the Works Cited page.

How to cite sources when there is no person named as an author

Sometimes, a source has no named author. This is actually common in articles in encyclopedias and even newspapers, newswires, or news services such as The Associated Press. In that case, just use the title of the article or page, not the publication or website.

When you are using a specific article or page in a website, your source is the specific article or page and not the website.  Sometimes, an organization or group is listed as the author: Mayo Clinic Staff.  Then, the author is considered to be Mayo Clinic Staff.  However, this applies only when a group or organization is actually listed as author.  In addition, with government publications, the name of the agency is considered to be the author.

If an article or page is in a website or newspaper and there is no author specifically named, use the title of the article or page as further described.   The title of a source in a dictionary, encyclopedia, or other reference book  is the word you are looking up.  For example, if you are looking up the word sunspots, the title of the article is “sunspots” or “Sunspots,” however it is written in the source.

Here is an example of how to use the title to cite the source:

“The most accepted theory of dinosaur extinction is that a comet or asteroid hit the earth causing megatons of debris into the air blocking the sunlight” (“Dinosaur Extinction” 587).

The reference to the source could be in the sentence:

“Dinosaur Extinction” explains that “[t]he most accepted theory of dinosaur extinction is that a comet or asteroid hit the earth causing megatons of debris into the air blocking the sunlight” (587).

Articles are considered short, published works, so titles of articles or pages from a website must be in quotation marks.

If the title to an article is longer than three or four words, it should be shortened to the first noun or pronoun (whichever is first) when referring to the source in the body of the paper. “Crime: Risks for Children of Non-Biological Parents Greater” should be shortened to “Crime.” “Organic Foods: Are They Really Healthier?” should be shortened to “Organic Foods” since Foods is the first noun.  “What Makes Something Funny?” should be shortened to “What?” the first pronoun.

  • Shorten means to delete some words from the end and keep the first word or words.
  • Don’t use a key word or words taken from the middle of the title since the reader must be able to find the source alphabetically in the Works Cited.

Also, the first letter of the first word and all other words in titles has to be capitalized in MLA style even if they are not so in the article itself except the following:

  • articles (a, an, the),
  • FANBOYS (but, or, yet, for, and, nor, so) – coordinating conjunctions, and
  • prepositions (such as in, at, of, around, over, and so on).

Here’s an example: “Genetic Manipulation of Food Has Some Scientists in the United States Worried”

Most sources are not in MLA style, so the titles are not following MLA format. Using capitals which are not in the original is not a violation of the rule that you can’t change what’s in a quote. Using quotation marks for titles of short, published works is a different use of quotation marks than for quotes. (By the way, you can change a quote in quotation marks by putting brackets [   ] around your changes as previously mentioned.)

All caps are not used in MLA style except for some abbreviations such as NATO or AIDS.  When there are all caps in a title, change to upper and lower case as otherwise appropriate.

How to cite when the same information comes from more than one source

Sometimes, the same information is in more than one of your sources.  If you are paraphrasing instead of quoting, just identify both sources separated by a semicolon in one parentheses: (“Dinosaur Extinction”; Jones).

(Note that the semicolon is placed after the end quotation mark whereas periods and commas are placed before the end quotation mark when there is supposed to be a period or comma next to an end quotation mark.)

Quoting a quote from a source (indirect quotations)

Sometimes, another person or organization in your source.  This is called an indirect quotation. When we use a quote that is quoted in the source, use the abbreviation qtd. in to let the reader know which source the quote you are quoting comes from. Say, for example, Jones wrote the article you found, but she quotes John Smith, and you want to use what John Smith says. Here’s a couple of ways to cite that information.

According to Smith, “There are more dangers in the depths of the oceans that we know about” (qtd. in Jones). This abbreviation means that this quote is quoted in the article written by Jones.

“There are more dangers in the depths of the oceans that we know about” (Herman Smith, qtd. in Jones).  Here, the person who is quoted is named in the citation instead of in the sentence.

Including the name of the person being quoted is not required:

“There are more dangers in the depths of the oceans that we know about” (qtd. in Jones).

It is optional to include the name of the person quoted in the source in parentheses.  If the name of the person quoted is used in the parentheses, then it should be the full name.

Use of the words qtd. in only applies when someone else is quoted in the source.

If there is no person named as author, use the title of the article or page to refer to the source. When you are using a specific article or page from a website, your source is the specific article or page and not the website. It’s like finding an article in a newspaper. Your source is the article, not the newspaper.

According to “Underwater Dangers,” “Some earthquakes are caused by methane gas explosions.”

Length of quotations

Even though there is a sentence quote for these examples, sometimes more than one sentence is quoted. The method of documenting is still the same.

If, however, the quote is more than four lines from the source, you must indent the quote ten spaces (1”) from the left-hand margin. In this situation, quotation marks are not used, and the period goes before the parentheses. Here are more than four lines (not sentences) from a source:

“The theory that dinosaurs became extinct as a result of climate changes from a huge meteor impact has far reaching implications. There is always the possibility such an impact will happen again. There are many meteors that come close to earth’s gravitational pull. Scientists closely watch to identify potential problems. There is some discussion about an organized effort to launch a missile to either explode such meteors or defect them away from our orbit” (Jones).

Here is the quote indented ten spaces (1”) from the left margin:

The theory that dinosaurs became extinct as a result of climate changes from a huge meteor impact has far reaching implications. There is always the possibility such an impact will happen again. There are many meteors that come close to earth’s gravitational pull. Scientists closely watch to identify potential problems. There is some discussion about an organized effort to launch a missile to either explode such meteors or defect them away from our orbit.  (Jones)

Paraphrasing and summarizing requires citations

Quoting is only one way of bringing information into a paper from a source. You can also paraphrase or summarize which is to put the source’s ideas into your own words. Quotation marks are not used, but you still have to give credit to the source the same way as with quotes. It is still plagiarism if you don’t use MLA or other documentation for paraphrased information.  Each and every sentence with information from a source – whether you quote or paraphrase – must cite the source.

Use of Ellipsis (…) to show omitted words or sentences from a quote

You may remember seeing a series of three periods … in a quote. This is called an ellipsis and is used to represent an omission. Even though you may omit something from the beginning of a sentence you quote from, the general rule is not to use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quote. They are generally used in the middle of a quote to take out unnecessary words in a sentence or between sentences which are being quoted. You may use an ellipsis at the end of a quote if you don’t complete a sentence.

You may also use an ellipsis between quoted sentences to indicate that a sentence or sentences were omitted.

Identifying Internet sources

Increasingly, the Internet is being used for research. Because everything looks the same on the screen, it is important to figure out what exactly you are looking at. Sometimes, you are using information from a website that only has a couple of pages with no named author and which are clearly written for that website.  In that case, your source is the website.  Nowadays, these limited websites are not very common. Remember that the point of a citation system is to tell the reader where you found the information so that the reader can access the source.  In a website that has more than a couple of pages, the reader would have difficulty finding the information.

When you are using an article or articles posted to a website or a specific page or pages in a website, your source is the particular article(s) or pages(s)  just like an article in a newspaper and not the website. If there is a separate author, refer to the source by the author’s last name, just as with any other source. If there is no named author, refer to the source by the title of the article or page in quotation marks. See How to cite a source when there is no named author regarding capitalization.

Page Numbers: When and how to use; When you don’t know the actual page number

The requirement to use a page number in MLA style refers to the actual page number in the original hard copy publication. The rule to use a page number does not apply to poetry or plays.  See section below for details.

Sources created only for an online presentation do not have the type of page numbers to which the rule to use page numbers applies even when we have to click through a sequence of “pages.”  The reason we should not use these website page numbers is that the pagination does not necessarily appear the same on everyone’s computer.  What one person sees as page two  could be page three on someone else’s computer.

When an article that was originally printed in a hard copy publication is posted, usually, there is no page number since it is an html format. If it is uploaded as a .pdf, the page number will appear.

When we don’t know the page number the particular information was printed on in the original hard copy publication, don’t use a page number.

If an Internet source numbers the paragraphs, you can use the paragraph number. However, if not numbered already in the web page, you should not start counting paragraphs to use a paragraph number.

The custom is that if you know a page number, you should not repeat the author’s name if you are using information from the same source in the same paragraph unless you use information from another source in between since you could just use the page number. However, if you don’t have a page number to use, you’ll have to repeat the author’s last name or title of the article (not the publication the article was printed in) for all references to that particular source.

When you have several sentences with information from a source, you should vary how you refer to the source:  According to Jones, “Sasquatch is absolutely a real creature.”  She goes on to say that they are intelligent enough to have hidden from humans.  “The reason no skeletal remains have been found is that Sasquatch bury their dead” (Jones).

Since sometimes there is no page number or paragraph number to reference, you might not have a parentheses at all if the source is referred to as part of the sentence. The Internet has created situations where we don’t use parentheses even though MLA is called a parenthetical documentation system.

No Page Numbers: Poems and Plays

Poems

The MLA rule to use a page number for sources that were originally published in hard copy and for which we know the exact page number does not apply to poems.

In citing poetry, line numbers are used instead: (“Fire and Ice” 1). If the name of the poem is already mentioned in the sentence or it is clear that this quote is from this poem, use just the line number: (1).

When quoting two lines of poetry (not sentences), use a slash between the lines:  ”Some say the world will end in fire/Some say in ice” (1-2).

When quoting more than two lines, indent one inch from the left, write the lines as they appear in the poem (one under the other), do not use quotation marks, and the period goes before the parenthetical documentation:

Some say the world will end in fire

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.  (“Fire and Ice” 1-4)

If the title is mentioned previously and it is clear the quote is from this poem, use just the line numbers.

If the poem is divided into sections such as chapters or parts, then identify in the citation: (Odyssey 2.6) represent chapter or book 2, line 6.

Plays

The MLA rule to use a page number for sources that were originally published in hard copy and for which we know the exact page number does not apply to plays.

Cite the act , scene, and line number is used: Macbeth 2.1.13 referring to act. scene.line.

If lines from more than character are quoted, indent 10 spaced (1″) from the left starting a new line for each character, and indicate the character:

Mrs. Hale:  (stiffly) There’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm.

County Attorney:  To be sure. And yet (with a little bow to her) I know there

     are some Dickson County farmhouses which do not have such roller towels.

Mrs. Hale:  Those towels get dirty awful quick.  Men’s hand aren’t always as

     clear as they might be.  (Trifles 32-34)

Note that since this is a one-act play, only the line numbers are used.

Here is a quote from a play that has acts and scenes:

Hamlet:  Methinks it is like a weasel.

Polonius:  It is back’d like a weasel.

Hamlet:  Or like a whale.  (Ham. 5.2.330-33