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MLA Format Style Guide: In-Text Citations

In-Text Citation Basics

The other major component of MLA documentation style is the insertion into the text of a brief reference that indicates the source consulted.  The in-text citation should direct the reader unambiguously to the entry in your works cited list, and to the section of the source itself, while causing the least disruption possible to the text.

Appropriate Level of Citation

The number of sources you cite depends on the purpose of your paper.  For most papers, cite one or two sources for each key point. Literature review papers typically include a more exhaustive list of references.

Provide credit to the source whenever you do the following:

  • paraphrase the ideas of others
  • directly quote the words of others
  • refer to data or data sets
  • reprint or adapt a table or figure, even images that are free or licensed in the Creative Commons
  • reprint a long text passage or commercially copyrighted test item

Avoid undercitation and overcitation.  Undercitation can lead to plagiarism, while overcitation can be distracting and unnecessary.  

It is considered overcitation to repeat the same citation in every sentence when the source and topic have not changed.  Instead, when paraphrasing, cite the source in the first sentence in which it is relevant and do not repeat the citation as long as it remains clear and unchanged.

Parenthetical and Narrative Citations

Typical in-text citations are composed of the element that comes first in the works cited entry (usually author's last name) and a page number.  In a narrative citation, the page number is placed in parentheses in a place where there is a natural pause in the text.  In parenthetical citations, the name and page number are placed after the closing quotation mark.


According to Naomi Baron, reading is "just half of literacy. The other half is writing" (194). One might even suggest that reading is never complete without writing.


Reading is "just half of literacy. The other half is writing" (Baron 194). One might even suggest that reading is never complete without writing.

Work Cited

Baron, Naomi S. "Redefining Reading: The Impact of Digital Communication Media." PMLA, vol. 128, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 193-200. 

When a quotation so long that it needs to be set off from the text, type a space following the ending punctuation mark and insert a parenthetical citation.

If two authors share a last name in different works cited entries, use their first initials to differentiate between sources. Ex.: (N. Baron 194)

If more than one work by the same author is used, include a short form of the work's title to differentiate.  Ex.: (Baron, "Redefining" 194).

Shortened forms of the title or an organization name can be used in place of the author's last name in a work with no author.


Plagiarism is the act of presenting the words, ideas, or images of another as your own, and denies the author of the content the credit they are due.  Plagiarism, whether intentional or unintentional, violates ethical standards of scholarship.

Writers who plagiarize disrespect the effort of original authors by failing to acknowledge their contributions, stifle further research by preventing readers from tracing ideas back to their original sources, and unfairly disregard those who exerted the effort to complete their own work.


A paraphrase restates another's idea in your own words.  Paraphrasing allows you to summarize information from one or more sources, focus on significant information, and compare and contrast relevant ideas.

Published authors paraphrase their sources most of the time, rather than quote sources directly. Student writers should do the same.  When you paraphrase, cite the original work using either the narrative or parenthetical citation format.

Citations for paraphrased content should be placed as close as possible to the information without breaking the flow of the paper, using either narrative or parenthetical citations.


Indirect Sources

Whenever possible, take information from the original source.  Sometimes, however, it is acceptable to use indirect sources if the primary source is not available.  If what you quote or paraphrase is itself a quotation, put the abbreviation "qtd. in" before the source in your citation.

Example: Samuel Johnson admitted that Edmund Burke was an "extraordinary man" (qtd. in Boswell 2: 450).