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MLA 9 Style Guide: In-Text Citations

Updated for the 2021 9th edition

What It Is

An in-text citation is a brief reference in your essay that leads your reader to a corresponding works cited entry. Think of in-text citation like a flag you plant for your reader. The flag sends your reader to your works cited to find full details about the source you are referencing.

yellow flag labeled "in text citation" on the left with a red line connecting it to a yellow flag on an Arkansas state map labelled "works cited entry"

In-text citations are how we give credit to the original ideas that influenced, inspired, or guided our own work. 

Include an in-text citation (or flag for your reader) when you:

  • directly quote a source
  • paraphrase, or put a source into your own words
  • include dates, statistics, or other factual information found in a source.  

Remember, you cannot borrow anyone's words, phrases, ideas, arguments, images, or other knowledge product without giving them credit for their work.

Signal Phrases

Need some help with phrasing your narrative citations? Try these signal phrase explainers and word banks!

How to Style It

In-text citations can be either parenthetical (inside parenthesis) or in prose. Provide the shortest bit of information you can to lead the reader to the correct entry on the works cited list. This is usually the author's last name. When there is no author, use the Title of Source with the correct formatting, such as inside quotation marks or italicized, whichever is appropriate.

Parenthetical citation means planting the flag for the reader at the end of the sentence by placing the relevant information inside parenthesis. The sentence's period comes after it. It looks like this:

The 101st Congress easily passed the Legislation (Harris).
Preventative care slows the disease's progression (CDC).
The sound and the fury are tied together directly (Cook 95).

 

A narrative citation means the flag is contained within the body of the sentence. This is also called a citation in prose. It is usually accomplished by using a signal phrase or lead-in phrase, to alert the reader. The signal phrase might come at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence.

Examples of signal phrases include the verbs: 

  • according to
  • argues
  • reports
  • suggests

It looks like this. In our second example, there is a page number we need to include, which is done parenthetically.

According to Harris, the legislation passed easily.
While Cook notes a correlation between the sound and the fury, Fox reports evidence of a more direct relationship (87).
Preventative care slows the disease's progression notes the CDC.

 

What to Include in All In-Text Citations

  1. Author's name*
  2. Page number, if any

Author

List the author's last name. See Special Circumstances below for how to handle a source without an author.

Farmer (87)
Farmer reports reading skills are crucial to college success (87).

 

Two Authors

List both the last name of both authors. Separate them with the word and.

(Dorris and Erdrich 23)

 

Three or More Authors

  • List only the first author's last name. This author is called the lead author.
  • Insert a space followed by the phrase et al. Notice that al. is an abbreviation so it needs a period after it.

Note: The abbreviation et al. is short for the Latin phrase et alia, which means and others. When we use it, we are telling our reader this source was written by the lead author and others, or by the lead author et al.

(Marzuillo et al. 417)
Marzuillo and colleagues propose reducing caffeine intake to help relieve depressive symptoms (417).
Reducing caffeine intake may relieve depressive symptoms according to Marzuillo and others (417).

 

Page Numbers

When your source has page numbers, include the specific page number. 

  • The page stands alone as a number. It does not need any abbreviations or labels.
  • If 2 pages or more need to be cited in the essay, place a hyphen between them. There is no space on either side of the hyphen.
It is best to use a cooking oil with a high burn point (Saunders 3).
According to Saunders, select a cooking oil with a high burn point (3).
Saunders suggests using a high burn point cooking oil , such as safflower, grapeseed, canola, olive, refined avocado, corn, sunflower, or peanut (3-4).

How to Style in Special Circumstances

No Author

  • Use the Title of Source when there is no author.
  • Put the Title of Source parenthetically or in prose.
  • Shorten a longer title, but make sure the reader will still be able to find it on the works cited. For example Sir Gawain and the Green Knight could be cited in text as Sir Gawain.
Men admire is his ability to woo women through "the cunning speech of love" (Sir Gawain 11).
Courtly love was "an extravagantly artificial and stylized relationship" (Chivalry and Courtly Love).
Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America notes that despite an apparent decline in reading during the same period, "the number of people doing creative writing--of any genre, not exclusively literary works--increased substantially between 1982 and 2002" (3).
Despite an apparent decline in reading during the same period, "the number of people doing creative writing--of any genre, not exclusively literary works--increased substantially between 1982 and 2002" (Reading 3).

Corporate Author (An organization or similar)

A corporate author is when an organization and not a person is the creator of the work. A corporate author can be an institution, an association, a government agency, a company, or another kind or organization.

In 1988 a federal report observes that the "current high level of attention to child care is directly attributable to the new workforce trends" (U.S. Dept. of Labor 147). 

 

If a corporate author has a very long name or is known by a standard abbreviation, you can use that shortened version after the first reference to it. .

  • Write out the corporate author's name completely the first time you reference it.
  • Insert a space and put the shortened name or abbreviation inside [square brackets].
  • If using a parenthetical citation, close it after the square brackets and punctuation the sentence.
Shortening the Name of a Corporate Author
1st reference: Residents of wildfire prone areas should map and practice different escape routes out of their homes and communities (American Red Cross [Red Cross]).
Next reference: Residents in wildfire prone areas need to be ready to evacuate "at a moment's notice" (Red Cross).
Abbreviating a Corporate Author
1st reference: "Breast fed babies have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome" (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]).
Next reference: A breastfeeding mother has a lower risk of some cancers, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension (CDC).

Two or More Sources by the Same Author(s)

Add a title to the in-text citation for clarity. There are three methods to do this when you have two sources by the same author or pair of authors.

1) Author's name and title in parenthetical citation.

The character Sethe notes, “Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays” (Morrison, Beloved 35).

 

2) Author's name and title in prose.

As Morrison writes in Beloved, “Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays” (35).

 

3) Author's name in prose and title in parenthetical citation.

Morrison writes, “Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays” (Beloved 35).

No Page Numbers

Include in the text the first item that appears in the Work Cited entry that corresponds to the citation (e.g. author name, article name, website name, film name). If using the website name, use the shortest form of the website, e.g. BBC.com, not the entire URL for the article.

"As we read we . . . construct the terrain of a book" (Hollmichel), something is more difficult when the text reflows on a screen.


Poetry

If the original source uses line numbers, the line number may be used instead of a page number.

Use a forward slash to indicate a line break and a double forward slash to mark a stanza break. Quotations of three or more lines should be inserted as a block quote.

The Tao te ching, in David Hinton's translation, says that the ancient masters were "so deep beyond knowing / we can only describe their appearance: // perfectly cautious, as if crossing winter streams. . . " (329).

Time-Based Media (Video, Film, Audio, etc.)

Include in the text the first item that appears in the Work Cited entry that corresponds to the citation (e.g. author name, article name, website name, film name). If using the website name, use the shortest form of the website, e.g. BBC.com, not the entire URL for the article.

When citing audio or video, include the time range as indicated in the media viewer using this format in place of page numbers. 

("Video Title" HH:MM:SS)
Although the phenomenon has been known since ancient times, it came to be known as post-traumatic stress disorder at the end of the Vietnam War ("Americans Remember Vietnam" 1:16:30).
Use a hyphen to indicate a range of time: ("Video Title" HH:MM:SS-HH:MM:SS)
Nguyen Ngoc unfavorably compares the human capacity for savagery with a tiger's by questioning why each kills ("The Veneer of Civiliation" 1:10:14-1:11:23).

Block Quotations

Block quotations are used when a direct quotation is longer than four lines of text.

  • Made up of 4 or more lines of direct quotation within your essay.
  • Set off by indenting all the lines half an inch (½") from the left margin.
  • Do not put quotation marks around the block.
  • End an introductory sentence to the block with a colon or whatever punctuation mark is most appropriate to introduce the block.
  • Punctuate the end of the quotation after the last word.
  • Insert a space followed by a parenthetical citation. There is no punctuation after this set of parenthesis

Poetry Sample

In the poem "My Papa's Waltz," the narrator explores their childhood with their father:

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy; 
But I hung on like death: 
Such waltzing was not easy. 
We romped until the pans 
Slid from the kitchen shelf; 
My mother's countenance 
Could not unfrown itself. (Roethke)

Drama/Play/Script Sample

Marguerite Duras's screenplay for Hiroshima Mon Amour suggests at the outset the profound difference between observation and experience: 
HE. You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing. . . .
SHE. I saw everythingEverything. . . . The hospital, for instance, I saw it. I'm sure I did. There is a hospital in Hiroshima. How could I help seeing it? . . .
HE. You did not see the hospital in Hiroshima. You saw nothing in Hiroshima. (15-17)

 

Labeling and Captioning an Image

For full information on labeling and captioning visuals and tables, see https://style.mla.org/formatting-papers/#tablesandillustrations

Labels

  1. Label each image with the abbreviation Fig. (for Figure)
  2. Number each Figure starting with Fig. 1 for the first image. Put a period after the number.
  3. Follow the figure label and number with a caption.

Captions

The caption acts as the in-text citation. It describes and in some cases fully cites the image. If the caption provides complete information about the source and the source is not cited in the text, no entry for the source in the works  cited list is necessary.

However, if you reference the source in your text, you will also create an entry for the image on your works cited list.

Photography by Edward C. Robison III.

Fig. 1. Emma Amos. The Reader. 1967, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

20 Reading Memes That Will Make You Want to Curl Up with a Book Right Now |  Fairygodboss

Fig. 2. Belle Busy Reading. 


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