Skip to Main Content

Ready, Set, Cite (MLA 8th / 9th)

A guide providing an in-depth explanation of and examples of using MLA format

To Quote or Not to Quote

Use direct quotes judiciously. The more of your voice present in your paper, the more "readable" it will become. Most facts and information can be paraphrased or summarized. Save direct quotes for when you are citing a person of note, or citing a phrase that is particularly aggressive, profound, poetic, funny, etc.

In-Text Citation Basics

What Are In-Text Citations?

In-text citations are brief references within the body of your paper that tell your readers that a) you've used an outside source, and b) point them toward that source in your Works Cited list. Where relevant, the in-text citation also points your reader to the location in the source being cited (e.g. page number).

The in-text citation can appear within the body of your paper, within a parentheses, or a combination of the two.

You need to cite all direct quotations, paraphrased information, and summarized ideas.

What To Include in an In-Text Citation

  • An in-text citation begins with the shortest piece of information that di­rects your reader to the entry in the Works Cited list. Therefore, it begins with what ever comes first in the entry: the author’s name or the title of the work.
  • Most often, an MLA in-text citation begins with the author's last name followed by the page number: (Jones 14).
  • If there is no author, use the "Title" of the source:  ("Global Warming" 129).

If page numbers are available, they MUST be listed. This often means examining the pdf version of database articles to locate page numbers.

Detailed Rules

  • For most citations, the parenthetical reference is placed BEFORE the punctuation:

Magnesium can be effective in treating PMS (Haggerty 42).

  • Direct quotes longer than 4 lines are indented an extra 1/2 inch, the quotation marks are removed, and the parenthetical comes AFTER punctuation.

A preliminary study presented recently at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting found that getting enough sleep was associated with greater protection of death from all causes.If magnesium does work to help someone get a little shuteye, that may be because it is acting on certain receptors on the surface of brain cells to quiet down brain cell activity.The nutrient acts on the benzodiazepine receptor, which is the same receptor used by Valium-type drugs and the sleep medication Ambien. (Gurubhagavatula)

  • If author name or title is used within the text, do NOT list it again within parenthesis. 

Haggerty notes magnesium is effective at relieving some symptoms of PMS (42).

Learn More

What Do You Cite?

Cite all outside sources you use in your research paper. Citing is required for sources you quote word-for-word, for sources you paraphrase (rewrite using your own words), and for sources from which you summarize the main ideas within your work.

Direct Quote Example:

The quote below appears exactly as it does in Joanna Santa Barbara's article on child-rearing in the Encyclopedia of Violence Peace and Conflict.

"Adjusted data from seven U.S. surveys between 1968 and 1994 show a decline in approval of discliplinary spanking from 94% to 68%, or 26 percentage points in 26 years" (Santa Barbara 243).

Paraphrase Example:

This sentence takes the information above and puts it into the author’s own words.

Studies show that Americans are becoming more critical of the concept of spanking children. Between 1968 and 1994 the so-called “approval rating” of spanking children dropped from 94% to 68% (Santa Barbara 243). 

Summarize Example:

The sentence below distills the main idea of the original information.

Studies have shown that Americans just don't approve of spanking like they used to (Santa Barbara 243). 


What DON'T You Cite?

  • Your original ideas and conclusions
  • Information and ideas that are well-known by your readers and widely accepted to be true, such as basic biographical information about Abraham Lincoln or the dates of World War II.
  • Sayings and proverbs such as "the grass is always greener" or "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."                                                                                                                                                      


Even though it is essential to acknowledge the use of another’s words and/or ideas in your work, it is also important to keep your paper as “readable” as possible. The MLA Handbook suggests writers keep the number of parenthetical references “as brief – and as few— as clarity and accuracy permit.” They urge writers to provide only the information a reader needs to identify the sources, namely the author (or title if there is no listed author) and the page number.  MLA also encourages writers to use an author’s name in the text in order to shorten the parenthetical notation.

See Readability at work!