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Ready, Set, Cite (MLA, 8th)

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

Cite all direct quotes, paraphrased information, and summarized ideas.

Each in-text citation should link directly to a specific source in the Works Cited list.

Basic entry is author's last name and page number: (Jones 14)

If there is no author, use the "Title" of the source: ("Global Warming" 264)

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

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.

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).

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!