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Albert S. Cook Library

MLA Style

Learn to cite your sources using Modern Language Association (MLA) style.

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Basic Guidelines

When you refer to the words and ideas of others within your own research MLA style requires you to give credit by using an in-text citation (also known as “imbedded” or “parenthetical” citation) within the text of your paper.

  • MLA requires the use of an in-text citation whether you put the words of others in your own words (paraphrase) or state them exactly as found in the original source (direct quote). 
  • The in-text citation should occur in the sentence where the cited material has been used:
    • Signal phrase reference (author's name) appears within the sentence with page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence
    • Full parenthetical reference (author last name and page number) appears at the end of the sentence

Remember that all sources mentioned within in-text citations in your paper must have a corresponding full bibliographic citation in your Works Cited list.

General Format

In-text citations generally contain the author’s last name (surname) and page location of cited material placed within parentheses at the end of a sentence.

Full In-text citation

Start with the surname of the author (or editor, translator, compiler, etc.).  When referring to a particular part of a work, follow the surname by a space and a page number or numbers. 

Example: This psychological phenomenon has been previously demonstrated (Smith 178-85).

Using a signal phrase

If you introduce the cited material with a signal phrase (including the author’s last name within the sentence),  omit the surname from the parentheses.

Example: Smith demonstrates this psychological phenomenon (22-24).

Punctuating Citations

Standard punctuation

Standard sentence punctuation should be placed after the parenthetical citation.

Examples:

Can we allow ourselves to trust Frank’s Dramatic Theory of Cause and Effect (73-74)?

There are ways to document this “overwhelming need for self-study” (Jones 18).

Direct quotes with special punctuation

For a direct quote with specific punctuation associated with it, include that punctuation mark within the quotation marks followed by the parenthetical citation and end the sentence with proper punctuation.

Example: In response, Mary replies, “what, no more fighting?” (Blackwell 43).

Block Quotes

When citing more than four lines of quoted material, position the quoted section as a separate or "block" set of lines.

Indent the entire quoted section one half inch from the left margin: do not further intent the first line of the section.

Punctuate the sentence introducing the quote with a colon and do not use quotation marks.

At the end of the last sentence of the block quote, use parentheses to identify page number(s) of the quoted material. If the author's name is not included as a signal phrase in the introductory sentence, include it in the parentheses, as well.

Example: In Song of the Lark, Willa Cather demonstrates her ability to create detailed interior spaces in the first page of the novel with the description of the physician's office: 

The waiting-room was carpeted and stiffly furnished, something like a country parlor. The study had worn, unpainted floors, but there was a look of winter comfort about it. The doctor’s flat-top desk was large and well made; the papers were in orderly piles, under glass weights. Behind the stove a wide bookcase, with double glass doors, reached from the floor to the ceiling.It was filled with medical books of every thickness and color. On the top shelf stood a long row of thirty or forty volumes, bound all alike in dark mottled board covers, with imitation leather backs. (3)

Multiple Authors

Citing Works by Two Authors

List all surnames, separating two authors with “and.” 

Examples: Griff and Blum offer a fresh reading of this novel (242).

       This novel recently drew critical attention (Talbot and Smith 22).

Citing Works by Three or More Authors

List the first author's last name followed by et al. (with a period).

Examples: Some critics consider this work to be Hawthorne's most gothic tale (Blaine et al. 75).

       It has been said by Fredensen et al. that global warning is the biggest threat to our planet (45).

Authors with Same Last Name

List the first initial of each author as well as the surname.  If this does not differentiate them, include the whole first name.

Examples: (F. James 43) or (Frank James 43)

Two or More Works by the Same Author

After the surname, include the title or an abbreviated version of the title.  Separate the surname and title with a comma.

Example: (Smith, Cartoon Heroines 80)

Citing Multiple Works at Once

Separate the references by semicolons.

Example:  (Brown 40; Smith 50; Green 22-23)

Company or Organization as Author

Cite a corporation or organization in parentheses just as you would an individual author’s surname. If the organization's name is long, include it as a signal phrase rather than in parentheses.  When possible, shorten terms commonly abbreviated, for example:  “National” = “Natl.” or “Association” = “Assn.”

Author Unknown

When a source does not have a stated author, the Works Cited entry will begin with the title of the source. For the in text citation, either state the entire name of the source as a signal phrase, or use a part of the phrase in parentheses. 

Example: There is evidence that as many as 40% of all elementary students experience some type of bullying ("Saving our Schools").

Anthology Selection

List the name of the author of the selection (not the editor of the anthology) in the signal phrase or the parentheses.

Works Without Page Numbers

If a document does not include page numbers (as is the case with many electronic or web documents), do not list any.

  • Page numbers in a printout from a web site should not be used unless the printout is a PDF.
  • If there are no page numbers, paragraph numbers, or obvious subdivisions, cite the author’s name in a signal phrase in the text rather than in parentheses at the end of the sentence.

Paragraph Numbers

If paragraph numbers are used in the document instead of page numbers, use “par.” or “pars.” followed by the relevant number(s).  If the author's surname is included in the parentheses, put a comma after it. Only use paragraph numbers if the source includes them - do not create your own paragraph count.

Example: (Smith, par.16)

Other Subdivisions

If the work has any type of subdivision other than paragraph, use the name of that subdivision.

Example:  ...the image of Cinderella (Brown, screens 2-3).

Works with Volume Numbers

If you are citing a specific page within a multi-volume work, list the volume number, then separate it from the page number with a colon. 

Example: (Wright 5: 33)

Indirect Source

Cite the name of the primary source (the text you are actually citing) as a signal phrase and within the parentheses, include the words “qtd. in” before the secondary source (source which included the text you have cited) information: The Works Cited entry will refer to the bibliographic information for the secondary source. 

Example: Alex Green imagines a “new type of oligarchy” (qtd. in Smith 232).

In the above example, the Works Cited entry will provide bibliographic details for the work by Smith.