Any time you refer to, comment on, paraphrase, or quote another writer’s information, you must document this in your essay through the use of a citation. The purpose of an MLA in-text citation, sometimes called a parenthetical reference, is to help readers easily find the sources in the Works Cited page that correspond to your referenced passage. You will want to make this process as easy as possible for the reader, so the citations are always placed at the end of the sentence and should always correspond with the first word of the matching Works Cited page entry. Let’s suppose that this is a sentence from your essay:
The author explains, “Record deals were usually negotiated by elite businessmen” (Hennessey 127).
Your reader should be able to turn to the Works Cited page and easily find the bibliographic information for this source. It might be listed like this:
Hennessey, William. The Making of Records in Memphis. Atlanta: Capital Book Press, 2001.
Notice that the author’s name in the citation corresponds to the first word of the Works Cited entry. This makes it really easy for the reader to find and match up information, which is the purpose of in-text citations.
Two primary elements of a quoted passage should be given to the reader: 1) the author’s last name and 2) the page number where the referenced passage is found. The page number is always included in the citation at the end of the sentence, but the author’s last name can be placed either in the citation or in the sentence. Here are a few items to remember concerning in-text citations:
- No “page” or “pg.” or “p.#” or any other variant is used to indicate the page number.
- End punctuation goes at the end of the citation, not at the end of the passage.
- Author’s name can either be placed in the citation or in the sentence.
- No comma or other punctuation mark is needed to separate the author’s name and the page number.
Here are a few of the most common in-text citations that you might need to write in your essay:
Example 1: Louis Armstrong easily reached difficult notes, the F’s and G’s that hindered so many other trumpeters (Bergreen 258).
Example 1a: Bergreen explained, “Louis Armstrong easily reached difficult notes, the F’s and G’s that hindered so many other trumpeters” (258).
- Note: If the work has no page numbers (i.e. website) simply put the author’s last name in parentheses.
Two or three authors of the same work:
Example 3: In Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson suggest that metaphors “actually structure our perceptions and understanding” (57).
Example 3a: In Metaphors We Live By, the authors suggest that metaphors “actually structure our perceptions and understanding” (Lakoff and Johnson 57).
- Note: If the work had three authors the citation would read (Lakoff, Johnson, and Smith 57). Remember that there is no comma between the names and the page number, and all authors must be listed either in the sentence or in the citation.
Four or more authors of the same work:
Example 4: Changes in social regulations are likely to cause new fears among voters (Carber et al. 64).
Example 4a: Carber et al. claim that changes in social regulations are likely to cause new fears among voters (64).
- Note: Only the first author, followed by the term "et al." is listed either in the sentence or in the citation. Don't forget to place a period after "al" since it is an abbreviation of a Latin word, but no period is used after “et.”
A work with no author (an organization or website):
Example 5: According to The Center for Contemporary Cultural studies, “There is nothing concrete about hierarchy” (10).
Example 5a: “There is nothing concrete about hierarchy” (Center 10).
- Note: When we don’t have a known author or editor, we can use the book title (in italics), the article title (in quotation marks), or the Web site title (in italics). If we include this title in our sentence, we should write out the entire title. If we include it in our citation, we can shorten it using the first keyword (just be sure that your reader can still find the corresponding entry in your Works Cited page).
Formatting Direct Quotations Properly in MLA Format
Using direct quotations involves using the exact words of others in your paper, and under the MLA format, you must format quotations differently depending on their length.
Short quotations are less than four lines of prose or three lines of verse (poetry)
Long quotations are more than four lines of prose or three lines of verse (poetry) and include multi-paragraph quotes.
In addition, you might sometimes need to add words to direct quotations for clarity, or omit words that are unnecessary from the quotation. In MLA format, certain formatting rules apply in these situations.
Short direct quotations in MLA format
Short direct quotations include prose that is no more than four lines or verse that is no more than three lines. To format these correctly in MLA format, there are a few rules you must follow.
- Enclose the direct quotation in quotation marks.
- Reference the original author or title (if no author) and page number or line number (verse).
- Place punctuation after the parenthetical citation.
- Place questions marks or exclamation points that are part of the quote inside the quotation marks; place them outside if not part of the original author’s words.
- Include complete reference to the source on Works Cited page.
- According to Spools, sustainable weight loss is only possible through “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (289).
- Sustainable weight loss is only possible through “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (Spools 289).
- Some say that sustainable weight loss is only possible through “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (Spools 289), but other researchers disagree that this level of vigilance is necessary.
- Is sustainable weight loss possible without engaging in “continued dieting, regular exercising and vigilant monitoring of body weight” (Spools 289)?
Short quotations that consist of verses from poetry are handled a little differently.
Breaks are notated with a “/,” and a space appears before and after the slash mark. In addition, the line of the verse is used instead of a page number for the parenthetical citation (unless the poem is quoted in a secondary source). Keep the capitalization of each line of verse intact after the slash mark.
- Silverstein ends with “For the children, they mark, and the children, they know / The place where the sidewalk ends” (15-16).
Long direct quotations in MLA format
Long direct quotations consists of quotations that are longer than four lines of prose or three lines of verse, and the MLA format dictates how these are presented.
- Use a free-standing block of text (block quote).
- Omit the quotation marks.
- Start the direct quotation on a new line.
- Indent one inch from the left margin.
- Indent the first word of paragraphs ONLY if quoting multiple paragraphs.
- Use double spacing in the quotation.
- Include parenthetical citation after the ending punctuation.
Fitness and health guru Jillian Michaels stresses the importance of believing in yourself.
If you are citing poetry, maintain the original formatting to the best of your ability. Use poetry line numbers unless you are quoting something quoted in another source.
In his poem “The Sphinx,” Ralph Waldo Emerson personifies the sphinx as many different pieces of nature, and this shows the transcendental ideals Emerson often touted.
Uprose the merry Sphynx,
And crouched no more in stone,
She melted into purple cloud,
She silvered in the moon,
She spired into a yellow flame,
She flowered in blossoms red,
She flowed into a foaming wave,
She stood Monadnoc’s head. (120-128)
Showing changes to direct quotations in MLA format
Sometimes when you use direct quotations, you might need to add a word or words for clarity or omit portions of the quotation to shorten it or make it work within the context of your words. When this is necessary, you must show changes with brackets [ ], and show omissions of text with an ellipsis […].
When using brackets, place the words you add between the brackets.
- According to Putz, “Some people [who are trying to lose weight] try one fad diet after another with little success because these diets do not promote sustainable or ongoing weight loss” (98).
When using an ellipsis to show the omission of words, put a space before and after it.
- According to Jillian Michaels, success is within reach when you “Have establishment in yourself; trust in the significance of your life … [because] destiny is awaiting you (285).
Direct quotations should stay a small part of your research paper. Paraphrasing and summarizing information into your words is a larger part of including information from your sources. Understanding [URL]direct quotations versus indirect quotations[/writing-resources/punctuation/direct-versus-indirect-quotations] is important in presenting information.