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How To - Use the MLA Style Guide: About In-text Citations

How to Cite References in Your Text

In-text references provide a means for you to give credit when using others' words, facts, or ideas. MLA style uses parenthetical notations to identify the source (author's surname) and the specific location (page reference) from which you borrowed material.  

Place the parenthetical reference where a natural pause would occur, as near as possible to the material documented. In-text citations are typically placed at the end of a quote, sentence, or paragraph.

You can provide the author's last name and page number at the end of the sentence enclosed in parenthesis, or the author's last name can appear as part of the sentence with the page number at the end of the sentence enclosed in parenthesis. If the author's last name was used in the sentence, do not repeat the author's name in the in-text citation.


According to B.F. Skinner in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, behavior analysis is necessary for society because "almost all major problems involve human behavior" (24).


Behavior analysis is necessary for society because "almost all major problems involve human behavior" (Skinner 24).

Work Cited

Skinner, B.F. Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Alfred A. Knopf, 1971.

In-Text Citations

Use a brief parenthetical reference in your paper wherever you are incorporating someone else's words, thoughts, or ideas in your paper.

In-text citations typically include the first element from the Works Cited entry (usually the first author's last name, but occasionally an abbreviated title) and a location (usually the page number).

Each in-text or parenthetical citation should clearly correspond to a citation in the Works Cited list at the end of the paper.

Identify the location of the information that you are citing as specifically as possible (page number, DVD disc number, video time, etc.).

See examples below to learn about how multiple authors for one work are handled as well as sources with no author in MLA parenthetical citations.

One Author

Include author's last name and the page number (no comma before the page number) in parentheses:

(Austen 75)

Two Authors

Include last name of both authors connected by the word ‘and’, followed by the page number (no comma before the page number) in parentheses.

(Johnson and Tuite 110)

Three or more Authors

Include the first author’s last name followed by ‘et al.’ and the page number (no comma before the page number) in parentheses.

(Richard et al. 25)

No Author

If no author is given or a work is anonymous, cite the work by its title. Use the full title if it is brief or a shortened version if it is longer. When abbreviating a title, begin with the word by which it is alphabetized:

A Glossary of Literary Terms Used in Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism becomes Glossary of Literary Terms

If the title of the work is already used in your text, simply include the page number in your parenthetical citation.


Paraphrasing is when you, as the researcher, put into your own words a passage or idea from another work. A paraphrased passage is generally shorter and more condensed than the original. Summarizing is very similar to paraphrasing, in that it also involves putting someone else’s ideas into your own words in order to condense the material (and to show that you understand the source material). A summary includes only the main points and/or ideas in a longer passage or entire work.   

Paraphrasing is often used because it is easier to integrate into the text of a paper. Remember though, you must still cite your source using author name and page number:

Author Incorporated into Text

Kafka describes the insecurities of his youth, analyzing his social shortcomings in school and his rocky relationship with his father (44-46).

Author After Paraphrase

The insecurities of youth are described, as the author analyzes his social shortcomings in school and his rocky relationship with his father (Kafka 44-46).

Indirect Sources

An indirect quote is when you quote a source that is cited and/or quoted in another source. MLA calls these ‘indirect sources.’ As a general rule, you should try to avoid using indirect sources. If there is a quote in a source from another book or article that you want to use, find the original source of that quote and cite it. Only quote an indirect source when absolutely necessary, for instance, when the original work is out of print or unavailable, or not available in English or a language you speak.

If you do use an indirect source in your paper, name the original source in your text and include the indirect source in your parenthetical citation. If what you quote or paraphrase from the indirect source is itself a quotation, put the abbreviation ‘qtd. in’ (“quoted in”) before the indirect source in the parenthetical citation.

In the following example, Jane Austen is the original source, and Segal is the indirect source, given in the reference page:

In her article, Segal discusses how Jane Austen introduces many of her characters in terms of their financial situation. For instance, in the beginning of Sense and Sensibility Austen introduces us to the Dashwoods by saying, “The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex. Their estate was large…” (qtd. in Segal  252).

Block Quotes

The block quote is used for direct quotations that are longer than four lines of prose, or longer than three lines of poetry. A block quote is always used when quoting dialog between characters, as in a play.

The block format is a freestanding quote that does not include quotation marks. Introduce the block quote with a colon (unless the context of your quote requires different punctuation) and start it on a new line. Indent the entire quote 1-inch from the left margin and double-space it (even if the rest of your paper is not double-spaced). Include the page number at the end of your block quote outside of the ending period. Also include the author's last name, date of publication, and page number(s)/paragraph number.


If you quote a single paragraph (or just part of one), do not indent the first line of the block quote more than the rest:

It is not until near the end of The Hound of the Baskervilles that the hound itself is actually seen:

A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog. (Doyle 82)

If you quote two or more paragraphs, indent the first line of each paragraph an additional ¼ inch. However, if the first sentence quoted does not begin a paragraph in the source, do not indent it the additional amount, only indent the subsequent paragraphs. Here is an example where the first sentence is the beginning of a paragraph:

In the aftermath of the hound sighting, Sherlock Holmes keeps his cool:

   Sir Henry lay insensible where he had fallen. We tore away his collar, and Holmes breathed a prayer of gratitude when we saw that there was no sign of a wound and that the rescue had been in time. Already our friend's eyelids shivered and he made a feeble effort to move. Lestrade thrust his brandy-flask between the baronet's teeth, and two frightened eyes were looking up at us.

   "My God!" he whispered. "What was it? What, in heaven's name, was it?"

   "It's dead, whatever it is," said Holmes. (Doyle 82)


Just as for prose, poetry block quotations (3+ lines) should begin on a new line. Unless the quotation involves unusual spacing, format it as you would prose:  indent each line one-inch from margin and double-space the lines. Do not add any quotation marks that do not appear in the source:

Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “To John Oliver Killens in 1975” addresses another African American writer of the day:


look at our mercy, the massiveness that it is not.

look  at our “unity,” look at our

“black solidarity.”

Dim, dull, and dainty. (1-5)

A line of poetry in a block quote that is too long to fit within the right margin of the page should be continued on the next line and indented an additional ¼ inch:

Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem “Howl” begins:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo

   in the machinery of night, (9)


When quoting dialogue from a play, begin each part with the appropriate character’s name indented 1-inch from the left margin and written in all capital letters followed by a period. Then, start the quotation and indent all subsequent lines an additional ¼ inch. In the parenthetical reference at the end of the quote, include the act, scene, and line(s) of your quote, instead of the page number(s):

At the beginning of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, chaos erupts on a ship at sea before the cast of characters ends up on Prospero’s island:

MARINERS. All lost! to prayers, to prayers! all lost!

BOATSWAIN. What, must our mouths be cold?

GONZALO. The king and prince at prayers! let’s assist them,

For our case is as theirs.

SEBASTIAN.                                        I’m out of patience.

ANTONIO. We are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards:

This wide-chapp’d rascal,—would thou mightst lie drowning

The washing of ten tides!

GONZALO.                                          He’ll be hang’d yet,

Though every drop of water swear against it,

And gape at widest to glut him.

A confused noise within: “Mercy on us!”—“We split, we

split!”—“Farewell my wife and children!”—“Farewell,

brother!”—“We split, we split, we split!” (1.5.3-14)

In-Text Exceptions

There are few exceptions to the Author-Page Number format for in-text citations that are worthy of note:

Authors With the Same Name

If your paper uses sources that include more than one author with the same last name, you must add the first initial to your in-text citations, or, if the initial is shared too, you must add the full first name.

When to Omit the Page Number

You may omit the page number in an in-text citation when you are citing the complete work, or if you are citing a quote from a one-page work.

If you are citing a work that does not have page numbers (e.g. films, television broadcasts, electronic sources with no pagination), include paragraph numbers if applicable, or any other location information that will help your reader find the source again (e.g. section number, chapter number, episode number, time or range of times for the clip you're referencing).

Common Works

When citing a common work of literature – one that is commonly studied and is available in various editions and versions – it is helpful to give information other than, or in addition to, the page number. This additional information, such as a book, chapter, verse, part, etc. will help your readers find your source in any edition of the work they happen to have. Examples of common works include Homer’s Iliad, any of Shakespeare’s plays, the Bible, etc.


The examples on this page are borrowed from Western Oregon University, Hamersly Library, with permission.