MLA In-Text Citations: Basic Rules

The 8th edition of the MLA Handbook contains a lot of information on new standards for in-text citations, the Works Cited Page, and footnotes. You can figure out how to write references in the chapter 6 of the Handbook, as well as in the chapter 7 of the MLA Style Manual. There are many examples of proper citations, and you can check these sources for more detailed information. In turn, we decided to write a quick guide for you, so you could understand basic principles of MLA citations.

MLA Basics

MLA style implies parenthetical citations within the text. Thus, every time you need to include a direct quote from a certain work, as well as when you paraphrase it, or refer to some ideas expressed in this work, you have to include necessary information in parentheses.

  • Information written in parentheses depends on the type of the source (book, website, DVD, etc.), and on how this source is listed in the Works Cited.
  • Make sure that all sources cited in the text are included in the Works Cited list. If you use some signal phrases or words, make sure that this thing is the first information from the left in a corresponding section of the Works Cited.

Author-Page Style

MLA in-text citations are based on the method known as the author-page style. According to this style, you have to place the author’s last name in parentheses, along with the page number. More detailed information is written only in the Works Cited list. Not only can you write the author’s name in parentheses, but also use it in the signal phrase. In this case, parentheses contain only the page number. Don’t write the page number anywhere in the text, but in parentheses. Here are some examples:

James Smith stated: “donec sodales, nulla at maximus dapibus, leo metus blandit velit, eu interdum magna massa vel ante” (156).

“Donec sodales, nulla at maximus dapibus, leo metus blandit velit, eu interdum magna massa vel ante” (Smith 156).

Both examples above show correct structure of the quote, since both of them provide information about the author, and help readers find necessary page. If your readers want to get more information, they can go to the Works Cited page, and find Smith in the list. There they will see more detailed data:

Smith, James. The Title of the Book. Publisher, 2003.

Print Sources

Citing print sources, such as books, journals, newspapers, and magazines, you can use a signal word or phrase. As a rule, such phrases include the author’s name. However, if you use a signal phrase, you don’t need to include this information in parentheses.

According to Smith, “donec sodales, nulla at maximus dapibus, leo metus blandit velit, eu interdum magna massa vel ante” (123).

Obviously, this in-text citation must be related to the entry that begins with Smith. Don’t forget that we are talking about the first word from the left in the Works Cited:

Smith, James. The Title of the Book. Publisher, 2003.

Corporate Authors

Some works may have corporate authors. In this case you should use the name of the corporation instead of the particular author, along with the page number. In order to make your text easier for readers, we also suggest you to use abbreviations, so they won’t need to read long citations in parentheses, being focused on your main text.

Unknown Authors

If the author of the source is unknown, you must use a short form of the title instead of the name. If this source is relatively short (like an article), then the title must be written in quotation marks. Longer works, such as books, TV series, or websites, are italicized. If the page number is available, you must include it.

“Aliquam molestie et enim ullamcorper viverra. Donec euismod at turpis eget mattis. Donec maximus tortor ac lorem tristique pharetra. Etiam vitae viverra orci. Duis vel mauris auctor, bibendum tellus sit amet, luctus nisi” (“Texts in Latin”).

In this case, readers don’t know the author of the source, but they are able to find this source in the Works Cited, because they have the shortened title of the article. Obviously, the title of such an article will be the first information that appears on the left side of a corresponding entry in the Works Cited. This title is written in quotation marks, like in the example below:

“Texts in Latin for College Students and Everyone Else.” The Title of the Source. 2003. Accessed 13 Apr. 2006.

Now we clarified some basic features of in-text citations according to MLA style. The main thing is that these citations help readers verify your thoughts on a certain source, and use this information in their own works.

Literary and Classic Works with Multiple Editions

Names of authors and page numbers may be not the only information necessary to find a source. A lot of classic works were published in different editions, so you have to provide readers with additional data. In this case, you have to include the page number, and the number of a particular edition. Don’t forget to include this information in the Works Cited list. This number must be separated from the page number with a semicolon. You may also add another data, depending on peculiarities of your source. It may be chapter (ch.), book (bk.), paragraph (par.), volume (vol.), section (sec.), or part (pt.).

Authors with Same Last Names

What you should do, if you’re using citations from different authors who have same last names? Obviously, you will need to include more information in parentheses. Specify both authors’ initials, or even their full names, in case these authors have same initials.

Some authors state that Latin is a dead language (J. Smith 23), while others claim that it’s an integral part of scientific terminology (A. Smith 54).

Works with Multiple Authors

If a cited source has two or more authors, you have to specify their last names in parentheses, or in the signal phrase:

“Latin is an ancient language that is no longer used for communication” (Smith and Brown 14).

According to Smith and Brown, “Latin is an ancient language that is no longer used for communication” (14)

More detailed information is in the Works Cited:

Smith, James, and John Brown. “The Title of the Article.” The Title of the Journal, vol.120, no. 3, Fall 2003, pp. 15-17. JSTOR, doi:43.789/rep.654.879.2411

In case a work is written by more than two authors, write only the last name of the first author in parentheses, replacing other names with a short abbreviation “et al.” Such an abbreviation is used both in the text, and in the Works Cited list.

Multiple Works of the Same Author

In case you have to cite several works written by the same author, you can include short titles in parentheses. If your source is a long work, such as a book, write its short title in italics. Shorter sources are written in quotation marks.

According to Smith, “Latin is an ancient language that is no longer used for communication” (First Book 23). At the same time, he states that “it’s an integral part of scientific terminology” (Second Book 45).

If the name of the author isn’t mentioned in a signal phrase, you have to specify it in parentheses, before the short title of the source.

Multivolume Sources

If a source has several volumes, you must include the number of the volume, followed by page numbers. First you write the number of the volume, put a colon, a space, and write page numbers.

The Bible

There are a lot of versions of the Bible, so you have to make sure that your readers will know which version is used in your research. Thus, write the full title of this version in italics. Then write the title of the book from the Bible (this title isn’t italicized). After this, write the number of a chapter and a verse. If you cite the same version of the Bible further, you don’t have to put the title in parentheses again.

Indirect Sources

Sometimes you have to cite an indirect source. In other words, it’s a quote of a certain source mentioned in another source. In this case you have to use the “qtd.” abbreviation, so your readers could understand what source was used by you.

According to Brown, “donec sodales, nulla at maximus dapibus, leo metus blandit velit, eu interdum magna massa vel ante” (qtd. In Smith 345).

We also suggest you to use direct sources, since this approach looks more serious, and shows your responsibility.

Web Sources and Other Non-Print Sources

As the internet develops, students more often use only online sources in their work. Of course, there are many online sources that cannot be used for researches, since the internet has some problems with validation of information. At the same time, there are many qualitative sources and databases used by students of various universities around the world. As in case of printed sources, in-text citations of online sources must refer to the Works Cited section.

Many students face difficulties trying to write in-text parenthetical citation for online sources. The problem is that such sources don’t have page numbers. The good thing is that usually you don’t need to include parenthetical citations for such a kind of sources at all. Just follow a few simple rules:

  • Include the first type of information from the Works Cited entry. It may be a name of the author, or website, or article.
  • You don’t have to include page numbers, or paragraph numbers.
  • Of course, you have to help your readers find a source in the Works Cited list, so we suggest you to use signal phrases with names of websites. Don’t include URLs in your text, it will only distract readers. You can use parts of URLs, for example, instead of

Non-Print Sources

In the text, you can try to include only signal phrases. If you’re citing a movie, just mention the director’s name, and the title of the movie written in italics. All the specific information must be written in the Works Cited list.

Electronic Sources

The Title of the Source is very popular among internet users from all around the world. Its “The Title of the Article” was accessed by three million users in 2017 (Smith et al.).

Here the author’s last name is mentioned in parentheses, so it’s not a problem to find this source in the Works Cited list. As we mentioned above, “et al.” means “and others”:

Smith, James, et al. “The Title of the Article.” The Title of the Source, 13 Apr. 2017,

You may use multiple citations in the same sentence. In this case, you have to write information about each source in parentheses, separating sources with a semicolon.

If you cite a media source, such as a movie, song, or podcast, you have to specify the time code. It consists of hours, minutes, and seconds, and it looks like this: (01:05:34-01:23:45).

Do You Need so Many Citations?

Ask yourself such a question, and maybe you’ll find out that some citations are unnecessary. If you’re writing a well-known quote, you don’t have to include a parenthetical citation. We also suggest you not to include citations for well-known facts. Thus, just take your time and think of your audience. For example, some facts may need citations for students, but not for graduated experts. However, consider specifics of your audience, and determine the average level of common knowledge.

MLA In-Text Citations: Basic Rules
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