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Citations: MLA Style (8th ed.)

A guide to writing and citing in MLA format.

Rules of MLA In-Text Citations

The purpose of the text citation is to briefly give readers the identity of the information you are citing, and allow them to find the information you provide in the reference list that enables readers to locate the exact piece of literature you used.

Rule #1

For each text citation there must be a corresponding citation in the reference list and for each reference list citation there must be a corresponding text citation.

Rule #2 

Each in-text citation will, at a minimum, refer to an author's name or authors' names. If the original source is paginated, you'll also include the page number specific information was pulled from. If there isn't an author, your in-text citation will refer to the first couple words of the article title.

Quick Reference

The moon is made of green cheese (Carter 47). The moon is made of green cheese (Carter and Sousa 47).

Experts agree that "the moon is comprised of green cheese" (Sousa and Thompson 43).

Need to Know:

  • Author last name(s) with page number, if needed
  • Join the names with "and"

Others argue that the moon is actually made up of various rocks (Stark et al.). The SSR researchers Carter, Sousa, Thompson, and Dooley further reveal that these rocks are inedible (88). Everyone is disappointed by this development (Stark et al. 198).

Need to Know:

  • First author last name followed by et al.
  • Page number if needed
  • If writing the names in-text, you have to write everybody out the first time.

Experts agree that "the moon is comprised of green cheese" ("Moon Analysis").

Need to Know:

  • First word or two of the article title
  • "Quotes" if it's an article, Italics if it's a book
  • Enough to be unique

Experts agree that "the moon is comprised of green cheese" (Sousa and Thompson 43).

Sousa supports this theory but adds that "the core could be made of white cheddar" as well ("Deeper" 374).

Need to Know:

  • Direct quotes always need to be framed by your own words before and/or after.
  • Don't change anything inside quotes!
    • If you do change something (for clarity or to fit your own sentence), place the changed word(s) in square brackets. E.g. Sousa adds that "the core could be [cheese]" as well.
  • Keep just what you need -- you have no obligation to keep the author's whole sentence if you don't need it.
  • When quoting, you always need to include a specific page number (if the source has pages).

Lunar geologist Dr. Carter reports that the moon is made of cheese (47). Carter's colleague Dr. Slate has further evidence that is made of brie and stilton in particular (Moon and Crackers 174, 176).

Need to Know:

  • Not just rewording -- synthesize the info a bit to make it your own while still giving credit to the originator.
One Author, paraphrased The moon is made of green cheese (Carter 47).
One Author, paraphrased, author in text

Lunar geologist Dr. Carter reports that the moon is made of cheese (47).

If you mention that author's name in your actual sentence, you must contextualize who they are. Putting them in your narrative indicates they're important, so you need to clarify why. Conversely, if the author is not someone significant, don't name them in-text.

Never refer to a professional researcher by their first name alone (Taylor discovered...). They are Smith or Dr. Smith or folklorist Dr. Taylor Smith. If if you were on a first-name basis with that researcher, you would still apply professional courtesy and refer to their titles and last names.

Direct Quote, two authors

Experts agree that "the moon is comprised of green cheese" (Sousa and Thompson 43).

Use direct quotes sparingly in your paper and only quote the minimum you need to make your point. You should always have your own words framing the quote text, either before it, after it, or both.

No Author

Experts agree that "the moon is comprised of green cheese" ("Moon Analysis").

Your in-text citations are, essentially, an abbreviation of your full reference that makes it easy for your reader to very quickly find the citation by skimming the left margin. Author names are typically the first part of the citation, but if you have a source with no named author, the article title becomes the first part. This is what you'll put in parentheses in your paper. You don't have to use the full title -- just the first word or two will be sufficient.

Caveat: an unnamed author is one thing, but if you also cannot locate publisher info or a date, chances are you have a bad choice of article to use in your research. If you don't know who's creating the information, how do you know whether you should trust them?

Indirect/Secondary Citation

A study done by a team of geologists led by Dr. Underwood casts doubts on the moon being made of cheese (qtd. in Sousa and Carter 153).

This is what you'll use when you've read an article that mentions another study. You want to use the info that other study mentions, but you can't find a copy of the full original. Instead, you will cite the article you've actually read in your Works Cited (which means your in-text citation will be based on that), but you'll name-drop the other study in your paper.

3+ Authors

Others argue that the moon is actually made up of various rocks (Stark et al.). The SSR researchers Carter, Sousa, Thompson, and Dooley further reveal that these rocks are inedible (88).

In MLA, when there are 3 or more authors, you can abbreviate their names to just the first author "et al." ("and the others") in your Works Cited and your in-text citations. However, if you're going to name the authors in-text, you must instead write out all their names the first time you reference them -- no "et al."

If you refer to them in-text again later on, you could then say Carter et al. since you previously established who is in that group. Of course, you need to make sure you don't have any other citations that could be a "Carter et al."

Two Different Authors, One Sentence

Several recent studies indicate that ancient humans believed in the moon's rockiness (Underwood; Ladrian and Harms).

In this example, there are no page numbers because we're referring to the overall/main idea of the authors' works rather than specifically citable information. A semicolon ( ; ) separates the authors of the different sources from each other. A further example:

Other studies have shown the composition of the moon to include silicon, magnesium, and iron ("What is the moon made of?"; Underwood 16; Ladrian and Harms 53-4).

Same Author, 2 Different Works

Lunar geologist Dr. Carter remains convinced that the moon is made of cheese ("Theories" 68) and has further evidence that is made of brie and stilton in particular (Moon and Crackers 174, 176).

Sousa supports this theory but adds that "the core could be made of white cheddar" as well ("Deeper" 374).

Our Works Cited page for this sentence would have two different articles written by the same author at different times. To distinguish which one provided which information in-text, we include a snippet of the title. It doesn't matter if you're referencing the articles at the same time (first example sentence) or apart from each other (second example sentence): you have to make this distinction.

Same Name, Different People

Childrens' fairy tales give us the idea of the moon being of cheese (S. Rogers 37) which has persisted through modern imaginings like certain claymation features (B. Rogers 52).

If two different authors have the same last name, you need to include their first initials to keep them distinct from each other. If they happen to have the same first initials, even, include their full first names:

Childrens' fairy tales give us the idea of the moon being of cheese (Steve Rogers 37) which has persisted through modern imaginings like certain claymation features (Shmeve Rogers 52).

Electronic Source, no page numbers

She defused the antimatter cannon and closed the wormhole (Rogers chap. 15).

Rogers emphasizes the character's development by echoing a conversation from earlier in the book (chap. 2, chap. 10).

If there aren't any page numbers, or the numbers aren't reliable (like an ebook, which can grow or shrink based on the reader's preference in font size, line spacing, etc), look for other landmarks, like section headings, chapter numbers, line numbers, or paragraph numbers. If these aren't available, oh well! You'll just omit that part of the citation. Don't start counting the paragraphs yourself.

Multimedia Sources

The heroes renew their resolve to escape the moon following a tense conversation (Stark 00:54:30-01:03:00).

If your source has a runtime rather than page numbers, you'll go by the time stamps of particular scenes or quotes.