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MLA Style Guide

In-text citations: The basics

Anytime you use information, ideas, facts, or phrases from a source you must include an in-text citation directing the reader to the full citation on the Works Cited page. There should be a reference for each in-text citation and a citation for each resource on the Works Cited page. You must have first created the full citation for the resource to create the in-text citation. Follow these guidelines when creating in-text citations:

  • MLA uses an (author page) style format for the basis of its in-text citations. This information can be cited:
    • In the narrative or body of the text or speech.
      • Example: Smythe mentioned that these facts exist… (12).
    • As a parenthetical citation
      •  Example: These facts exist (Smythe 12).
      • The parenthetical portion of the in-text citation goes at the end of the sentence with the period AFTER the closing parentheses.
    • Or in a combination of the two styles.
      • Example: According to Smythe these facts exist… (12).
  • If you cite the same author multiple times in a paragraph, provide the full citation the first time but only the page number in subsequent instances until either you begin a new paragraph or you cite a different source.
  • The Author
    • The Author for the in-text citation is the first core element of the Works Cited citation; if the author is unknown and the first core element is the title, this serves as the author for in-text citations.
    • For the in-text citation, use only the author’s last name.
    • See the examples below for assistance determining the Author for a variety of situations.
  • The Page 
    • Example: (Smythe 28-35) or According to Smythe ... (18). Note that the page number goes in parentheses at the end of the sentence followed by a period when the rest of the citation appears in the narrative.
    • If the source is electronic and does not have official page numbers, exclude this element.
    • See the ‘Quotations’ portion of this page for information on Pages and Parts requirements for direct quotations.

Purdue OWL. (n.d.). In-text citations: Author/authors. Purdue Writing Lab.

Examples of in-text citations

The pattern for in-text citations is straightforward in MLA:

Narrative citation Parenthetical citation
One author As Smythe mentions... (21). ... (Smythe 21).
2-3 authors Smythe, Jonas, and Whitby mention ... (21). ...(Smythe, Jonas, and Whitby 21).
4+ authors According to Smythe et al. ... (21). ...(Smythe et al. 21).
An organization Federal Bureau of Investigation ... (43). ...(FBI 43).

Except when it isn’t!

  • If there’s no author listed (be sure to check for an organization, too!), cite the source by its full title, if it's brief, or use a shortened version of it in your signal phrase or parentheses. Remember that titles of entire works are italicized, while titles of partial works like articles, chapters, and web pages are in quotation marks:
    • ("APA Style Guide" 221)
  • If you are referring to multiple works in the same parenthesis, use a semicolon (“;” symbol) to separate different authors:
    • (Jonas 20; Smythe 193)     
  • If there are two authors with the same last name, to prevent confusion, use first and last name for a narrative citation and first initial and last name in the parenthetical citation:
    • Joseph Smythe claimed... (23).  Alternatively Smythe stated that ... (W. Smythe 145).
  • If there are multiple works by the same author, include a shortened version of the title of the work you're citing in the citation.:
    • Research by Smythe revealed strong correlations ... ("Results" 127).
  • Sometimes you can’t avoid using indirect resources, though writers should endeavor to read primary sources (original sources) and cite those rather than secondary resources (works that report on original sources). If you must use a source that was cited in another resource, name the original source in your citation. 
  • Jonas argued that ...  (qtd. in Smythe 102).

Purdue OWL. (n.d.). In-text citations: Author/authors. Purdue Writing Lab.