MLA Style: General Info

In MLA style, referring to the works of others in your text is done by using what is known as parenthetical or in-text citation. This method involves placing relevant source information in parentheses after a quote or a paraphrase. 

General guidelines:

  • The source information required in a parenthetical citation depends upon (1) the source medium (e.g. Print, Web, DVD) and (2) the source’s entry on the Works Cited (bibliography) page.
  • Any source information that you provide in-text must correspond to the source information on the Works Cited page. More specifically, whatever signal word or phrase you provide to your readers in the text must be the first thing that appears on the left-hand margin of the corresponding entry in the Works Cited List.
  • If you are directly quoting from a work, you generally need to cite the author and page number for the reference.  You can do this in one of two ways:
    1. Introduce the quote with a signal phrase that includes the author’s name, followed by the page number in parentheses (in-text citation).
    2. Include both the author and page number in an in-text citation.

General examples:

  • Examples (one author):

    1. According to Jones, "Students often had difficulty using MLA style, especially when it was their first time" (199).  OR
    2. It's clear that "students often [have] difficulty using MLA style" (Jones 199). If this is true, what implications exist for teachers?
  • If you don't know who the author is, use the title of the work (or a shortened version of it), either in a signal phrase or an in-text citation:

    1. According to “MLA Style Explained,” we know that “students often have difficulty using MLA style effectively” (22), but it’s unclear what exactly they tend to struggle with. OR à
    2. We know anecdotally that “students often have difficulty using MLA style effectively" (“MLA Style Explained” 22), but it’s unclear what exactly they tend to struggle with.
  • Examples with no page numbers, but with other ID info:

    • It was reported that “students often had difficulty using MLA style, especially when it was their first time" (“MLA Style Explained” par. 2). (“MLA” Style Explained” ch. 3).
  • Example with two authors:

    • Jones and Smith reported that “students often had difficulty using MLA style, especially when it was their first time" (199).
      Both must be named, either in a signal phrase or an in-text citation.
  • Example with three or more authors:

    • In 1998, Jones et al. reported that “students often had difficulty using MLA style, especially when it was their first time" (199).

The phrase “et al.” takes the place of the other authors, and must have a period after it. 

  • What about citing a “primary source” in a “secondary source”? In this case, you are using a work by “Jones,” but Jones herself used an author named “Culver” in her work:
    • According to Culver (qtd. in Jones 77), learning MLA "can be tough, but like any skill, it just takes practice.”
      Remember to include only the secondary source on the Works Cited page.

"Block" quotations (for longer quotes):

Place direct quotations that are 5+ lines of text, 3+ lines of poetry, or dialogue between characters in a block quote. To do this, follow these guidelines:

  • Omit quotation marks.
  • Start the quotation on a new line.
  • Indent the entire quote one-half inch from the left margin, i.e., in the same place you would begin a new paragraph (usually, one tab space).
  • Maintain double-spacing throughout.
  • The in-text citation should come after the closing punctuation mark.

Example:

Jones's study, one of the more interesting ones to come out of Harvard University in recent memory, was conducted in 1998, and provided educators with illuminating information:

Students often had difficulty using MLA style, especially when it was their first time citing sources. This difficulty could be attributed to the fact that many students failed to purchase a style manual or to ask their teachers for help.  Students also noted a significant variety and inconsistency in how they were taught while in grammar or elementary school. As a result, they often tended to have negative views about MLA style in general, or often felt confused about the rules. (199)

For additional examples of in-text citations and Works Cited entries, see Purdue OWL online or consult a copy of the MLA Handbook.