Source Types & Ethical Use
48 Applying MLA Citation: In-text Citations
John Brentar and Emilie Zickel
We use in-text citations, also called parenthetical citations, to give our readers brief yet specific information about where in the original source material we found the idea or words that we are quoting or paraphrasing. In order to determine what the in-text citation should look like, we have to know what kind of source we are using. Use the following questions to help you determine source type:
- Is our source print or digital?
- Print sources are any sources that are on paper or were originally printed on paper, even if you found a copy of it from an online research database like Academic Search Complete. These sources have page numbers. These page numbers need to appear in your in-text citations.
- Web/digital sources, in many instances, do not have page numbers. Do not make them up! Page 1 of your computer screen is not the same as an actual page 1 in a print source.
- Do we have a named author or not?
- Is the source paginated (i.e., does it have page numbers in its original or current format)? Or is it a digital source without page numbers?
The basics of in-text citation
A complete in-text citation in MLA format includes three components: signal phrase, the original source material (quoted or paraphrased), and an in-text citation. In MLA, we do not use the word “page” or the abbreviations “p.” or “pg.” before the page numbers. For those sources with page numbers—books and articles which were originally published in print publications, even if you accessed them using a research database like Academic Search Complete—place the page number in the citation.
In the examples that follow, you can find explanations of how to cite the following:
- print articles that have authors and page numbers
- print articles that have no authors, but page numbers
- digital articles that have authors but no page numbers
- digital articles that have no authors and no page numbers
- sources that have multiple authors
All of the examples are interactive; if you click on the “+”, explanations will appear.
Citations for sources with authors and pages
The first time that you mention a source in a paper, you need to introduce the source. For this introduction, you can include the author’s full name and a bit of description about the text that this author or these authors produced.
After that first time (which, more formally, would be called successive mentions of the source), you can give only the last name. If you name the authors in the signal phrase, you do not need to add the author(s)’ names in the parenthetical citation, too.
If you do not name your author(s) in a signal phrase, then you must place the last name(s) only in the citation. In doing so, do not place a comma between the author name(s) and the page number.
Citations for sources with no authors, but page numbers
If your source does not list an author, then you must refer to the work by its title. If you name the title of the source in your signal phrase, give the entire title exactly as it appears in the source.
If you do not mention the article title in your signal phrase, then you must place a shortened version of it in your in-text citation.
Citations for sources with no page numbers (i.e., web-based sources outside of research databases)
Some sources have no page numbers. The prime examples are web-based sources. When you cite an online source and name the author(s) in your signal phrase, there will be no in-text citation, as there are no page numbers for web articles.
If you are citing a web-based article and do not mention your author(s) in your signal phrase, then you must place the last name(s) in a citation (again without page numbers).
If you are citing a web-based article with no author, you can use the article title in a signal phrase.
You can also use a shortened version of the article title in your citation if you do not name the article title in a signal phrase.
Whereas previous editions of MLA allowed writers to refer to paragraph numbers for works without page numbers, it now instructs writers not to refer to paragraph numbers unless the work contains explicitly numbers its paragraphs.
Citations for sources with multiple authors
If your source has one or two authors, list all the authors in either your signal phrase or in-text citation.
However, if your source has more than two authors, you should list only the first author followed by the abbreviation “et al.” (short for the Latin phrase et alii, literally “and others”).