Dr Abel Scribe PhD

3.0 MLA Style Text Citations

MLA style use a parenthetical form of text citation. Cite all direct quotations as well as significant ideas, concepts, or findings borrowed or adapted from others. Unlike the author-date format used in psychology, MLA style places only the author’s name—and the page number when citing a direct quote—in the citation.

MLA Basic for Research Papers: Contents


1.0 Mechanics of Writing
  • 1.1 Abbreviations/Acronyms
  • 1.2 Capitalization (Titles)
  • 1.3 Italics/Quotation Marks
  • 1.4 Numbers & Dates
2.0 Page Layout
  • 2.1 Title & Text Pages
  • 2.2 Direct Quotations
  • 2.3 Headings & Lists
  • 2.4 Tables & Graphics
4.0 References
  • 4.1 Works Cited Page
  • 4.2 Articles in Journals
  • 4.3 Books & Compilations
  • 4.4 Nonprint Sources

arrowAn abridged PDF version of MLA Basic is available to download.

What to cite? Cite all direct quotations as well as significant ideas, concepts, or findings borrowed or adapted from others. The MLA Handbook warns that "forms of plagiarism include the failure to give appropriate acknowledgment when repeating or paraphrasing another's wording, . . . another's argument, or when presenting another's line of thinking" (2009, 58).

  • What not to cite. It is generally not necessary to cite: (1) dictionary definitions of words unless the specific dictionary is relevant to the context; (2) well documented historical facts; (3) conventional knowledge or knowledge broadly shared in a discipline.
  • Unretrievable sources. All major styles, except MLA, cite ephemeral sources in the text, but not on reference lists. Research journals will not publish papers with references that cannot be retrieved and verified.

3.1 Text Citations: Basic Format (TOP)

bullet Each separate referent to a source must be cited however many times this may occur in a paper. "To avoid interrupting the flow of your writing, place the parenthetical reference where a pause would naturally occur (preferably at the end of a sentence), as near as possible to the material documented" (MLA 2009, 217). A page number is usually cited only with a direct quotation unless the reader needs to be referred to an unusual concept or idea for possible verification.

An introductory phrase leads into a direct quotation by placing the author's name in the text. The page citation in parentheses then follows the quotation. For example: Smith stated "now is the time to run for the gold" (123). As a matter of style it is helpful to the reader to integrate citations into the flow of your text. This is an important consideration in MLA style.

If there is no introductory phrase cite both the author and page in parentheses. For example: One expert observed that "the creature quacks like a duck" (Smith 123).

MLA Basic Citations
Fig. 8. Parenthetical text citations (*see also Literary Citations below).

  1. No Author? Substitute the title of the work (title of an article or book) for the author in both the reference list and text citation. The first word in the citation must be the first significant word (ignore a, and, the) in the title as used to alphabetize the reference in the list of works cited. If the title is long use a short form or just the first word.
  2. Two Authors. Cite both authors' names: (Smith and Jones 123). When there are two or more authors with the same surname repeat the surname for each author. For example, write (Smithe, Smithe, and Smithe 123).
  3. Three or More Authors. You may cite the lead author plus et al. in all text citations, or list them all (see MLA 2009, 215). Be consistent in whatever practice you adopt, and consistent in matching the text citation with the entry in the reference list.
  4. Multiple sources are cited enclosed in a single set of parentheses. List sources alphabetically in the order they appear in the reference list. Each citation is separated by a semicolon. For example, write (Alt 12; Brown 23; Car 123; Dean 123–46; Smith 99).
  5. Multiple works by one author require the short title of the specific work be added to the citation. For example, write (Thoreau, Walden 123) to contrast the source of a quote from another work by Thoreau (Thoreau, "Life Without Principle" 23).
  6. Corporate Author. To cite a corporate author use the full name of the group or institution as given in the reference list entry.

NB> The MLA Handbook offers no examples of acronyms used in references or citations.

3.2 Text Citations: Ephemeral Sources(TOP)

bullet  The current MLA Handbook goes to elaborate lengths to devise references to sources that no one can retrieve except, perhaps, you. View the “container model” devised to format these “sources” at: style.mla.org. Cite these in the text, but not in a list of works cited; best when woven into your discourse.

Ephemeral sources include personal communications such as conversations, interviews (without a published transcript), letters, emails, and tweets. Other sources such as pages buried deep in websites, discussion groups, blogs, social networking sites, or mailing lists may be too unstable to be retrieved at a later date.

MLA Ephemeral Citations
Fig. 9. Nonrecoverable sources or unstable Internet sources.

3.3 Literary Citations (TOP)

bullet MLA style makes special provision for the repeated citation of literary works. "In a reference to a commonly studied prose work, such as a novel or play, that is available in several editions, it is helpful to provide more information than just the page number" (MLA 2009, 226). The objective is to help a reader with an edition different from the author's to find the same passage. MLA style draws a distinction between prose books and plays and verse books, plays, and poems.

Prose works. MLA style wants writers to identify a source as specifically as may be reasonable. The style for doing this takes two forms, one for prose works, another for verse. Prose works cite the page followed by a semicolon, then additional identifying information.

  • Chapter. Cite the page followed by a semicolon, then additional identifying information. For example, in Walden Henry David Thoreau claimed "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" (111; ch. 1). This same passage is found on different pages in other editions, but always in the first chapter (Thoreau 111; ch. 1).
  • Volume. Anthologies and other longer works often come in several volumes. "When citing a volume number as well as a page reference for a multivolume work, separate the two by a colon and a space: '(Wellek 2: 1–10)'" (MLA 2009, 222).
  • When citing a specific page, the page number is understood to come after the volume. For example: "Few Moslems contemplate for the first time the Ka'abah [sic], without fear and awe: there is a popular jest against new comers, that they generally inquire the direction of prayer" (Burton 2: 161).
  • When citing an entire volume, add the abbreviation "vol." to the citation. For example, in his Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, he includes a detailed account of a clandestine visit to Mecca in 1853 (Burton, vol. 2).
  • When citing an entire volume with the reference in the text, spell out volume. For example, "Burton provides an exacting account of his clandestine visit to Mecca in volume 2 of Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah" (159–258).

Verse works are cited in a manner many will find unconventional. MLA style advises use of a decimal notation system.

  • The following passage is from the Bible: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." This is found in the book of Romans, Chapter 10, verse 13. MLA style cites this (Rom. 10.13). Conventional notation cites this (Rom. 10:13).
  • The following passage is from the Merchant of Venice (MV). Shylock is speaking: "I'll have my bond; speak not against my bond; I have sworn an oath that I will have my bond. . . ." MLA cites this (MV 3.3). Conventional notation might cite this (Merchant of Venice, act III, sc. iii).

NB> The MLA Handbook cautions that "some instructors prefer roman numerals, . . . but if your instructor does not require this practice, use arabic numerals (King Lear 4.1), [rather than (King Lear IV.i) or (King Lear act IV, sc. 1)]" (2009, 227).