Published Mar 25, 2024 ⦁ 13 min read
How to Cite in an Essay MLA Format

How to Cite in an Essay MLA Format

When writing an academic paper, most can agree that properly citing sources is critically important, though the specifics of styles like MLA can be confusing.

This guide will walk through the fundamentals of MLA in-text citations, including the optimal structure, punctuation, and how to handle citations with multiple authors.

You'll gain an in-depth understanding of how to cite within the body of your paper using MLA format, with examples for books, websites, and other common source types. We'll also cover special cases like missing details and online resources to supplement your knowledge.

Introduction to MLA In-Text Citations

Properly citing sources in academic writing is crucial to uphold integrity and avoid plagiarism. The Modern Language Association (MLA) format provides guidelines for in-text citations to attribute quotes, facts, and ideas to their original sources. This section will cover the basics of MLA in-text citations and why proper citation structure matters.

Understanding the Importance of Citation Structure

Adhering to MLA structure lends credibility to academic writing. Key elements include:

  • Author name(s)
  • Source title
  • Page number, if available

Correctly formatting these components helps readers locate the original source to verify the citation. It also enables giving proper credit to authors for their work. Using accurate in-text citations demonstrates an ethical approach to research and writing.

The Role of Citation Punctuation in MLA Format

Punctuation brings precision and clarity to in-text citations. Key punctuation guidelines include:

  • Parenthetical citations with author name and page number separated by a comma: (Smith, 43).
  • Use of "and" between multiple author names: (Smith and Lee 82).
  • Period after the parenthetical citation: ". . . idea is correct" (Lee 43).

Following punctuation rules creates smooth citation integration and avoids confusing readers. Proper punctuation improves academic writing quality.

How do you cite in MLA format?

Citing sources in MLA format can seem complicated at first, but following a few key guidelines makes it straightforward. Here is the basic structure:

  1. Author's last name, first name (if given).
  2. Title of source in quotation marks.
  3. Title of container (book, website, journal, etc.) italicized.
  4. Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location.

For example, an MLA in-text citation would look like this:

"Quote goes here" (Doe 123).

The full reference would then be included in the Works Cited page.

Some key things to note about MLA in-text citations:

  • Use the author's name and page number enclosed in parentheses.
  • Place punctuation after the parenthesis, not before.
  • For websites or sources with no page numbers, omit the page number from the citation.
  • Separate multiple author names with commas and the word "and".
  • If there are more than three authors, use "et al." after the first author's name.

Following these basic guidelines will ensure your MLA citations are formatted properly. Check the latest MLA Handbook for any updates to the style. The Purdue OWL website also provides helpful citation examples. With practice, citing sources in MLA format will become second nature.

How do you cite in an essay?

When citing sources in an essay, you need to provide an in-text citation anytime you reference information from an outside source. The Modern Language Association (MLA) citation style is commonly used in the humanities and provides guidelines for citing sources within the text of your essay.

Here are the key things to know about MLA in-text citations:

Basic Structure

An MLA in-text citation typically includes the author's last name and the page number in parentheses:

(Smith 42)

If you mention the author's name in the sentence, you only need to include the page number in the citation:

According to Smith (42), the experiment yielded surprising results.


The citation goes before the period that ends the sentence when citing a specific page:

(Smith 42.)

It goes after internal punctuation for a paraphrase or general reference:

The experiment yielded surprising results (Smith 42).

Multiple Authors

For a source with two authors, include both last names:

(Smith and Jones 45).

For a source with 3 or more authors, use "et al." after the first author's name:

(Smith et al. 88).

Online Sources

For online sources without page numbers, omit the page number from the citation:


Additional Tips

  • Make sure the in-text citation matches the first word of the Works Cited entry.
  • Only capitalize the first letter of the author's last name in the in-text citation.
  • Use quotes around article titles; italicize book and website titles.

Following these MLA guidelines for in-text citations will ensure you properly credit all your sources. The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue also offers useful citation resources.

How do I quote in MLA format?

When you quote directly from a source in your essay, you'll need to enclose the quoted text in quotation marks and include an in-text citation at the end with the author's last name and page number.

Here is the basic structure to follow:

"Here is a direct quote from the source" (Author Last Name page #).

For example:

"The changes happening in the workforce are unprecedented" (Smith 8).

If there are multiple authors, list only the first author followed by "et al.":

"AI will disrupt many industries in the coming years" (Smith et al. 22).

If there is no author, use the article or book title in quotation marks instead:

"The future impacts of technology are uncertain" ("Artificial Intelligence" 10).

And if there is no page number available, omit it from the citation:

"Software automation threatens many traditional jobs" (Lee).

The key things to remember are:

  • Enclose the direct quote in quotation marks
  • Include the author's last name and page number in parentheses
  • Use "et al." for multiple authors
  • Substitute a title if no author is available
  • Omit page number if none is available

Following these basic rules will ensure your MLA in-text citations are formatted correctly every time. Let me know if you have any other questions!

How do you cite a source within a source MLA?

To cite a source from a secondary source in MLA format, you need to mention both the original and secondary sources in the text. In the in-text citation, use the abbreviation "qtd. in" (quoted in) before the secondary source.

Here is an example of how to cite a source within a source in MLA format:

Smith argues that "students need more support services" (qtd. in Johnson 126).

In this example, Smith is the original source and Johnson is the secondary source. The in-text citation includes "qtd. in" to indicate that Smith's quote comes from Johnson's work.

In the Works Cited page, you would only include the entry for the secondary source, Johnson:

Johnson, Lisa. Supporting Student Success. Press, 2022.

The basic structure for citing a source within a source in MLA is:

Quote (Original Author's Last Name qtd. in Secondary Author 126).

Some key points about MLA in-text citations for a source within a source:

  • Use "qtd. in" before the secondary source name
  • Only the secondary source is listed in the Works Cited
  • Include page numbers if available

Citing sources properly is key to upholding academic integrity and enabling readers to verify content. Following MLA guidelines helps ensure citations are clear and consistent. Let me know if you have any other questions!


Mastering MLA In-Text Citation Basics

This section delves into the foundational elements of creating MLA in-text citations, from structure to specific punctuation rules.

Citation Structure for MLA In-Text Citations

The standard structure for MLA in-text citations includes the author's last name and the page number in parentheses:

(Smith 42)

If you mention the author's name in the sentence, only include the page number in the parentheses:

According to Smith, the theory gained traction in the late 20th century (42).

For a source with multiple authors, include up to 3 authors names in the first in-text citation. For subsequent citations, use the first author's last name followed by "et al.":

(Smith, Jones, and Lee 145) (Smith et al. 156)

Citation Punctuation: Placement and Practice

Punctuation should come after the in-text citation:

This theory has gained support over time (Lee 87).

If the citation comes at the end of a sentence, place the period after the parentheses:

The theory became popular in the late 20th century (Smith 145).

When citing a specific page range, use an en dash between page numbers:

(Lee 56–63)

2 Authors: Include both author names in each in-text citation:

(Smith and Lee 42)

3+ Authors: For the first in-text citation, include all author names:

(Smith, Lee and Jones 45)

For subsequent citations, use "et al." after the first author's name:

(Smith et al. 51)

Group Author: Mention the group name in full for all citations:

(Modern Language Association 145)

Using the standard MLA structure for in-text citations ensures consistency and clarity. Properly formatting author names, page ranges, and punctuation enables smooth integration of sources into essays and papers.

How to Cite in an Essay MLA Format Example

This section offers practical examples of MLA in-text citations, demonstrating how to apply the rules in real-world scenarios.

How to Cite a Book MLA In-Text

Here is an example of how to cite a book with a single author in MLA format:

In the text, cite the author's last name and the page number in parentheses: "(Smith 127)".

In the Works Cited page, the full reference would be:

Smith, John. Book Title. Publisher, Year, p. 127.  

MLA In-Text Citation Website Example

To cite a website in MLA format, include the author's last name or site title in parentheses. If no author is available, use a shortened version of the web page title:

According to a study, 88% of students feel overwhelmed by academic writing assignments ("Student Stress Survey").

If the website has no title, describe the page in brackets instead:

Many students utilize online writing labs for essay assistance ([OWL Homepage]).

MLA In-Text Citation No Page Number Scenario

For sources without page numbers, like online articles, simply include the author's name in parentheses without a page reference:

One study found that taking regular breaks can increase productivity (Chan).

In the Works Cited entry, replace the page number with the name of the website section or article heading:

Chan, Amanda. "Taking Breaks Increases Productivity." Lifehacker, 15 Mar. 2021, Productivity Tips section. 

Using the proper MLA format for in-text citations and the Works Cited page ensures you correctly attribute sources and maintain academic integrity. The Online Writing Lab has additional examples for proper citation.

Addressing Special Cases in MLA In-Text Citations

This section addresses how to approach unique citation challenges, such as missing information or unconventional sources.

MLA In-Text Citation Website No Author

When citing a website with no author, use the article title in quotation marks instead. For example:

The guidelines state that "Citing Online Sources in APA Format" requires listing the website name and access date ("Citing Online Sources," 2017).

If the title is long, you may shorten it to the first few words. Place shortened titles in quotation marks:

The research shows the most effective methods are those which "Prioritize Early Literacy Skills" (2017).

MLA In-Text Citation No Page Number Workaround

If the source does not include page numbers or paragraph numbers, omit that part of the in-text citation. The author name and year are still required.

For example, when citing a website:

The Office of Disability Services provides many accommodations for those who qualify (Chan, 2019).

For sources like websites and e-books where page numbers are absent or inconsistent, use the closest location marker instead. This may include:

  • Section or paragraph numbers
  • Chapter numbers
  • Timestamps
  • Headings
  • Table or figure numbers

The demographic data is from the "Current Undergraduate Enrollment" section (Chan, 2019).

Using the closest substitute helps readers locate the passage being cited.

Supplementing Your Knowledge with Online Writing Lab Resources

This section directs readers to additional citation resources for further guidance and support.

Exploring the Online Writing Lab (OWL) for MLA Guidelines

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is an excellent free resource for understanding MLA formatting guidelines. Their MLA Style Introduction covers the basics, including:

  • In-text citations - how to format them properly with author names, page numbers, etc.
  • Works Cited pages - how to list your references at the end of the paper.
  • Formatting guidelines - how to format your paper, font, headers, title page, etc.

The OWL also provides examples of how to cite different source types, from books and articles to web pages and tweets. They have detailed pages showing proper MLA citation format for each source.

Additionally, the OWL offers sample papers formatted according to MLA Style. These provide great models to follow when structuring and formatting your own papers.

Utilizing Citation Tools for Accurate MLA In-Text Citations

There are a number of online citation tools that can help generate properly formatted MLA in-text citations:

  • EasyBib Citation Machine - Automatically creates citations for books, articles, websites, and more. Also includes an MLA format guide and plagiarism checker.

  • Cite This For Me Web Citer - Allows manual input of source data to generate MLA citations. Offers browser extensions to instantly cite web pages. Has a premium paid subscription for additional features.

  • BibMe MLA Citation Machine - Free tool that creates MLA citations and references for websites, books, journals, and films. Includes guides for formatting MLA papers.

These tools help take the guesswork out of structuring in-text citations properly. However, it's still important to double check for accuracy before finalizing your references. Utilizing them along with OWL's guidelines provides comprehensive support for MLA style.

Conclusion: The Essentials of MLA In-Text Citations

Recap of MLA In-Text Citation Fundamentals

Properly formatting MLA in-text citations is crucial for upholding academic integrity and avoiding plagiarism. As covered in this guide, the key elements to remember are:

  • Structure: (Author Last Name Page Number)
  • Punctuation: The citation should be enclosed in parentheses with no spaces between components
  • Multiple Authors: For 2 authors, include both last names. For 3+ authors, only include the first author's last name followed by "et al."

Following these core citation rules in your essays and papers enables you to seamlessly integrate source references while maintaining flow and readability.

Final Thoughts on Citing with Confidence

Developing mastery of MLA citation equips you with an essential skill for scholarly writing. By accurately applying in-text citations and referencing your sources, you reinforce credibility and demonstrate an ethical approach to using external material. Consult the Online Writing Lab for ongoing support as you cement proper source attribution habits. With the fundamentals covered here, you can cite references in MLA format with full confidence in the integrity of your work.

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