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When we refer to other texts in a college paper, what information do we need to provide and in what format? We need to help readers
- differentiate between our words and ideas and our sources’ words and ideas and
- locate the original source.
MLA guidelines outline how to provide just enough information when we quote or paraphrase in the course of the essay so that readers can look up the full description of the source in the Works Cited page. In-text citations should appear at the end of the quoted or paraphrased material.
What goes in the in-text citation?
In parentheses after the quotation or paraphrase, we need to include the author's name or abbreviated title and the page number.
Author's name or abbreviated title
In parentheses after the quotation or paraphrase, we put the first listed information from the Works Cited entry. Usually that will be the author’s last name (Lastname).
Some scholars have found that gig worker satisfaction varies greatly depending on the particular employer's policies (Myhill and Richards).
If there is no listed author, then an abbreviated version of the work's title goes in the parentheses in quotation marks ("Abbreviated Title").
Other scholars emphasize the differences in gig workers' objectives and resources (“What are the experiences of gig workers?”).
In MLA style, titles of long works like books are italicized while shorter works are placed in quotation marks. Hence a newspaper article like "Hurricane Wendy Hits the Texas Coast" would be in quotation marks while a book title like Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History would be italicized.
Including this minimal information should enable readers to locate the Works Cited entry where they will find more data on the original source material. It also gives credit to the original author, which is not only ethical but also legally required as a means to avoid copyright infringement. However, there is an exception! If we have just mentioned the author's last name or the abbreviated title in the sentence leading up to the quotation or paraphrase, we should not repeat it in the parentheses. MLA conventions ask us to be efficient in this way.
Myhill and Richards have found that gig worker satisfaction varies greatly depending on the particular employer's policies.
Page number or paragraph number, if available
To help readers find the original location of the quotation or the idea paraphrased, we should also add the page number, if any, in parentheses: (Lastname 21) or ("Abbreviated Title" 21). If the source is a website that does not otherwise have page numbers, including the paragraph number will help readers find the information quickly. That being said, for internet web pages and websites, even without a paragraph or page number, readers will be able to use "Control-F" to search on the author’s last name or the abbreviated title of the work to find the original source for the quotation or paraphrase.
Writing in Labor Today, Thibodeaux argues that platforms like Amazon's Mechanical Turk treat gig workers like robots (par. 3).
Every in-text, parenthetical citation should point readers towards a more detailed Works Cited page entry. And every Works Cited page entry should match at least one in-text, parenthetical citation. If one or the other is missing, this is a form of plagiarism. Why? Because if a student is missing a Works Cited entry, there is no way for readers to find the original information. It is like a broken link on the internet.