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13.5: MLA In-Text Citations

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    In-Text Citations for Literature Essays

    In order to effectively use in-text citations in essays, it is important to understand the purpose of in-text citations. In-text citations are a required part of ethical citation and attribution in MLA-style essays. Ideally, the in-text citation should, as briefly and unobtrusively as possible, point essay readers to the more detailed citation information listed on the Works Cited page (hence we described the Works Cited page first: it arguably easier and more efficient to create the Works Cited page first). In-text citations should appear at the end of the quoted or paraphrased material. What goes in the in-text citation? The first listed information in the Works Cited entry, which is usually the author’s last name (Lastname). If there is no listed author, then an abbreviated version of the work's title goes in the parentheses in quotation marks ("Abbreviated Title"). After the author’s last name should appear the paragraph, page, or line number where this material appeared in the original source (Smith 21) or ("Abbreivated Title" 21). This should enable readers to find and review 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. Basically, Works Cited and in-text citations combined function as a map to help readers

    1. differentiate between the writer’s words and ideas and their sources’ words and ideas
    2. find original source material.

    Pro-tip: every in-text, parenthetical citation should point readers towards a more detailed Works Cited page entry. Inversely, every Works Cited page entry should match at least one in-text, parenthetical citation. Otherwise, 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. And everyone knows broken links are super sketch.

    Inversely, if a student is missing an in-text citation, readers are unable to differentiate the student’s words and ideas from the words and ideas of their sources.

    Either way, there is ambiguity about source material. Ambiguity in essays should be avoided at all costs for the sake of academic integrity. To put it simply: readers should be able to

    1. clearly recognize which words and ideas belong to the student and which words and ideas belong to other sources
    2. locate those other sources

    In-Text Citation Quick Reference Guide by Genre



    In-Text Citation Example(s)

    Title of Work
    (as it appears on the Works Cited page or in the body of the text itself)

    Title Example




    (Author Last Name Line #)

    In Wordsworth’s poem, the daffodils tossed “their heads in sprightly dance” (12).

    The daffodils are a perfect example of anthropomorphism when described as tossing “their heads in sprightly dance” (Wordsworth 12).

    “Title” (in quotation marks)

    “I wandered lonely as a cloud” by William Wordsworth.

    Short Story

    (page#) or (par. #)


    (Author Last Name Page #)

    Baldwin frequently emphasizes color as a descriptor, such as when he describes Sonny’s skin as “copper” (17).

    Descriptions of skin color are frequently emphasized in the story, such as Sonny’s skin as “copper” and the unnamed heroine addict lurking outside the school as “dark brown” (Baldwin 17-18).

    “Title” (in quotation marks)

    “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin.

    Creative Nonfiction

    (page#) or (par. #)

    The story frequently switches between Spanish and English, such as when Cantu tells de La Vega "Yo te invito" (34).

    “Title” (in quotation marks)

    “Bajadas” by Francisco Cantu.


    (page#) or (paragraph #)


    (Wilde 231)

    Title (italicized)

    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

    Drama (Play)



    (Author Last Name Act.Scene.Line#)


    Title (italicized)

    Hamlet by William Shakespeare

    Literary Criticism



    (Author Last Name Page#)



    (Bloom 54)

    Article or Chapter: “Title” (quotation marks)

    Book: Title (italicized)

    Hamlet: Poem Unlimited by Harold Bloom

    Internet Source (from a web page without page numbers)

    ("Abbreviated Title" paragraph #)


    (Author Last Name)


    (“Abbreviated Title”)

    ("The History" par. 6)


    (Smith par. 6)


    ("The History")

    Web page:

    "Title of Web Page"

    Web site:

    Title of Website

    Webpage: “The History of Hamlet

    Website: The Oxford English Dictionary Online


    In general, titles of long works are italicized while shorter works are placed in quotation marks.

    Page, paragraph, or line numbers

    In general, prose uses either paragraph numbers (par. 3) or page numbers (245). Drama uses act.scene.line (2.3.4). Poetry uses just line numbers (3). Try to use whatever measurement makes the most sense for the work referenced, keeping in mind the purpose is to help the reader find the information. For example, for a page on a website that does not otherwise have page numbers, including paragraph number would help readers find the information.

    That being said, because of the CTRL + F feature, really the minimum requirement for internet web pages and websites is to place an in-text, parenthetical citation with either the author’s last name (if available) or an abbreviated title of the work (if no author information is available).

    For example:

    Author Name Available

    If there is an author name available, use that.

    Example: Some scholars argue Hamlet’s hamartia, or fatal flaw, is his indecisiveness (Greene).

    Author Name Not Available

    If there is not an author name available, use a condensed version of the text title in quotation marks.

    Example: Other scholars argue Hamlet’s caution is justifiable, as a potentially demonic ghost of one’s dead father is arguably not a reliable source upon which to base the decision to murder (“Hamlet Criticism Summary”).

    While both of the above examples may be acceptable for some professors, students should consult with their professors. It is almost always better to include paragraph or page numbers if possible. And, if the source is an online scholarly article, check for page numbers, as most reputable scholarly articles will have page numbers.

    Length of Quotation

    Students often want to cut and paste entire passages from literature. While this method, called a block quotation, can be useful in certain contexts, it is almost always better to only take the necessary quotes and phrasing necessary to support the thesis or main idea of the paragraph.

    Block Quotation

    Block quotations should be used sparingly: only when you plan to quote three or more lines or sentences, and only when you plan to spend an extended amount of space in your essay examining the details of a literary excerpt. There isn't necessarily a rule of thumb, but probably for an essay that is less than eight pages you wouldn't want to use more than two. To format a block quotation, you can justify the text and indent 1/2". You do not need to use quotations because it will be clear it is a block quotation in that it is set aside from the rest of the text. After the block quotation, include an in-text citation. Example below

    In my imagination, Abuelito’s version of history wrestles Didion’s. The white literary establishment handed her California but I propose we wrest it away from her. The Mexican presence haunting her work could do so if those of us living outside Didion’s prose lend a hand to the diaspora trapped inside of it. (Gurba par. 7)

    In the example above, I am quoting from an online article called "It's Time to Take California Back From Joan Didion" by scholar and critic Myriam Gurba. If I were writing an essay, I would probably spend a great deal of this paragraph analyzing the language choices here; that is, performing a close reading.

    Laser-Focused Quotation

    In literary studies, we really want to focus upon and emphasize language choices. While sometimes this can be done with a block quotation, most of the time the quotations you choose should be laser-focused to support the claim you are making in the paragraph. For example, let's say I want to emphasize the extended metaphor of the hand in the above block quotation through the lens of post-colonial criticism. I might examine how Abuelito's version of history is personified as in opposition to Joan Didion's, which was "handed" to her by the "white literacy establishment," and how the literary landscape of California becomes a property over which to "wrestle" (Gurba par. 7).

    Integrating Evidence & Avoiding Floating Quotations

    Example Paragraph 1:

    Students first learning how to effectively quote source material often simply plop a quotation into their body paragraphs. “I wandered lonely as a cloud” (Wordsworth 1). The previous sentence is an example of a floating quotation. A floating quotation is when a quotation is plopped into a paragraph without being smoothly integrated into the surrounding text. What effect does this have? It can be disorienting to the reader, who has no idea how to interpret the information. Compare this random plopping of a quotation above to the integrated version below.

    Example of Effective Quotation Integration

    Example Paragraph 2:

    While most people value humans over plants and other inanimate objects in nature, in “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” Wordsworth frequently gives nature human characteristics (anthropomorphism) and gives human characteristics of the natural world (chremamorphism). When the speaker of the poem describes themselves as wandering “lonely as a cloud,” this gives the sense he is dehumanized, more cloud than person (1). Conversely, the natural environment is made more human when daffodils are personified as “[t]ossing their heads in sprightly dance,” and even the waves are also described as dancing (12-13). Even the verb choice for each indicates the speaker may be less human, in that an animal or human can wander, but, generally, plants and animals lack the consciousness or intentionality implicit in dancing. By blurring the line between human and nature, and imbuing the daffodils and waves with seemingly more agency than the human speaker, the poem implies nature is just as valuable as humans, if not more so.

    What do you notice about the difference between the way quotations are integrated in the first and second paragraph examples?

    In the second example, the quotations are smoothly integrated with the author’s words while maintaining the grammatical structure of each sentence. Rather than plopping an entire sentence or line, the writer chose the most important quotations which illustrate the point they are attempting to make. Finally, it is clear where the writer’s words end and Wordsworth's begin, and where Wordsworth's words begin and the writer's end.

    Works Cited

    Gurba, Myriam. "It's Time to Take California Back from Joan Didion." Electric Literature, 12 May 2020. Accessed 13 July 2022.

    This page titled 13.5: MLA In-Text Citations is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .