What Are Citations In An Essay

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MLA Citations: Learn it. Love it.

But first, what IS M.L.A? It stands for Modern Language Association.

In-text Citation vs. Works Cited Page

An in-text citation is when the writer references the originating author in the actual body of the essay. This citation is always located just after the quoted, paraphrased, or summarized material. The in-text citation is simple, generally including the author's last name and page number. Clearly, an author's last name is not enough information for readers to know exactly where the outside information came from. This is why writers need to include a works cited page at the end of all researched essays: the in-text citation references something more fully listed in the works cited page.

A works cited page is an alphabetized list (generally by the author's last name) of all referenced materials used in the body of the essay. Following the author's name, there is a series of information that more specifically details the reference. There is a special way to order this information, and MLA guidelines provides the "how to" for just about every kind of material--from journals, to web sites, to personal interviews.


  1. Use an Author Tag: An author tag is when you use the author's name somewhere in the sentence. Next, if a page number is available, type the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence. The period ALWAYS goes after the parenthesis. Ex: According to Brown, "standardized tests ineffectively measure student intelligence" (42).
  2. Using author tags over and over can be cumbersome. When you don't use an author tag, cite the information by typing the author's last name and page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence. Ex: "Standardized tests ineffectively measure student intelligence" (Brown 42).
  3. If the author's name is not known, type the title of the article instead of the author's last name.  Some titles are very long and can be cumbersome in the body of the essay. If a title is determined to be too long, a shortened version of the title is appropriate. Include the page number, if known. Ex: "Standardized tests ineffectively measure student intelligence" (American Testing 42).
  4. If the page number is not known, omit it. This is the case with most web page sources.

MLA In-Text Citations provides more information for particular situations, such as when a work has multiple authors, or is a reference book.


As mentioned before, a works cited page is an alphabetized list (generally by the author's last name) of all referenced materials used in the body of the essay. Every in-text citation refers readers to the complete documentation of the source in a Works Cited page at the end of the paper.  You do not need to include works that are not cited in the body of your essay.

As shown in the "MLA Style: How to Format using MS Word" all pages of the essay are numbered. The Works Cited page(s) is the final page(s) of the essay, and on it, there should be the correct page number(s).  Type the words Works Cited at the top of the page, and center it.  Then, list the sources used in the paper, alphabetized by the first word in each source, usually the author's last name.  If a work has no author, alphabetize it by its title. Notice that everything is double spaced. Also, be sure to indent after the first line of each new citation. 

If the source is from the internet or the Web, use all that is available from the following list:

  • Title of the short work, in quotation marks
  • Title of the web site, underlined (or italicized, just be consistent on which one you use)
  • Date of publication or last update
  • Sponsor of the site (if not named as the author)
  • Date you accessed the source
  • The URL in angle brackets


Copy the following bulleted list above, and use the following web article to fill-in each point: http://www.csicop.org/scienceandmedia/controversy/You can generally find a lot of the web site information at the bottom of the web page.

  • Author's name Matthew Nisbet
  • Title of the short work, in quotation marks "The Controversy Over Stem Cell Research and Medical Cloning: Tracking the Rise and Fall of Science in the Public Eye"
  • Title of the web site, underlined (or italicized, just be consistent on which one you use) The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
  • Date of publication or last update 2 April 2004
  • Sponsor of the site (if not named as the author) The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (the name of the site is also the name of the sponsoring organization.)
  • Date you accessed the source 23 May 2007
  • The URL in angle brackets <http://www.csicop.org/scienceandmedia/controversy/>

Usually some of these elements will not be available.  Use as many as you can find. List the items in the order as shown above. Below is a quick, brief, and very short guide on how to actually type this information into your word processor:


Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication.

A Page on a Web site:

"Title of Page." NameofWebSite.com. Day Month Year last updated . Day Month Year accessed online

........... <http://www.actualURL>.


*Excerpts taken from the Purdue Online Writing Lab*

Article in Online Magazine

"Business Coalition for Climate Action Doubles." Environmental Defense.. 8 May 2007. Environmental Defense Organization.

..................24 May 2007 <http://www.environmentaldefense.org/article.cfm?ContentID=5828>.

Article from Online Newspaper

Clinton, Bill. Interview. New York Times on the Web. May 2007. 25 May 2007 <http://video.on.nytimes.com/>.

........... Keyword: Climate.

Unknown Author, Page on a Web site

Global Warming. 2007. Cooler Heads Coalition. 24 May 2007 <http://www.globalwarming.org/>.

An Article from a Professional Journal, NOT online:

Gowdy, John. "Avoiding Self-organized Extinction: Toward a Co-evolutionary Economics of Sustainability."

International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology. 14.1 (2007): 27-36.

Click here to see a Works Cited page of the above information.

Finally, here are some very helpful web sites:

Citing Sources in the Text of your Paper: In-Text Citation and Notes

Each time writers use an outside source, they must give credit to the original writer or creator of that source. This strategy also allows a reader to easily and efficiently make note of the source's bibliographic entry. Just as each style guide has rules for creating a citation in a bibliography at the end of a text, each guide also has certain rules for citing the use of sources within the text of the essay.

The following are basic guidelines for citing sources in the text of your paper when using the MLA, APA, Chicago, ASA, or Turabian style guides. These guidelines may not account for every citation situation. Since citing sources is not a creative enterprise, you should consult the appropriate print version of the style guide when you have questions about citation.

MLA Style  /  APA Style  /  Chicago Style  / ASA Style / Turabian


MLA: Parenthetical In-Text Citations

MLA citation style requires that writers cite a source within the text of their essay at the end of the sentence in which the source is used.  The parenthetical reference should be inserted after the last quotation mark but before the period at the end of the sentence.

General Form:          (Author Last Name Page #)   

Example:                 (Smith 42)

If two quotations from different sources are used in the same sentence, the parenthetical reference associated with a particular quote should be placed as close to the quotation as possible without interrupting the flow of the sentence.

If a paragraph includes several quotations from a single source, a single parenthetical reference may be placed at the end of the paragraph.  Page numbers should be included for each quotation organized by placement in the paragraph.  In the following example, the first quotation from Smith appeared on page 43 of the text.  The second quotation used in the paragraph came from page 12.

Example:                           (Smith 43, 12)

If the author is included more than once on the Works Cited page, the following form should be used.  Note that the format of the title on the Works Cited sheet should be mirrored in the parenthetical reference (i.e., if the title is underlined on the Works Cited page, then the title fragment should be underlined in the parenthetical reference).

General Form:          (Author Last, "Title Fragment" Page #)  or (Author Last, Title Fragment Page #)

Examples:               (Smith, "Who Moved" 42)   or   (Smith, Big Changes 172)

The following are examples of parenthetical citations for text with more than one author:

(Brown and Sullivan 42)

(Brown, Sullivan, and Grayson 158)

(Brown, et al. 38)

If there is no author, a title fragment should be used to make a connection between the use of the source and the citation for the source on the Works Cited page.

General Form:          ("Title Fragment" Page #)  or  (Title Fragment Page #)

Examples:               ("Library Links" 13)   or   (Building a Bookshelf  42)

For other considerations related to MLA parenthetical citations, see the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 6th ed. (pages 238-60).


APA:  Parenthetical In-Text Citations

To cite the use of a source in the text of an essay, APA advocates two methods:  parenthetical citation and attribution within the essay's content. Parenthetical references should be included immediately after the quotation marks used in direct quotations or immediately after the use of the source, even if these means including the parenthetical reference in the middle of the sentence.  The following is the general form for parenthetical citations in APA style:

Parenthetical Citation:           (Author Last Name, Year of Publication)
Example:                             (Smith, 1988)

To make the citation of the source less distracting, the APA also suggests mentioning the author in the essay's content so that only the year of publication and page number may be required in the parenthetical reference.

Attribution in text:                 Author Last Name (Year of Publication) has argued this point.
Example:                             Smith (1988) has argued this point.

Page numbers are not required in APA in-text citation. However, it is highly suggested that these be included.  To include references to a specific part of the text, add the page number or chapter number after the year.

Examples:               Smith (1988, p. 244) has written that...    or     Smith (1988, chap. 5) has written that...

When a work has two authors, both names should be cited every time the reference is required.  Use an ampersand (&) to separate the names of authors.  If a text has been authored by more than five individuals, the full listing of authors is not required in the first reference or any subsequent in-text references.

First mention of the reference:       Johnson, Smith, and Brown (1999) agree that...
Subsequent mention:                    Johnson et al. (1999) agree that...

If a group or corporation is the author, the full name of the group or corporation should be included in place of an author's name.  If an organization has a recognizable abbreviation, this may be used in subsequent references.

First mention of the reference:     (American Medical Association, 2002)
Subsequent mention:                  (AMA, 2002)

If no author is given for a specific text, use the first couple of word of the title in place of the author's last name.  Title fragments should be formatted using the same punctuation as titles on the References page.

Examples of attribution in the text:

The recent publication Plagiarism and You (2002) offers some explanation...

In "Five Ways to Protect Yourself" (2000) one can find...

Examples of parenthetical attribution:    (Plagiarism and You, 2002)  or  ("Five Ways to Protect Yourself," 2000)

When no date is given for the publication of a text (as is the case with many websites), include the abbreviation "n.d." in place of the year of publication.

For other considerations related to in-text referencing using the APA format, see the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 5th ed. (pages 207-14).


Chicago: Notes Style

In Chicago's Documentation Style 1, also known as notes form, the use of research sources is indicated in the text with a numerical subscript that corresponds to an entry at the end of the paper. These are called endnotes.  Although footnotes (or notes at the bottom of the page) are sometimes required, endnotes have become the predominant form of notes citations.

When using endnotes to indicate the use of research sources, writers must also include a bibliography at the end of the essay.  The note and the bibliographic entry include almost identical information but in a different format. 

As the formats for notes are contingent on the format of the source for which the note is written, examples of note formats are included with the bibliographic examples available through the Citing Sources at the End of a Paper link.  The B: entry would be included in the Bibliography at the end of the paper, while the N: entry gives examples to be used in footnotes or endnotes.

For further information on note format or other issues related to citing sources using the Chicago style, see The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed.

Chicago: Author/Date Style

Documentation 2, also called the Author-Date style, requires the use of parenthetical references in the text of the essay as well as a list of References. 

Parenthetical references should be placed at the end of the sentence, before the period, when a resource has been used.  If the sentence is either long enough or complex enough so that the cited portion of the sentence is not obvious, the parenthetical reference may instead be inserted immediately after the use of information from the source.  Page numbers should be included whenever possible.

General Form:  (Author Last Name Year of Publication, Page #)

Example:  (Smith 1992, 142)

The following examples illustrate parenthetical reference formats for works with more than one author.

(Smith and Johnson 1998, 14)

(Smith, Johnson, and White 2001, 42)

(Smith et al. 1998, 203)

(National Alliance for Social Consideration 1932, 11)

When organizations or corporate authors are the author of a text, the name of the organization may be shortened to its most basic title.  Abbreviations for the organization are not encouraged.

In the Chicago style, daily newspapers are rarely included in a list of References.  Instead, attribution may be given to information from a daily newspaper in a parenthetical reference. 

General Form:   (Newspaper Name, Day Month Year of Publication, Section and Page #)

Examples:        (San Antonio Express-News, 2 June 2005, B2)

                           (New York Times, 2 June 2005, A2)

                           (Durant Daily Democrat, 2 June 2005, 3)

The Chicago style guide does not offer examples for creating parenthetical references when there is no given author.  Standard practice has been to include the title of the work in place of the author.  The title should be formatted in the same manner as the formatting in the References list entry. 

(Plagiarism and You 2002, 142)   

("Five Ways to Protect Yourself" 2000, 33)

Electronic sources commonly lack a date of publication, as do other sources.  When there is no date of publication listed for a source, include the abbreviation "n.d." in place of the date. 

(Statistics for Water Rights n.d.)

For further information on citing sources using the Chicago style, see The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed.


If the author's name is mentioned in the text, use a parenthetical reference to show the year of publication at the end of the sentence.  Example:

...Welch contends that this is not the case (1991).

If the author's name is not mentioned in the text, it should be included with the year of publication within parentheses.  Example:

...but it has been argued that this was not the case (Welch 1991).

Page numbers should be included within parentheses after the year of publication. These are separated by a colon and no spaces.  Example:

...but it has been argued that this was not the case (Welch 1991:136).

The following forms should be used for multiple authors:

A recent study confirmed her belief (Johnson and Smith 1995:34).

This was reinforced by recent research on the topic (Johnson, Smith, and Marcus 1999)

If a text has more than three authors, the term "et al." with no additional punctuation marks may be used after the first author listed in the publication credits. 

This was not accurate according to a recent study (Johnson et al. 2003).

If multiple sources are cited for the same statement, the author and publication year should be distinguished from other texts with a colon. Cited texts should be arranged by author name or by date; arrangement should be consistent throughout the paper.  Example:

Some studies have refuted these arguments (Benson 1993; Nguyen 1999; Brown and Goggans 2000).

For additional information on in-text citation using the ASA style, see the American Sociological Association Style Guide, Third ed., pp. 45-47.


In the Turabian citation style, writers may use one of two forms in citing their resources: endnotes or author/date parenthetical references.  Writers using the Turabian style may use the Chicago formats for both endnotes as references and for parenthetical references.  Refer to Kate L. Turabian's A Manual for Writers, 7th ed., pp. 143-145 (notes style) and pp. 217-220 (author-date style) for more information.

RefWorks is also capable of creating in-text citations.  You may utilize the "Help" options available in RefWorksor visit the library's help desk to learn how to format in-text citations using RefWorks.

If you have questions about citing your use of a source within the text of your writing, please consult the print version of the citation style manuals.  You may also set up a research appointment with a librarian to learn how to accurately and appropriate cite your sources.

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