In-Text Citations

Parenthetical Notation

MLA notation, like APA, is parenthetical. That means that within the main body of your paper you use parentheses to refer your reader to the sources you're drawing on for your information. Other documentation systems use superscript numbers within the main body of the text to refer the reader to a set of footnotes or endnotes. In my opinion, the difference is simply a matter of style; use whichever system your professor or your discipline demands.

In MLA notation, the information within the parentheses is generally the last name of the author and the page number upon which the quotation or information is found. This system allows the reader to quickly find the specific place from which you've drawn your information. It is important to note, though, that you need to introduce your reader to each source the first time that you use it, preferably within the main body of your text. Note that all direct quotations must be integrated into your own prose. That is, you must make them a part of your own sentence, rather than leaving them to stand as sentences on their own.

Click here for a list of typical in-text citation examples.

Longer Quotations

When a quotation is longer than five lines of text, you should inset it one-inch (two standard tabs) along the left margin. Do not inset the right margin at all. Double space the text, and don't put quotation marks around it: insetting the text takes the place of quotation marks.


The other major difference between shorter in-text citations and inset quotations is that for shorter quotations end punctuation belongs after the parenthetical notation, like this:

The last time my mother wrote, she told me to "Marry someone wealthy, so [she can] retire soon" (Mom 2).

If your quote ends in a question mark or exclamation point, you preserve these inside the quote if the quote is still a question or exclamation. The punctuation after the parenthetical notation indicates the status of your sentence, rather than that of your source.

Why must she always tell me to "marry someone wealthy" (Mom 2)?
When I tell her that I'm happy as I am, she writes back, "You're impossible!" (Mom 4).

For inset quotes, on the other hand, the punctuation belongs before the parenthetical notation, and there are not quotation marks.

Natalie Grinnell
Wofford College
429 North Church Street
Spartanburg, South Carolina 29303
Last Update: July 17, 2009