How to cite sources

One or two authors:

See information below about using a page number. Sometimes, there is no page number to use.

Use the last name of the author and the page number. Note that there is nothing between the last name and page number.

(Anderson 50) 

If there are two authors, use both last names even if both authors have the same last name.

(Sampson and Bernini)  - Note that the word and is used and not an ampersand (&).

When there are two authors, note that even though both names are used to cite the source, it is still one source and should have a singular verb when used in a signal phrase: Sampson and Bernini says, not say. (The source - it - says.)

More than two people named as authors

Alvarez et al. (et al. is the Latin abbreviation for and others.). When more than two, individual names many not be listed even in the Works Cited. There is no longer a choice to list all the authors.

More than one source written by the same author

When you have more than one source from the same author, you must distinguish between them in the citation by adding the title: (Mirando, “Dinosaurs”) and (Mirando, “Jurassic Wilderness”).

If you name the author in the sentence, just put the title in parentheses in quotation marks:

According to Mirando, there are multiple theories for the extinction of the dinosaurs (“Dinosaurs”).

Different authors with the same last name

If you find two sources where the authors, have the same last name, obviously, using only the last name to cite the source will not clearly identify the source. In this case, use the first name as well:  (Gonzalez, Jorge) or (Gonzalez, Marisol).

When no person named as author

Sometimes, a source has no person named as author. This is actually common in articles in encyclopedias and even newspapers, newswires, or news services such as The Associated Press. In that case, just use the title of the article or page, not the publication or website.

Occasionally, an organization or group is listed as the author: Mayo Clinic Staff.  Then, the author is considered to be Mayo Clinic Staff. However, this applies only when a group or organization is actually listed as author. There are some special rule with government publications, but generally, the format applies. Start with the title of the publication when no specific agency is named as author. The agency will be listed as publisher.

Here is an example of using a title:

("Dinosaur Extinction")

Articles are considered short, published works, so titles of articles or pages from a website must be in quotation marks.

If the title to an article is longer than three or four words, shorten (don't use a key word or words) the title to the first noun. “Crime: Risks for Children of Non-Biological Parents Greater” should be shortened to “Crime.” “Organic Foods: Are They Really Healthier?” should be shortened to “Organic Foods” since Foods is the first noun. (Note that the question mark is dropped on a shortened title.) An article with no author which is entitled "What Is Gene Therapy?" should be cited as "What Is Gene Therapy?" since it is not longer than three or four words, and the word therapy is the first noun anyway. The question mark is kept since the title is not shortened.) By retraining the first word(s), the reader can look alphabetically to the Works Cited list and easily find the source.

Don't forget to drop any period or comma that would ordinarily be next to a question mark or exclamation point. An example of dropping the comma is as follows:  According to "What Is Gene Therapy?" there are several approaches.  Ordinarily, there would be a comma after the introductory wording According to "What Is Gene Therapy?"  However, since the grammar rule is to drop any comma or period next to a question mark or exclamation point, it would be dropped.

Also, the first letter of the first word and all other words in titles has to be capitalized in MLA style even if they are not so in the article itself except the following:

  1. articles (a, an, the),
  2. BOYFANS (but, or, yet, for, and, nor, so) – coordinating conjunctions, and
  3. prepositions (such as in, at, of, around, over, and so on).

Here’s an example of a title with words that should not start with a capital: “Genetic Manipulation of Food Has Some Scientists in the United States Worried”

Many sources are not in MLA style, so the titles are not following MLA format. Using capitals which are not capitals in the original is not a violation of the rule that you can’t change what’s in a quote. Using quotation marks for titles of short, published works is a different use of quotation marks than for quotes. (By the way, you can change a quote in quotation marks by putting brackets [   ] around your changes as previously mentioned.)

All caps are not used in MLA style except for some abbreviations such as NATO or AIDS.  When there are all caps in a title, change to upper and lower case as otherwise appropriate

When you are using a specific article or page in a website, your source is the specific article or page and not the website. 

If an article or page is in a website or newspaper and there is no author specifically named, use the title of the article or page as further described. The title of a source in a dictionary, encyclopedia, or other reference book  is the word you are looking up. For example, if you are looking up the word sunspots, the title of the article is “sunspots” or “Sunspots,” however it is written in the source.

Here is an example of how to use the title to cite the source:

“The most accepted theory of dinosaur extinction is that a comet or asteroid hit the earth causing megatons of debris into the air blocking the sunlight” (“Dinosaur Extinction” 587).

The reference to the source could be in the sentence:

“Dinosaur Extinction” explains that “[t]he most accepted theory of dinosaur extinction is that a comet or asteroid hit the earth causing megatons of debris into the air blocking the sunlight” (587).

Punctuation and Quotes

Signal phrases (words that say who says the quote) with full sentence quotes

There is no rule to use a comma to put a comma before or after words that are in quotation marks. Quoted words must follow the same rules for punctuation as words that are not in quotation marks. The only special rule there is to separate a signal phrase from a sentence quote with a comma.

Signal phrases are phrases that identify the source of a full sentence quote.

According to Anderson, “While tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (50).

The words According to Anderson are a signal phrase. Hernandez says, Khan states, and Dubrovsky agrees are all examples of signal phrases. 

Note that there is a comma separating the signal phrase from the sentence quote and that the first letter of the first word of the quote starts with a capital since it is a sentence. 

The signal phrase could be at the end of the sentence.

“While tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies,” according to Anderson (50).

See how there is still a comma to separate the signal phrase from the sentence quote.

Note that the comma goes before and not after the end quotation mark.

Also, see how the period follows the parentheses and does not go before the parentheses. Parenthetical documentation is part of the sentence.

The signal phrase could be in the middle of the sentence.

“While tattoos may be popular today,” according to Anderson, “few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (50).

Signal phrases are limited to words that identify the source of the quote such as the following: Jones says, According to Chan, “Dinosaur Extinction” claims.

The addition of other words such as the word that changes a signal phrase to just the beginning of a sentence that happens to contain some quoted words (even thought they might be a sentence) so what is in the quotation marks is a continuation of the sentence and is not considered a separate sentence.  In these cases, there should not be a comma, and the first letter of the quote should not be capitalized since it is not considered to be the first word in a sentence. Here is an example:

Anderson says that “[w]hile tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (50). 

Note that there is no comma and no capital when the word that is used.

Partial sentence quotes; distinguishing a signal phrase

Sometimes a sentence includes words that identify the source or quoted words, but the quote is not a complete sentence. This is a partial sentence quote, and the words that identify the source are not considered a signal phrase to be separated by a comma. They are just part of a sentence that happens to begin outside the quote.

Anderson says that tattoos have been used "for thousands of years."

Remember that a signal phrase tells the source of a sentence quote. If there is not sentence quote, there is no signal phrase. Without a sentence quote, the words Anderson says (and other signal phrases wording) are just part of the sentence. 

Anderson says that the interest in tattoos in the West has never been so popular. 

See how there is no comma and no capital. The words Anderson says are the subject and verb of the sentence. Also see that the word that is used and not just Anderson says the interest....

More than one source with the same title and no person named as author

If you have more than one source with the same title, put the name of the publication in italics separated by a comma after the title of the article: “Farmed Salmon,” Aquaculture Journal and “Farmed Salmon,” Washington State Journal. The idea is to be sure they are distinguished from one another.

It is preferable not to include the word that after a signal phrase which introduces a sentence quote.

When the same information comes from more than one source

Sometimes, the same information is in more than one of your sources. If you are paraphrasing instead of quoting, just identify both sources separated by a semicolon in one parentheses: (“Dinosaur Extinction”; Jones).

(Note that the semicolon is placed after the end quotation mark whereas periods and commas are placed before the end quotation mark when there is supposed to be a period or comma next to an end quotation mark.)

Quoting a quote from a source (indirect quotations)

Sometimes, other people are quoted in your source. This is called an indirect quotation. When we use a quote that is quoted in the source, use the abbreviation qtd. in to let the reader know which source the quote you are quoting comes from. Say, for example, Jones wrote the article you found, but she quotes Herman Smith, and you want to use what Herman Smith says.

Say this is the wording in the source:  Jones gives information provided by Professor Herman Smith.  Smith says, "There are more dangers in the depth of the oceans that we know about."

Here’s a couple of ways to cite that information.

According to Smith, “There are more dangers in the depths of the oceans that we know about” (qtd. in Jones). This abbreviation qtd. in means that this quote is quoted in the article written by Jones. See how only Smith's words are actually quoted, so the quotation marks go around those words. 

Here is another way Smith's words can be quoted.

"Smith says, 'There are more dangers in the depths of the oceans that we know about'" (qtd. in Jones). 

In this phrasing, since the entire sentence is quoted, there is a quote within a quote.  Single quotation marks must be used when you have to use quotation marks inside quotation marks.  Note that there regular double quotation marks around all of the exact words from the source and single quotation marks around the exact words from Smith.

“There are more dangers in the depths of the oceans that we know about” (Herman Smith, qtd. in Jones). Here, the person who is quoted is named in the citation instead of in the sentence.

Including the name of the person being quoted is not required:

“There are more dangers in the depths of the oceans that we know about” (qtd. in Jones).

It is optional to include the name of the person quoted in the source in parentheses. If the name of the person quoted is used in the parentheses, then it should be the full name.

Use of the words qtd. in only applies when someone else is quoted in the source.

If there is no person named as author, use the title of the article or page to refer to the source. When you are using a specific article or page from a website, your source is the specific article or page and not the website. It’s like finding an article in a newspaper. Your source is the article, not the newspaper.

According to Smith, “Some earthquakes are caused by methane gas explosions” (qtd. in “Underwater Dangers”).

“Some earthquakes are caused by methane gas explosions” (Smith, qtd. in “Underwater Dangers”).

The reader has to be told which source your quote is coming from.

Length of quotations

Even though there is a sentence quote for these examples, sometimes more than one sentence is quoted. The method of documenting is still the same.

If, however, the quote is more than four lines from the source, you must indent the quote ten spaces (1”) from the left-hand margin. In this situation, quotation marks are not used, and the period goes before the parentheses. Here are more than four lines (not sentences) from a source:

“The theory that dinosaurs became extinct as a result of climate changes from a huge meteor impact has far reaching implications. There is always the possibility such an impact will happen again. There are many meteors that come close to earth’s gravitational pull. Scientists closely watch to identify potential problems. There is some discussion about an organized effort to launch a missile to either explode such meteors or defect them away from our orbit” (Jones).

Here is the quote indented ten spaces (1”) from the left margin:

The theory that dinosaurs became extinct as a result of climate changes from a huge meteor impact has far reaching implications. There is always the possibility such an impact will happen again. There are many meteors that come close to earth’s gravitational pull. Scientists closely watch to identify potential problems. There is some discussion about an organized effort to launch a missile to either explode such meteors or defect them away from our orbit.  (Jones)

Paraphrasing and summarizing requires citations

Quoting is only one way of bringing information into a paper from a source. You can also paraphrase or summarize which is to put the source’s ideas into your own words. Quotation marks are not used, but you still have to give credit to the source the same way as with quotes. It is still plagiarism if you don’t use MLA or other documentation for paraphrased information. Each and every sentence with information from a source – whether you quote or paraphrase – must cite the source.

Use of Ellipsis (…) to show omitted words or sentences from a quote

You may remember seeing a series of three periods … in a quote. This is called an ellipsis and is used to represent an omission. Even though you may omit something from the beginning of a sentence you quote from, the general rule is not to use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quote. They are generally used in the middle of a quote to take out unnecessary words in a sentence or between sentences which are being quoted. You may use an ellipsis at the end of a quote if you don’t complete a sentence.

You may also use an ellipsis between quoted sentences to indicate that a sentence or sentences were omitted.

Identifying Internet sources

Increasingly, the Internet is being used for research. Because everything looks the same on the screen, it is important to figure out what exactly you are looking at. Sometimes, you are using information from a website that only has a couple of pages with no named author and which are clearly written for that website. In that case, your source is the website. Nowadays, these limited websites are not very common. Remember that the point of a citation system is to tell the reader where you found the information so that the reader can access the source.  In a website that has more than a couple of pages, the reader would have difficulty finding the information.

When you are using an article or articles posted to a website or a specific page or pages in a website, your source is the particular article(s) or pages(s) just like an article in a newspaper and not the website. If there is a separate author, refer to the source by the author’s last name, just as with any other source. If there is no named author, refer to the source by the title of the article or page in quotation marks. 

Page Numbers: When and how to use; When you don’t know the actual page number

The requirement to use a page number in MLA style refers to the actual page number in the original hard copy publication. The rule to use a page number does not apply to poetry or plays. See section below for details.

Sources created only for an online presentation do not have the type of page numbers to which the rule to use page numbers applies even when we have to click through a sequence of “pages.” The reason we should not use these website page numbers is that the pagination does not necessarily appear the same on everyone’s computer. What one person sees as page two could be page three on someone else’s computer.

When an article that was originally printed in a hard copy publication is posted, usually, there is no page number since it is an html format. If it is uploaded as a .pdf, the page number will appear.

When we don’t know the page number the particular information was printed on in the original hard copy publication, don’t use a page number.

If an Internet source numbers the paragraphs, you can use the paragraph number. However, if not numbered already in the web page, you should not start counting paragraphs to use a paragraph number.

The custom is that if you know a page number, you should not repeat the author’s name if you are using information from the same source in the same paragraph unless you use information from another source in between since you could just use the page number. However, if you don’t have a page number to use, you’ll have to repeat the author’s last name or title of the article (not the publication the article was printed in) for all references to that particular source.

When you have several sentences with information from a source, you should vary how you refer to the source: According to Jones, “Sasquatch is absolutely a real creature.” She goes on to say that they are intelligent enough to have hidden from humans. “The reason no skeletal remains have been found is that Sasquatch bury their dead” (Jones).

Since sometimes there is no page number or paragraph number to reference, you might not have a parentheses at all if the source is referred to as part of the sentence. The Internet has created situations where we don’t use parentheses even though MLA is called a parenthetical documentation system.

No Page Numbers: Poems and Plays

Poems

The MLA rule to use a page number for sources that were originally published in hard copy and for which we know the exact page number does not apply to poems.

In citing poetry, line numbers are used instead: (“Fire and Ice” 1). If the name of the poem is already mentioned in the sentence or it is clear that this quote is from this poem, use just the line number: (1).

When quoting two lines of poetry (not sentences), use a slash between the lines: “Some say the world will end in fire/Some say in ice” (1-2).

When quoting more than two lines, indent one inch from the left, write the lines as they appear in the poem (one under the other), do not use quotation marks, and the period goes before the parenthetical documentation:

Some say the world will end in fire

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.  (“Fire and Ice” 1-4)

If the title is mentioned previously and it is clear the quote is from this poem, use just the line numbers.

If the poem is divided into sections such as chapters or parts, then identify in the citation: (Odyssey 2.6) represent chapter or book 2, line 6.

Plays

The MLA rule to use a page number for sources that were originally published in hard copy and for which we know the exact page number does not apply to plays.

Cite the act , scene, and line number is used: Macbeth 2.1.13 referring to act. scene.line.

If lines from more than character are quoted, indent 10 spaced (1″) from the left starting a new line for each character, and indicate the character:

Mrs. Hale:  (stiffly) There’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm.

County Attorney:  To be sure. And yet (with a little bow to her) I know there

     are some Dickson County farmhouses which do not have such roller towels.

Mrs. Hale:  Those towels get dirty awful quick.  Men’s hand aren’t always as

     clear as they might be.  (Trifles 32-34)

Note that since this is a one-act play, only the line numbers are used.

Here is a quote from a play that has acts and scenes:

Hamlet:  Methinks it is like a weasel.

Polonius:  It is back’d like a weasel.

Hamlet:  Or like a whale.  (Ham. 5.2.330-33)

Important Details:

  1. Use last name only when there is a person or persons listed as author(s) - no first name or p., pg., or other reference to the word page.
  2. Don't use the words source, article, or any other words to refer to a source other than the last name or the title of the article when no person listed as source.
  3. The page number refers to the page number the specific information was printed on in the original publication, not a page number assigned in a website. When the page number is not known, you just don’t list a page number. Sources posted to the Internet from a hard copy or pages on an web only site will not have a page number as part of the citation.
  4. The end quotation mark goes after the words quoted, not the parentheses. The parenthetical documentation is part of the sentence, but it is not part of the quote.
  5. There is no comma or period before the parentheses except for the end quotation mark. An exclamation point or question mark which is part of the quote is used.
  6. If you name the source in the sentence, you should not put the name in the parentheses. 
  7. The source must be named in each and every sentence with information from a source whether you use exact words or put the information into your own words. If you don't, it is plagiarism. It is not all right to have more than one sentence from a source and then cite the source.The reader had no way of knowing how many, if any at all, of the previous sentences are from the source.
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