MLA in-text citations are made with a combination of signal phrases and parenthetical references. A signal phrase indicates that something taken from a source (a quotation, summary, paraphrase, or fact) is about to be used; usually the signal phrase includes the author’s name. The parenthetical reference, which comes after the cited material, normally includes at least a page number. In the models in this section, the elements of the in-text citation are shown in blue.


One driver, Peter Cohen, says that after he was rear-ended, the
guilty party emerged from his vehicle still talking on the phone

Readers can look up the author’s last name in the alphabetized list of works cited, where they will learn the work’s title and other publication information. If readers decide to consult the source, the page number will take them straight to the passage that has been cited.

Basic rules for print and electronic sources

The MLA system of in-text citations, which depends heavily on authors’ names and page numbers, was created in the early 1980s with print sources in mind. Because some of today’s electronic sources have unclear authorship and lack page numbers, they present a special challenge. Nevertheless, the basic rules are the same for both print and electronic sources.

The models in this section (items 1–5) show how the MLA system usually works and explain what to do if your source has no author or page numbers.


Ordinarily, introduce the material being cited with a signal phrase that includes the author’s name. In addition to preparing readers for the source, the signal phrase allows you to keep the parenthetical citation brief.

Christine Haughney reports that shortly after Japan made it illegal
to use a handheld phone while driving, “accidents caused by using
the phones dropped by 75 percent” (A8).

The signal phrase — Christine Haughney reports that — names the author; the parenthetical citation gives the page number where the quoted words may be found.

Notice that the period follows the parenthetical citation. When a quotation ends with a question mark or an exclamation point, leave the end punctuation inside the quotation mark and add a period after the parentheses: ” . . . ?” (8).

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2. AUTHOR NAMED IN PARENTHESESIf a signal phrase does not name the author, put the author’s last name in parentheses along with the page number.

Most states do not keep adequate records on the number of times
cell phones are a factor in accidents; as of December 2000, only
ten states were trying to keep such records (Sundeen 2).

Use no punctuation between the name and the page number.

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3. AUTHOR UNKNOWNEither use the complete title in a signal phrase or use a short form of the title in parentheses. Titles of books are italicized; titles of articles are put in quotation marks.

As of 2001, at least three hundred towns and municipalities had
considered legislation regulating use of cell phones while driving
(“Lawmakers” 2).

TIP: Before assuming that a Web source has no author, do some detective work. Often the author’s name is available but is not easy to find. For example, it may appear at the end of the source, in tiny print. Or it may appear on another page of the site, such as the home page.

NOTE: If a source has no author and is sponsored by a corporate entity, such as an organization or a government agency, name the corporate entity as the author (see item 9).

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4. PAGE NUMBER UNKNOWNYou may omit the page number if a work lacks page numbers, as is the case with many Web sources. Although printouts from Web sites usually show page numbers, printers don’t always provide the same page breaks; for this reason, MLA recommends treating such sources as unpaginated.

The California Highway Patrol opposes restrictions on the use of
phones while driving, claiming that distracted drivers can already
be prosecuted (Jacobs).

According to Jacobs, the California Highway Patrol opposes restric-
tions on the use of phones while driving, claiming that distracted
drivers can already be prosecuted.

When the pages of a Web source are stable (as in PDF files), however, supply a page number in your in-text citation.

NOTE: If a Web source numbers its paragraphs or screens, give the abbreviation “par.” or “pars.” or the word “screen” or “screens” in the parentheses: (Smith, par. 4).

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5. ONE-PAGE SOURCEIf the source is one page long, MLA allows (but does not require) you to omit the page number. Many instructors will want you to supply the page number because without it readers may not know where your citation ends or, worse, may not realize that you have provided a citation at all.

No page number given

Milo Ippolito reports that the driver who struck and killed a two-
year-old while using her cell phone got off with a light sentence
even though she left the scene of the accident and failed to call
911 for help. In this and in similar cases, traffic offenders dis-
tracted by cell phones have not been sufficiently punished under
laws on reckless driving.

Page number given

Milo Ippolito reports that the driver who struck and killed a two-
year-old while using her cell phone got off with a light sentence
even though she left the scene of the accident and failed to call
911 for help (J1). In this and in similar cases, traffic offenders
distracted by cell phones have not been sufficiently punished
under laws on reckless driving.

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Variations on the basic rules

This section describes the MLA guidelines for handling a variety of situations not covered by the basic rules just given. Again, these rules on in-text citations are the same for both traditional print sources and electronic sources.

6. TWO OR MORE WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHORIf your list of works cited includes two or more works by the same author, mention the title of the work in the signal phrase or include a short version of the title in the parentheses.

On December 6, 2000, reporter Jamie Stockwell wrote that dis-
tracted driver Jason Jones had been charged with “two counts of
vehicular manslaughter . . . in the deaths of John and Carole Hall”
(“Phone” B1). The next day Stockwell reported the judge’s ruling:
Jones “was convicted of negligent driving and fined $500, the
maximum penalty allowed” (“Man” B4).

Titles of articles and other short works are placed in quotation marks, as in the example just given. Titles of books are italicized.

In the rare case when both the author’s name and a short title must be given in parentheses, separate them with a comma.

According to police reports, there were no skid marks indicating
that the distracted driver who killed John and Carole Hall had even
tried to stop (Stockwell, “Man” B4).

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7. TWO OR THREE AUTHORSName the authors in a signal phrase, as in the following example, or include their last names in the parenthetical reference: (Redelmeier and Tibshirani 453).

Redelmeier and Tibshirani found that “the risk of a collision when
using a cellular telephone was four times higher than the risk
when a cellular telephone was not being used” (453).

When three authors are named in the parentheses, separate the names with commas: (Alton, Davies, and Rice 56).

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8. FOUR OR MORE AUTHORSName all of the authors or include only the first author’s name followed by “et al.” (Latin for “and others”). Make sure that your citation matches the entry in the list of works cited (see item 2).

The study was extended for two years, and only after results were
reviewed by an independent panel did the researchers publish their
findings (Blaine et al. 35).

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9. CORPORATE AUTHORWhen the author is a corporation, an organization, or a government agency, name the corporate author either in the signal phrase or in the parentheses.

Researchers at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis claim that
the risks of driving while phoning are small compared with other
driving risks (3-4).

In the list of works cited, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis is treated as the author and alphabetized under H.

When a government agency is treated as the author, it will be alphabetized in the list of works cited under the name of the government, such as “United States” (see item 3). For this reason, you must name the government in your in-text citation.

The United States Department of Transportation provides nation-
wide statistics on traffic fatalities.

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10. AUTHORS WITH THE SAME LAST NAMEIf your list of works cited includes works by two or more authors with the same last name, include the author’s first name in the signal phrase or first initial in the parentheses.

Estimates of the number of accidents caused by distracted
drivers vary because little evidence is being collected
(D. Smith 7).

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11. INDIRECT SOURCE (SOURCE QUOTED IN ANOTHER SOURCE)When a writer’s or a speaker’s quoted words appear in a source written by someone else, begin the parenthetical citation with the abbreviation “qtd. in.”

According to Richard Retting, “As the comforts of home and
the efficiency of the office creep into the automobile, it is
becoming increasingly attractive as a work space” (qtd. in
Kilgannon A23).

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12. ENCYCLOPEDIA OR DICTIONARYUnless an encyclopedia or a dictionary has an author, it will be alphabetized in the list of works cited under the word or entry that you consulted — not under the title of the reference work itself (see item 13). Either in your text or in your parenthetical reference, mention the word or the entry. No page number is required, since readers can easily look up the word or entry.

The word crocodile has a surprisingly complex etymology

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13. MULTIVOLUME WORKIf your paper cites more than one volume of a multivolume work, indicate in the parentheses the volume you are referring to, followed by a colon and the page number.

In his studies of gifted children, Terman describes a pattern of
accelerated language acquisition (2: 279).

If your paper cites only one volume of a multivolume work, you will include the volume number in the list of works cited and will not need to include it in the parentheses.

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14. TWO OR MORE WORKSTo cite more than one source in the parentheses, give the citations in alphabetical order and separate them with a semicolon.

The effects of sleep deprivation have been well documented
(Cahill 42; Leduc 114; Vasquez 73).

Multiple citations can be distracting, however, so you should not overuse the technique. If you want to alert readers to several sources that discuss a particular topic, consider using an information note instead.

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15. AN ENTIRE WORKUse the author’s name in a signal phrase or a parenthetical reference. There is of course no need to use a page number.

Robinson succinctly describes the status of the mountain lion con-
troversy in California.

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16. WORK IN AN ANTHOLOGYPut the name of the author of the work (not the editor of the anthology) in the signal phrase or the parentheses.

In “A Jury of Her Peers,” Mrs. Hale describes both a style of quilt-
ing and a murder weapon when she utters the last words of the
story: “We call it—knot it, Mr. Henderson” (Glaspell 210).

In the list of works cited, the work is alphabetized under Glaspell, not under the name of the editor of the anthology.

Glaspell, Susan. “A Jury of Her Peers.” Literature and Its Writers: A
Compact Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Ann Char-
ters and Samuel Charters. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford, 2004. 194-210. Print.

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