In-text citations are references that are inserted between parentheses in a sentence or paragraph. The purpose of in-text citations is to tell readers where to look in the Works Cited page in order to get the complete citation information, should they want to find the original source you are citing.
How MLA In-Text Citation Works
In-text citations go between parentheses at the end of a sentence or paragraph where a source you referenced was either paraphrased or quoted verbatim. Because the purpose of the in-text citation is to refer your reader to the Works Cited page, the information in the citation must correspond to the information in the Works Cited page. If you include the author’s name in the sentence, the parenthetical reference needs only to include the page number, like this:
When you name the author in the sentence, just include the page number. User experience, as noted by Stephen Anderson, requires us to think about patterns: "we learn by recognizing patterns and associating this stimulus with things we've encountered before" (75).
If, however, you don’t include the author’s last name in the sentence, you must include the author’s last name in the parenthetical reference, like this:
When you DO NOT name the author in the sentence, include the last name and page number. User experience theory suggests that "we learn by recognizing patterns and associating this stimulus with things we've encountered before" (Anderson 75).
As you can see from these two examples, MLA in-text citations follow an author-page style, meaning you put the author’s name first, then the page number. There are no commas or other punctuation in the parenthetical reference when you have an author and page number. The period in the sentence where the in-text citation resides goes after the final parenthesis. When you cite sources like this, the parenthetical reference should match the Works Cited reference at the end of your document:
WORKS CITED REFERENCE FOR SOURCE ABOVE Anderson, Stephen. Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences. New Riders, 2011.
In-Text Citations List for Print Sources
Obviously, there are many different scenarios when you’ll need to cite sources other than just a book with one author, including sources with more than one author, corporate authors, or even citing multiple authors that have the same last name. Following the guidelines noted above (putting the author’s name in the sentence or in the reference), follow the examples below to see how the in-text references match the Works Cited references.
CORPORATE OR ORGANIZATIONAL AUTHOR (Internal Revenue Service 126) *If a company name is long, it is appropriate to shorten or abbreviate the name so long as it is clear who the organization or company is and the source is matched to the Works Cited page.
TWO OR THREE AUTHORS (Jones and Anderson 97) (Harrison, Handa, and Peterson 217)
MORE THAN THREE AUTHORS (Johnson et al. 161) *Last name of first author listed on source, followed by "et al."
MULTIPLE AUTHORS WITH SAME LAST NAME (J. Smith 23) (B. Smith 97) *Include the first initial of each author, followed by their last name. If they share the same first initial, too, include their full name.
MULTIPLE WORKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR (Kuhn, Structure of Scientific 214) *When citing multiple sources by the same author, include a shortened version of each title so that it's clear which source you're citing.
WORKS WITH NO PAGE NUMBERS (Dickens, para. 7) *When no page numbers exist, clarify as best you can by noting paragraph number, chapter number, section, and so forth.
WORKS WITH NO KNOWN AUTHOR ("How Birds Migrate" 8) *When you don't know the author, use a shortened version of the title
THE BIBLE (King James Version, Matthew 3:7) *The version of the bible you're citing needs only be noted in the reference the first time if you cite the same version multiple times in your document. Italicize the name of the version, followed by a comma.
INDIRECT SOURCES (qtd. in McCloud 27) *While it's usually better to locate the original source, sometimes you'll need to cite a source that's been cited in another source. "qtd" refers to "quoted" and the reference afterwards is the source you found the quote in.
MULTIPLE CITATIONS (Barthes 48; Ulmer 112) *Sometimes you'll cite more than one author in the same sentence. When you do this, include both authors in the parenthetical reference, separated by a semicolon.
In-Text Citations List for Digital Sources
When citing sources you found on the Internet, follow three basic rules:
- Match the in-text citation to the Works Cited page, as you would with print sources
- Don’t include page or paragraph numbers from your browser’s print preview page
- Generally speaking, avoid including URLs in parenthetical references unless you must to refer the reader to the correct source in the Works Cited page. In cases where you do need to include a URL, just include the domain name (such as USAToday.com or Harvard.edu); don’t include the entire URL (such as https://www.usatoday.com/sports/)
ONLINE ARTICLES (Topel, "8 Classic Dynasty") *Include the author's last name if it is available, followed by a shortened title in quotation marks.
OTHER MEDIA (FILMS, TELEVISION, GAMES, MUSIC) *It's typically best, when citing non-traditional media in-text to simply name the author/creator of a work inside the text, using names and italicized titles within the text of a sentence. If you do this with enough information, readers won't need an in-text reference. If, however, you wish to cite in-text in parentheses, follow the guidelines above, citing author last name first, followed by a shortened title.