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Citations and Avoiding Plagiarism

MLA Style Guide

Many disciplines require papers to be cited using the Modern Language Association, or MLA, style. This is common in the humanities, such as literature and English. The following guide will provide some helpful information on how MLA is commonly used in-text in order to aid you with your assignments.

Where can I place my citation in a sentence?

When writing a paper using MLA, you can cite your sources in the prose itself or as a parenthetical; your writing style may determine how you would like to format your sources, and you do not have to choose either prose or parenthetical for your entire paper. Either can be used as you are writing.

Citing a source in prose means you are mentioning the source in your sentence; citing a source as a parenthetical means the source is referenced in parentheses somewhere in the sentence. Let’s look at an example of each:

  • Prose citation: “Smith claimed otherwise, however, detracting from the majority.”
  • Parenthetical citation: “The author claimed otherwise, however, detracting from the majority (Smith).”

In the prose example, the author being reference—Smith—is mentioned directly in the sentence. In the parenthetical example, however, the author’s name is not referenced in the sentence and instead is cited in parentheses at the end of the sentence. You do not have to always include the author in parentheses at the end of the sentence and can instead place it in the middle of the sentence instead. For example:

  • “The author did not specify the details (Smith); however…”

Note that you do not have to include the year of publication for in-text citations.

When do I include a page number in my in-text citation, and how would I format that citation?

When citing a source, you may want to paraphrase, summarize, or include a direct quote. In all of those instances, you must include a page number to specify where from the source you are getting your idea from.

When inserting a citation, the page number does not have to be separated from the author’s last name with a comma. For example:

  • “Conceptions of masculinity and femininity and, as a result, fatherhood and motherhood, were crafted over time as perceptions of what it meant to be a man and a woman changed” (Barca 16).

Like the first section of this guide, you can also add the author’s last name in the prose rather than in parentheses; if you do this, you do not have to specify the author’s last name again in parentheses at the end of the sentence. Instead, you only need to include the page number. For example:

  • As Barca argues, conceptions of masculinity and femininity and, as a result, fatherhood and motherhood, were crafted over time as perceptions of what it meant to be a man and a woman changed” (16).

Note that in all of the examples provided using a parenthetical citation, the period that ends the sentence goes after the citation.

What if I want to cite a source that does not have an author?

There may be a number of reasons a work has no author—for example, the author may be unknown, or the work may have been published by an organization and so the organization is the “author”. When this is the case, you will refer to the work’s title in either prose or parenthetical citations. Depending on what the piece is, it may be italicized or in quotation marks.

A work that is a part of a larger piece, such as a chapter, webpage, or journal article, will be in quotation marks. For example:

  • The article “A Rebuke”, which was published anonymously, claims that Smith was incorrect.
  • In one article, the unnamed author(s) claimed that Smith was incorrect (“A Rebuke”).

An entire book, website, or journal will be in italics. For example:

  • An entire website, A Rebuke Against Smith, was even created to compile proof against the author.
  • The book, in which the author(s) remained unnamed, sought to argue against Smith’s work (Rebuke).

Note that if an author is listed as “Anonymous”, you will cite the source as written by “Anonymous”, i.e., (Anonymous 5). However, if no author is listed, you will use the title of the piece in your citations. Be sure to abbreviate a piece that you are citing in parentheses so the sentence flows and is not interrupted by long titles. For example:

  • Full title in-text: According to the webpage “Access to Library Resources and Services”, everybody has the right to access materials offered by their library.
  • Shortened title in parentheses: On their website, the American Library Association argues that everybody has the right to access materials offered by their library (“Access”).

If there is no author because the piece is attributed to an entire organization, you will refer to the organization as the author. The organization will not be in italicized or in quotations—it will appear as normal text. For example:

  • (American Medical Association 4)

Remember, however, that a webpage or report published by an organization that have no authors will need to be in either quotation marks or italics, respectively. For example:

  • A webpage that is part of a larger website (quotation marks): The webpage, titled “Library Bill of Rights”, is published by the American Library Association, and details the rights that patrons should have when utilizing their libraries.
  • An entire publication (italicized): The AMA Annual Report for 2020 is published by the American Medical Association.

How do I cite a source that has more than one author?

The number of authors that are credited with a source will determine how you will cite it.

If you are citing a source with one to two authors, you will include both authors’ last names and the page number, if applicable. For example:

  • (Smith and Doe) or (Smith and Doe 5)

If you are citing a source with three or more authors, you will write the first author’s last name and then “et al.” for the remaining authors. For example:

  • (Smith, Doe, and White 5) → (Smith et al. 5)

If you want to mention a source with three or more authors in the prose of your text, you will not include “et al.”. Instead, you will refer to the first author’s last name and then say, “and colleagues” or “and others”. For example:

  • DO NOT write: “According to Smith et al…”
  • DO write: “According to Smith and colleagues…”

What is a block quote and how do I format one?

A block quote is any quote that is more than four lines long. These quotes must be specially formatted; they are to be introduced using a colon, they should be 1” from the margin of the page (this is equivalent to indenting twice); they must be doubled-spaced (even if the paper itself is not double-spaced); and the end of the block quote should include the author’s name (if it was not mentioned previously) and page number in parentheses outside of the punctuation. For example:

              As the author explains:

If literature reflects the social world, the way women are depicted in fiction may shed light on how women behaved—or were expected to behave—in real-life 18th century England. Oftentimes, female characters are powerful until rendered powerless by patriarchal conventions present throughout society. The mechanisms of subordination were marriage, domesticity, and submission to men. For the women in this sample, osteoporosis and bone frailty were inevitable as they bore children and grew old; these were biosocial realities that largely could not be negotiated by women in traditional positions of little power as we often see inevitably happen to women in literature. (Barca 4)

I want to reference a source several times. Do I have to mention the name of the author(s) every time I make a citation?

There are two different ways you can cite a source throughout your paper if you would like to refer to it more than once. If you are discussing a source multiple times in one section of your paper, your first mention of this source must include the author(s) last names (the number of authors will determine if you must use “et al.” or not) and the page number(s) in the citation. Each time you consecutively mention the source after that, however, you only need to mention the page number you are referring to. For example:

  • “Conceptions of masculinity and femininity and, as a result, fatherhood and motherhood, were crafted over time as perceptions of what it meant to be a man and a woman changed” (Barca 16). These fluctuations were reified in literature at the time as the written word came to represent and shape the way people lived. Victorian parenthood was thus highly malleable and vulnerable to change as those in power shaped how children were raised and households were run, and in turn, these changes would be found in common media (16).

Do note that if you reference another source but want to go back to a source you previously discussed, you must clarify that you are bringing up that previous source again. To do this, specify the previous author’s last name as if you are citing them for the first time; this will allow the reader to trace exactly who you are referencing. For example:

  • Smith argued that his colleagues were incorrect in their analysis of the data (5). However, the authors he critiqued claimed that Smith deliberately misinterpreted their results (Doe et al. 10). The argument persisted between the researchers, but eventually, Smith claimed victory and felt he was finally vindicated (Smith 15).

How do I format my Works Cited page?

Your Works Cited page goes at the end of your paper and contains a complete list of all of the sources you cited. The type of source will determine how it will be formatted in the Works Cited page. The following are some common source types you may find yourself citing:

Book: Last Name, First Name. Book Title. Publisher, Year.

  • Example: Myers, Neely Laurenzo. Recovery’s Edge: An Ethnography of Mental Health Care and Moral Agency. Vanderbilt University Press, 2015.

Book Chapter: Last Name, First Name. “Chapter Title.” Book Title, Publisher, Year, Pages.

  • Example: Manderson, Lenore. “The Body as Subject.” Surface Tensions: Surgery, Bodily Boundaries, and the Social Self, Routledge, 2011, pp. 23-55.

Chapter in an Edited Book: Last Name, First Name. “Chapter Title.” Book Title, edited by Editor's Name (First-Last), Publisher, Year, Pages.

  • Example: Weiss, Kenneth M., and Anne V. Buchanan. “Evolution: What it Means and How we Know.” Paleopathology: A Contemporary Perspective, edited by Clark Spencer Larsen, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, 41-55.
    • Note that if you have two authors, the first author will be formatted by Last-First Name and the second author will be formatted First-Last Name. Look to the next section for how to format three or more authors for books, journals, and websites.

Journal Article (found online): Last Name, First Name. “Article Title.” Journal Title, Volume (vol.), Issue (no.), Abbreviated Month (if present) Year, Pages. Database (if applicable), DOI.

  • Example: Savolainen, Outi, et al. “Public Health Nurses’ Perceptions on Promotive and Risk Factors for Children’s Mental Health: A Qualitative Interview Study.” Journal of Advanced Nursing, vol. 77, no. 12, Dec. 2021, pp. 4815-4826,
    • As with the above example, journal articles will often have several authors; if your journal article, book, book chapter, or website have three or more authors, include the first author in Last-First Name style and use “et al.” as you would with an in-text citation to refer to the rest of the authors.
    • If the journal article does not have DOI but has a stable URL or permalink, include that instead. Do not include “https://” if you include a stable URL/permalink, but always include it with a DOI.

Website (full publication date): Last Name, First Name. “Title of Work.” Website Name, Day Month (Abbreviated) Year of Publication, URL.

  • Example: Perrigo, Billy. “Why Do Americans Call It Soccer Instead of Football? Blame England.” Time, 11 Jul. 2018,

Website (no publication date): Last Name, First Name. “Title of Work.” Website Name, URL. Accessed Day Month (Abbreviated) Year.

  • Example: “Visiting Seton Hall University.” Seton Hall University, Accessed 17 Feb. 2022.
    • If a website contains only a publication year, include that for the date; alternatively, if the website contains a publication month and year, include those for the date.
    • Regardless of the source, always abbreviate the month in your Works Cited (September=Sept., June=Jun., January=Jan., etc.).
    • Treat the number of authors for a website the same way you would for a book or journal publication. Only two authors will be formatted Last-First Name and First-Last Name, whereas three or more authors will be formatted Last-First Name et al.