Citing Sources

Why you Cite Sources

Citing sources means that you need to give credit to other authors’ specific information and ideas. Giving credit to the sources you used in your essay is important for several reasons:

  • It allows your readers to distinguish your ideas from your sources’ ideas within the text of your writing.
  • It adds to your own credibility as an author by showing you have done appropriate research on your topic and included that research ethically.
  • It gives your readers additional resources (already curated by you in your research process) that they can go to if they want to read further about your topic.
  • It helps you avoid unintentionally plagiarizing others’ work.

The following video provides a brief introduction to citing sources.

Citing to Avoid Plagiarism

Unintentional plagiarism (“stealing”) occurs when you don’t cite all of the source information used in your essay, even the information that you re-wrote in your own words. Remember, you need to cite all quotations, paraphrases, and summaries, since they present other people’s ideas. When you cite each piece of source information you’ve incorporated in your essay, you make it absolutely clear that the material was taken from a source. If you don’t cite your sources, your reader will assume the words and ideas are yours—and since that isn’t true, you will have committed plagiarism.

To avoid plagiarism, cite your source information briefly at the point of use, and more fully at the end of your essay. The point of use citation is called an in-text citation. In-text citations usually include the author’s last name and page number in parentheses at the end of the quoted, paraphrased, or summarized sentences, if a page number exists. You need to use an in-text citation every time you quote, paraphrase, or summarize. So you may have paragraphs that include many in-text citations depending on how much researched information you incorporate in your essay. While an attribution such “according to” signals the start of a source’s information, the in-text citation signals the end. You need both to accurately separate your sources’ information from your own. Just remember—when in doubt, cite within the text. Fuller citation, with more information about each source (e.g., author’s full name, publication title, date, etc.), occurs in a Works Cited list at the end of the essay.

How to Cite, using MLA Format

In-Text Citations

Put the author’s last name and the page number(s) from which the quotation, paraphrase, or summary is taken in parentheses at the end of the sentence.

At the end of the day Wilbur made “in excess of half a million dollars” (Marx 43).

If you mention the author’s name at the start of the quote, paraphrase, or summary, put only the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence.

According to Marx, Wilbur made “in excess of half a million dollars” (43).

If you need to cite more than one source in your in-text citation, use a semicolon to separate the sources and list alphabetically.

Multiple researchers have found that Wilbur, like many other stock brokers, used inside information to conduct beneficial transactions for himself as well as select clients (Jones 101; Williams 23).
If you use different sources from the same author, add a brief version of the title to show which source you’re using.
Kerryjan argued that laws regulating trading are too lax, (“Too Lax” 44), although he acknowledged elsewhere that those same laws led to much good (“A Stronger Country” 13).

For sources without page numbers, such as websites or blogs, either omit the page number or use a different indicator, if one exists.

Jamison defines “insider trading” in two different ways… (Calvert). OR

Jamison defines “insider trading” in two different ways… (Calvert, par. 4).

Works Cited at the End of the Essay

MLA uses a standard order of information for all types of sources. Note that if your source does not have a particular section, just skip that section and move on.

1. Author

  • The first author’s name is always Last Name, First Name.
  • Subsequent authors’ names are in normal order, with First Name and then Last Name.
  • Put a period at the end of the Names section.

2. Title of Source – the material you’re quoting, paraphrasing, summarizing

  • Capitalize all words in the title of source except for articles, conjunctions, and prepositions (e.g., “a”, “and,” “of”).
  • Put article, essay, and chapter titles, or any other “small” piece of material (poem, song title) inside of quotation marks.
  • Book, film, journal, and web page titles go into italics (no quotation marks).
  • Put a period at the end of the Title of Source section. (note that if the title is in quotation marks, the period goes inside the end quotation mark “like this.”).

3. Title of Container

The container is the “place” that holds or houses the source you’re using:

  • A book chapter (the “title of source”) is held within a book (the “container”).
  • A newspaper article (the “title of source”) is held within a newspaper (the “container”).
  • An essay on a web page (the “title of source”) is held within a website (the “container”).
  • A journal article (the “title of source”) is held within a journal (the “container”).

(And so forth)

  • Capitalize all words in the title of the container except for articles, conjunctions, and prepositions (e.g., “a”, “and,” “of”).
  • The container is almost always* in italic font.
  • Put a comma at the end of the Title of Container.

*An example of a non-italicized container would be if you were citing an actual painting and the “container” was an art museum. The museum would be listed as the container but in plain font.

4. Other Contributors

Others who assisted with creating or handling the source, e.g., directors, editors, translators, performers, illustrators, etc.

  • Introduce the role of other contributors using plain, unabbreviated language, e.g., performed by, directed by, etc.
  • Put a comma at the end of the Other Contributors section.

5. Version

  • Version refers to an edition number, volume number, or month.
  • Put a comma at the end of the Version section.

6. Number

  • Use this to provide an issue number (e.g., for a magazine or journal), a special archive number (e.g., with museum pieces), or something similar.
  • Put a comma at the end of the Number section.

7. Publisher

The publisher is the person or institution that makes the source available to the world.

  • Write out the complete publisher name; don’t abbreviate or omit words.
  • Put a comma at the end of the Publisher section.

8. Publication Date – of the material you’re quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing

  • Use MLA date format: day month year.  E.g.  12 January 2020
  • Put a comma at the end of the Publication section.
  • With longer months, you may abbreviate the source; if you do, follow the abbreviation with a period. E.g., 12 Jan. 2020

9. Location

The source’s location tells the reader where to find the source. Many sources will not have a location, but it should be listed if present.

  • If using a book, the page number is the location.
    • For single pages, use this format: p. 6.
    • For two or more pages, list like this: pp. 62-4 or pp. 184-96.
    • If using two or more pages and they cross a “hundred” marker, list like this: pp. 456-502.
  • With web pages, give the URL—but omit the http:// at the beginning.
  • Do not break URLs manually to try and fit them into your Works Cited entry; just type them in and let your Word processor decide where to break them.
  • Put a period at the end of the Location section.

Format for Works Cited

The Works Cited list occurs at the end of the essay. Use the title Works Cited. Then list the sources in alphabetical order, according to the authors’ last names. If you have a source without a particular author, alphabetize according to the first main word in the source’s name (do not alphabetize by “a,” “an,” or “the”).

Do a hanging indent for your alphabetical list, so that each new source starts at your margin, and the second and subsequent lines of each entry are indented under that first line. Your Works Cited should look like this:

Citation Tools & Resources

MLA offers an Interactive Practice Template that you can fill in, with correct punctuation at the end of each section. This is a really useful tool, as it clarifies the different types of information (“containers”) that go into a full source citation at the end of a text.

There are many other online citation tools that help with both in-text and end-of-text citations. Some of these include the following:

These sites contain fuller information about citing sources:

  • Empire State College’s MLA Micro-course offers a short, yet comprehensive, tutorial on citing sources using Modern Language Association format
  • Empire State College’s library: Citing Your Sources contains many links and good information on documentation formats
  • MLA Citation – offers a clear description of how to document sources using MLA format. This site is from the State University of New York at Albany

And these sites offer brief quizzes to help you test your understanding of the type of information you need to cite:


try it

Look at the article “The Importance of High School Mentors” on the website of The Atlantic magazine.

Find the information you need for an end-of-text citation in a Works Cited list.

Fill in appropriate pieces of the MLA Interactive Practice Template, with correct punctuation at the end of each section.

Then put the pieces together to create an actual citation and format it in MLA citation style.