MLA In-Text Citations

In-text citations are brief indicators of the source information you’ve used within the text of your writing.  They usually contain just enough information (author’s last name) to find the fuller citation at the end of the text.

Because the use of in-text citations will be so integral to your writing processes, being able to craft correct citations will save you time during writing and revising.

Below is the standard correct in-text citation style according to MLA guidelines:

“Quotation” (Author’s Last Name Page Number).

Take a moment to carefully consider the placement of the parts and punctuation of this in-text citation. Note that there is no punctuation indicating the end of a sentence inside of the quotation marks—closing punctuation should instead follow the parentheses. There is also no punctuation between the author’s last name and the page number inside of the parentheses.

Sample of text showing an in-text citation with the author's name and page numbers inside parenthesis at the end of the sentence.

Include the right information in the in-text citation. Every time you reference material in your paper, you must tell the reader the name of the author whose information you are citing. You must include a page number that tells the reader where, in the source, they can find this information. The most basic structure for an in-text citation looks like this: (Smith 123).

So, let’s say we have the following quote, which comes from page 100 of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South: “Margaret had never spoken of Helstone since she left it.” Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. Oxford University Press, 1973.

The following examples show incorrect MLA formatting:

“Margaret had never spoken of Helstone since she left it.” (Gaskell 100) Incorrect because the period falls within the quotation marks
“Margaret had never spoken of Helstone since she left it” (Gaskell, 100). Incorrect because of the comma separating the author’s last name and the page number
“Margaret had never spoken of Helstone since she left it” (Elizabeth Gaskell 100). Incorrect because the author’s full name is used instead of just her last name
“Margaret had never spoken of Helstone since she left it” (North and South 100). Incorrect because the title of the work appears, rather than the author’s last name; the title should only be used if no author name is provided

The following example shows correct MLA formatting:

“Margaret had never spoken of Helstone since she left it” (Gaskell 100).

However, there are exceptions to the above citation guideline. Consider the following format of an in-text citation, which is also formed correctly.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s narrator makes it clear that “Margaret had never spoken of Helstone since she left it” (100).

If the author’s name is included before the quotation, you only need to put the page number into the parentheses at the end. 

The same rule about inclusion of the author’s last name applies for paraphrased information, as well, as shown in the following example:

Elizabeth Gaskell’s narrator makes it clear that her protagonist does not speak of her home once she is in Milton (100).

Basic Rule:

Your reader needs to know where the information from the source starts and ends, and from what source the information is taken.

Graphic showing when and how to create MLA In-text citations. If it is your own work, you do not need a citation. Otherwise, you need to look for the author's name (or title if there is no author name), and then the page number(s). Put the author's name and page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence, before the period, like: (Wilson 38).

Here are additional examples, both correct (green checkmark) and incorrect (red X).

Correct: A recent study determined that Himalayan brown bears eat both plants and animals (Rathore and Chauhan 6652). Correct: Rathore and Chauhan determined that Himalayan brown bears eat both plants and animals (6652). Incorrect: Rathore and Chauhan determined that Himalayan brown bears eat both plants and animals (Rathore and Chauhan 6652). — You should not list the author(s) parenthetically if that information is in the sentence itself. Plagiarism: A recent study determined that Himalayan brown bears eat both plants and animals. — The writer did not attribute proprietary information to the people who conducted the study.

In-text citations are often parenthetical, meaning you add information to the end of a sentence in parentheses. But if you include that necessary information in the language of the sentence itself, you should not include the parenthetical citation. This example shows you proper uses of in-text citations.

Watch MLA Style: In-Text Citations (8th Ed., 2016) from Purdue’s Online Writing Lab.