I Cite: Basic In-Text Citations


When writing a research paper, referring to any works or references requires what is called a parenthetical citation –  parenthetical, meaning in parenthesis, and citation, meaning a word or words taken from a piece of writing. Parenthetical citations are also referred to as “in-text” citations, as they are “in the text” of a paper, as opposed to the end (referred to as a Works Cited, Reference, Bibliography or Works Consulted, depending on the style guide you are following and assignment requirements).

MLA has general guidelines for what goes in parenthetical citations:

·         Information in parenthetical citations depends on the type of source you are citing, whether it is in print form, web form, film, DVD, etc.

·         Parenthetical citations must correspond to the Works Cited page (or Reference page in APA). This means that if a work is cited in the text by an author’s name, that author’s name must appear on the Works Cited page.

In MLA, parenthetical citations usually consist of either an author-page citation, or a page number citation.

Signal Phrases

If the author’s name is mentioned in a signal phrase (also referred to as an author or attributive tag), the parenthetical citation will include only the page number:

Ex. 1

Direct Quote: Herring states, “For the first time, I began to understand the courage and absolute vulnerability it took to put words on a page” (2).

Ex. 2

Paraphrase: In her research, Herring learned how high the emotional stakes are for writers (2).

In both examples above, the author, Herring, is given in the text, so the name will not be in the citation.

If the author’s name is NOT mentioned in a signal phrase, the parenthetical citation will include the author’s last name only and page number:

Direct Quote: The author understands it takes “courage and absolute vulnerability . . . to put words on a page” (Herring 2).

Paraphrase: The emotional stakes are high for writers who compose creative texts (Herring 2).

So the rule for in-text citations is, if the author’s name is given in a signal phrase, only give the page number. If it is not given in a signal phrase, the citation must include the last name only, followed by the page number.

What does this parenthetical citation tell us? We know who the author is, and we know on what page of the book we can find this quote. It doesn’t tell us, however, if it came from a print or web source. We assume it is a book, but only because there is a page number, but this isn’t always the case. We would look alphabetically on the Works Cited page, under “H” for Herring, to learn what type of source the research originated from.

Works Cited Entry:

Herring, Laraine. The Writing Warrior: Discovering the Courage to Free Your True Voice. Boston: Shambhala, 2010. Print.

Non-Print Web Sources

Today, web environments are often a respected source of information, and you may find some quality sources in online-only texts, though online sources must be carefully evaluated. Parenthetical citations for online sources can be tricky, but keep in mind you need basically the same information you would for a print source; however, it is rare that online sources will have page numbers. So what do you put in the parenthetical reference if the source has no page number?

·         First, include the author’s last name.


The Purdue OWL is a great online source for students (Jackson).

Works Cited:

Jackson, Tom. “MLA Formatting and Style Guide.” The OWL at Purdue.

17 June 2012. Purdue University Writing Lab. 2 April 2014.


But what if there is no author given?

·         Include the title of the article. If the title is very long, you can shorten it.

Once the boards are cut to specifications, glue sides to roof (“How to Build”).

Works Cited

“How to Build a Better Bird House.” eHow. Demand Media, n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2005.

What should you NOT list in a parenthetical citation if you have no page numbers?

·         Non-existent page numbers!

Never create page numbers from the browser’s print preview. Only give page numbers if the actual numbers are shown on the text. A PDF file, even though you may open it online, most likely has page numbers. Only when a source has numbered paragraphs or sections, use “par.” (or “pars.”) or “sec.” (or “secs.”) in parentheses: (Smith par. 4). Never make up page, paragraph, or section numbers.

The preferred method to cite a source with no page numbers is to include the name of the author, editor, etc., in a signal phrase. Examples below edited from Purdue Owl:

Ex. 1:

No parenthetical citation:

Garcia stated that Fitzcarraldo is “…a beautiful and terrifying critique of obsession and colonialism.”

Works Cited Entry:

Garcia, Elizabeth. “Herzog: a Life.” Online Film Critics Corner. The Film School of New Hampshire, 2 May 2002. Web. 8 Jan. 2009.

Ex. 2:

No parenthetical citation:

In his article “Allston Gothic,” local historian Forman Jackson demonstrates how completely the neighborhood’s gruesome past has been forgotten by its residents.

Works Cited Entry:

Jackson, Forman. “Allston Gothic.” American Historian. 16 Aug. 2002. Web. 4 May 2009.

In both of these examples from web sources, no page numbers existed, so the author is given in a signal phrase, so no parenthetical citation is necessary. The name of the author corresponds with the Works Cited entry. If there is no author, list by the title; the same rule applies that it must correspond with the Works Cited entry.

No Author

If you have no author or page number to list in a parenthetical reference, you can give the title of the article, as shown below. But as stated earlier, the title in a signal phrase is preferred:

Ex. 1

Big foot is believed to reside in the Pacific Northwest and Canada (“Myths and Folklore”).

Ex. 2

Cable television has become more popular than network television (“Trends in Programming”).
This is only the basic formula for parenthetical citations. For more information, visit Purdue Owl Online Writing Lab at


or Bedford St. Martin’s at










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