Step 9: MLA Style
using ideas or phrases from other writers in your own essay,
you must correctly cite in your text exactly where the ideas
or phrases come from. Correctly identifying these ideas and
phrases is called "in-text citation," and the page
at the end of your essay listing the sources you used is called
a "Works Cited" page.
Different disciplines follow
different style guides for in-text citation and Works Cited
pages, but in most writing courses, because they fall under
the humanities discipline, MLA (Modern Language Association)
Style is used. Although there are many details and rules about
incorporating research into your essay, the following five basic
principles will help you correctly ingetrate sources in your
1. Make sure all authors
cited in the body of your essay also appear on the Works Cited
If you quote Jones, Smith, and Johnson in your
essay, these three authors should appear with full documentation
on the Works Cited pagel. Don't forget them. Likewise, all the
authors or sources listed in the Works Cited page should appear
in the body of your essay. There should be no sources listed
on the Works Cited page that were not cited in your actual essay.
2. Only quote catchy
or memorable phrases or sentences.
the source you're quoting is unremarkable and dry in its expression
or opinion, don't bring that unremarkable, dry text into your
own writing as well. Paraphrase this material instead, and follow
up your paraphrase with the author's name in parentheses (or
the article title, if there is no author). Only quote catchy,
memorable, quotable phrases, and keep the quotations short --
one or two lines usually. In general you want to quote sparingly
and preserve your own voice.
3. Don't rely too much on
the same source.
If you have four or five quotes from the same
author, your reader will eventually just desire to read that
author instead. Too much quoting also compromises your own voice
and sense of authority about the issue. Rather than limiting
your research to one or two authors, draw upon a wide variety
of sources, and quote only snippets from each. Having variety
will ensure that you are well read in the subject and that you've
examined the issue from multiple perspectives.
4. Follow up your quotations
with commentary, interpretation, or analysis.
Avoid just dropping in the quotation and then
immediately moving on, assuming the reader fully understands
the meaning, purpose, and application of the quotation just
presented. You almost always should comment on the quotation
in some way, even if your commentary is a simple reexplanation
of what the quotation means ("In other words . . .").
Remember that you're taking the quotation from an article you've
read, but the reader only gets a glimpse of that whole article
and lacks the context that you have, so it might be more difficult
for the reader to understand it. Because the essay is supposed
to represent your ideas, not just those of another, you
must find some way to comment or analyze what you summarize
5. Use signal phrases
to introduce your quotations.
A signal phrase is a clause
before the quotation that identifies the author (e.g., "Jones
says," or "According to Jones . . ."). Signal
phrases are essential to create a bridge between your own voice
and that of another you are incorporating into your essay. If
you identify the author in the signal phrase, don't also identify
author in parentheses following the quotation. Once is enough.
Also, don't put the article
title in the signal phrase unless you want to draw particular
attention it. Including the article title in your signal phrase
usually results in a long, clunky pre-quote phrase that
takes the focus off the quotation.
- Example of a clunky pre-quote
According to the article "Censorship
in American High School Reading Classes," Twain's
Huckleberry Finn has been "sacrificed to the gods of
political correctness, without any attention to its literary
merits." (Avoid putting the article title in the
- Better: According to
the American Quarterly Review, Twain's Huckleberry
Finn has been "sacrificed to the gods of political
correctness, without any attention to its literary merits."
- Even Better: According
to Edmund Wilson, "Twain rewrote the American setting
through his character Huck Finn."
- Example of redundancy: Mark
Twain says the secret to success is "making your vocation
your vacation" (Twain.)
(We don't need Twain identified twice!)
in": Suppose you're using a quotation that appears
inside an article written by someone other than the one saying
the quotation. In other words, if you're using, say, Judge William's
quotation that appears within Mary Jones' article, you cite
it by writing "qtd. in" following the quote. If so,
write "qtd. in Jones," or whomever.
- Example: According to Judge Williams, "just law is
the foundation of a just society" (qtd. in Jones).
If Jones is just paraphrasing Williams, then you
would omit the "qtd. in" and just write (Jones).
Hacker's sample research essay and identify as many instances
as you can where the above five principles are used.