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MLA Parenthetical In-Text Documentation Guidelines

Whenever students use information from sources other than their own experience, they must provide accurate and complete documentation to give credit to those sources. Because papers written for academic courses are scholarly papers, they must adhere to all the conventions of scholarship, including formal attribution of borrowed information. Failure to provide this credit is plagiarism, which is both discourteous and dishonest. For greater detail consider visiting the  MLA Home page.

Footnotes and Endnotes For many years the conventions of scholarship required documentation notesfootnotes or endnotesas well as a bibliography to provide full attribution of outside sources. Now, however, some academic disciplines either permit or require parenthetical in-text documentation as an alternative to documentation notes. Always consult your professor for the preferred documentation for each assignment. Still used in Chicago Style Manual and Turabian.

Parenthetical In-Text Documentation The Modern Language Association (MLA) uses a system of parenthetical in-text documentation that eliminates the need for documentation notes at the same time that it offers full scholarly credit to sources. If your teacher permits you to use this system (called the MLA system or method), you may find it easier than documentation notes. Other similar styles are the American Psychological Association (APA) and Council of Biology Editors (CBE) styles.

Guidelines If you follow these guidelines for every reference to sources other than your own experience or observation, your paper will be properly documented. Even with commonly known facts in a field, you are expected to document those facts which you would not have known had you not looked it up. Keep in mind that readers must always be able to tell where citations begin and end as well as how to find the full reference in the Works Cited.
1. Always signal the beginning and end of every use of a source, including paraphrases and summaries as well as direct quotations. Readers will, as a result, be able to distinguish these source references from your own commentary, synthesis, analysis, and ideas. It is insufficient to place a name and page at the end of the citation. Instead, clearly indicate where each citation begins (usually with the name of the person or work being cited see examples).

2. Include in each reference the name of the authority from which the information was taken. Give the full name for the first text reference and the last name alone for subsequent text references; use the last name alone within parentheses. Usually, this attribution appears in the text rather than in the parenthetical reference. If more than one author or editor should be attributed, include all names. When citing more than three names, use the abbreviation et al. for all but the first (see example). As a result, you will have credited (attributed) the material properly, a courtesy as well as a convention of scholarship.

3. Include in your reference sufficient information for readers to locate the item on your bibliography page whatever information is first in the listing there, usually the last name of the first author or the title of the work when no author is listed. If this information is in parentheses in your text, use last names only or a short form of the title, properly punctuated. Information already in the text should be excluded from the parenthetical reference. NOTE: The in-text citation must clearly repeat the first word of the listing on the bibliography page, except for articles.

4. Include in parentheses the exact page number or page numbers on which the reference material can be found in the book or article. This parenthetical reference usually appears at the end of the entire citation but sometimes elsewhere for clarity. If no pages are given, mentally number the pages (for example, unnumbered newsletters and pamphlets). If no pagination is available, use a date or the abbreviation n.p. for "no page given." This will be the case for most Internet sources. For most sources without pages, select an appropriate substitute for the page, for example, the date of the interview, the date of copyright or production, or the microfiche number, if you need to provide a signal of the end of the citation. Be sure that the end of the citation is clear.

5. Have a complete bibliography in the correct format at the end of your paper. Consult a current style guide for complete bibliography formats and style.

Examples Paraphrases, Summaries, and Short Quotations NOTE that paraphrases and summaries must be documented as rigorously as quotations. Periods come after the parenthetical documentation for short passages within paragraphs. The interrelation between molecular biology and plant life has gained the attention of scientists and public officials concerned about the environment. As a result, support for this academic discipline and its research projects has been increasing over the past several years. According to William Smith, molecular biology holds the key to understanding the origins of plant life (72). Other research scientists have found similar importance in their study of microbes, advising conservation of resources in very specific ways. For example, microbiologist Sara Williams claims that "forces beyond the control of conservationist groups must determine the use of undeveloped land" (134). Smith and Williams are two among several dozen scientists who have formed an organization called Microbes for the Future of Planet Earth, dedicated to raising funds for continued research. Because this field of research has become so important for the environment, the federal government should increase its support for microbiological studies.

Long Quotations When you include long quotations (more than four typed lines), you must use a colon after the formal introduction, indent the quotation ten spaces from the left margin, omit the quotation marks, and place the parenthetical page citation after the period. Like everything else in an MLA-style paper, the long quotation is double-spaced.

      Many people consider the comma to be at best a minor annoyance and at worst an interference. However, the comma has many important functions for communication. In his pioneering pamphlet on the influence of the comma on modern thought processes, Harold Wise says: The comma utilizes left brain functions as a way of providing clear meanings for data in the human consciousness. In many social and business situations, such information is vital to an individual's sense of self-esteem. (543)
Works Without Authors Sometimes you do not know the name of the author of a source, for example, an anonymous article from a newspaper. In such cases, use a shortened form of the first element from your bibliography listing either in your text or in your parenthetical citation. For periodicals, you must include a shortened form of the article's title or headline.

An article in the New York Times advocates the use of physical force to maintain discipline in America's elementary schools ("School Discipline" B17). Disputing the New York Times suggestion that force be used to control elementary school students, Parents Magazine endorses in-school suspension rather than corporal punishment ("Suspensions" 23-34). Parents maintains, "Children suffer from violence in all the media; they shouldn't have to endure it at school" ("Suspensions" 25).

More Than One Work by the Same Author If your paper uses more than one work by the same author, you must provide sufficient information to make that distinction, usually the title or a shortened form of the title, correctly punctuated..

Jane Jones advocates the teaching of molecular biology to children as early as age ten (Early Instruction229-31); however, she warns, "Teachers of sophisticated scientific subjects must be sensitive to the short attention spans of young students" (Teaching Science 15).

Works Cited At the end of your paper, you must provide a bibliography to list all the sources mentioned within your paper. One reason to identify the sources within your paper is to provide a reference for readers to find full information about your parenthetical in-text citations. Unless otherwise instructed, head your bibliography page Works Cited and present an alphabetized, double-spaced list of sources in standard MLA form. Consult a current reference manual to ensure that you are using the forms correctly. Some models of typical entries are presented here.

Reprint of article or book originally published elsewhere, republished in a multivolume workuse the additional information "excerpted and reprinted in" for excerpts from reference works such as Contemporary Literary Criticism:

Gordon, Kelly. "Rethinking the Serial Comma." College English 35.2 (Summer 1987): 97-124. Punctuation and the Successful Small Business. Ed. Jordan P. McElroy. Chicago: New Lake P, 1989. 237-55.

O'Leary, Chris. Faulkner's Favorite Females: A Study of the Women in the Major Novels. New York: Knopf, 1992. Excerpted and reprinted in Vol. 27 of Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Pat Snopes. Detroit: Gale, 1991. 187-99.

Book with one author, no editor, first edition:

Jones, Jane. Early Instruction. New York: Random House, 1973.

Book by same author as in previous entryalphabetized by the title of the work, 3rd editionnote the use of three hyphens instead of repeating the name:

---. Teaching Science in Elementary School. 3rd ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1976.

Chapter within an edited collection or anthology of separate works by various authorsuse et al. with more than three authors or editorsnote the page numbers of the chapter:

Overton, Eleanor, et al. "Stalking the Suspended Hyphen." Punctuation Problems for the Modern Researcher. Ed. Harriett Witherspoon. Dallas: U of Texas P, 1989. 412-473.

Unsigned newspaper articlealphabetize by title (ignore a, an, the):

"School Discipline." New York Times 12 Jan. 1981: B17.

Article in a journalnote the volume number in Arabic numerals (if an issue number is included, use a period between the numbers: 44.2) and the date in parentheses:

Smith, William. "Types of Errors in Student Essays." Journal of Student Writing 44 (Spring 1972): 17-25.

Unsigned article in a magazinenote the absence of a volume number, the date not in parentheses, and the simplified form for pages that skip around in the issue:

"Suspensions at School." Parents Magazine February 1981: 21+.

Signed magazine articlenote the absence of a volume number, the date not in parentheses:

Williams, Sara. "An Incident to Remember." Memory Magazine 15 July 1981: 124-37.

For other formats and further information, consult a current text or style guide or visit the Writing Center.  Or go to MLA Home page

Last revision: August 4, 2003