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MLA Style Guide: In-text or Parenthetical References

Why Should I Use a Parenthetical Reference?

In order to avoid plagiarism, all information which you gather from someone else’s research or knowledge needs to be both cited in a Works Cited page as well as through in-text citations. Parenthetical or in-text citations are inserted directly into an essay using parentheses. In-text citations must be used to give credit to the original author for paraphrases, summaries, as well as direct quotes. Generally, they are placed at the end of a sentence. 

What's the point?

Parenthetical or “in-text” citations:  

  • allows your reader to know which source each idea/fact came from
  • gives you credibility as a writer
  • protects you from plagiarism
  • points your reader to the proper entry in your Works Cited.

When Should I Use a Parenthetical Reference?

  • When you use an original idea from one of your sources, whether you quote, summarize or paraphrase it.
  • When you use factual information that is not common knowledge (cite to be safe).
  • When you use a date or fact.

What Does a Parenthetical Reference Look Like?

A parenthetical reference comes after the direct quote, paraphrase or summary.  Notice that the period, indicating the end of the sentence, is after the last parenthesis. This is because the parenthetical reference is actually part of the sentence.  

"It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends" (Rowling 306).


Works Cited

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Scholastic,

Parenthetical Reference PowerPoint

Need help in how to use parenthetical or in-text citations?  Remind yourself by looking through this PowerPoint presentation.

When Should I Cite?

When to Cite:

  • Quoting directly from a source
  • Using an original idea from one of your sources, whether you decide to quote, summarize or  paraphrase it
  • Using factual information that is not common knowledge (cite to be safe).
  • Using a date or fact that might be challenged.

There is no need to cite when:

  • You have created knowledge and are writing about YOUR OWN analysis, experiences, observations, or reactions
  • You are reporting YOUR OWN original research, for example, from a science experiment, etc.
  • You are using common knowledge


  • Don’t use diagrams, music, code, photos, or other images without citing the source both parenthetically and within a works cited document.
  • Don’t take a block of text and change only a few key words and think you are paraphrasing. You’re not.  You're plagiarizing. (Even if you cite it).

Parenthetical References or In-Text Citations

What is a parenthetical reference?
Researchers use parenthetical references, or in-text citations, to show which ideas come from which sources. Parenthetical references link directly to your Works Cited.  They point the reader to the correct entry in your Works Cited document.  Use them after a direct quote, paraphrase, or summary.  Generally, they are placed at the end of a sentence.

When should I use a parenthetical reference?

  • When you quote directly from a source
  • When you use an original idea from one of your sources, whether you decide to quote, summarize or  paraphrase it
  • When you use factual information that is not common knowledge (cite to be safe).
  • When you use a date or fact that might be disputed

Easy Bib has an excellent publication that describes how to cite in-text.  NoodleTools will create your in-text citations for you, and the OWL at Purdue website has a good guide: MLA In-Text Citations.   See the box at the right for an example of what a parenthetical reference looks like.

General Guidelines

In-text citations or parenthetical references must match the entry on your Works Cited page. Whatever word or phrase you provide in your Works Cited entry must also be the first word or phrase in your parenthetical reference.  Remember to include a page number if you are using a print source.

You have two choices as to how you credit an author in the body of your essay.

1.     The author's name may be introduced in the beginning of the quotation or paraphrase, but the page number(s) should always appear in parentheses at the end of the sentence, not within the text of your sentence.  Notice that the period follows the parenthesis because the in-text citation is considered part of the sentence.

EXAMPLE: As McDonald-Gibson, journalist and author, noted, “It was only when there was nothing else left—when there was no income, education, shelter, food, or safety—that people put themselves and their families in a boat and took that last gamble" (3).

The author's name and page number may be included in parentheses following the quotation or paraphrase.

EXAMPLE:  Those who can no longer earn a living and cannot provide food, shelter, safety, or education for their children, find themselves having to make the difficult choice to leave the familiar and set out in a boat to travel to a new country where they hope they will have better opportunities (McDonald-Gibson 3).

If readers want more information about this source, they can turn to the Works Cited page and under the name McDonald-Gibson, your reader would find the following information: 

Works Cited

McDonald-Gibson, Charlotte. Cast Away: True Stories of Survival from Europe’s Refugee Crisis. New Press, 2016..

Exceptions to the Rules: Double punctuation with In-text citations

If a quotation ends with a question mark or exclamation point, leave the original punctuation inside the quotation mark but put a period at the end of the parenthetical reference.

EXAMPLE: “Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?” (Whitman 26).

In-text Citations for Sources with No Author

When there is no author, use a shortened title instead of the author’s name. Place the title in quotation marks if it's a short work (such as an article) or italicize it if it's a longer work (e.g. plays, books, television shows, entire Web sites) and provide a page number if available.

EXAMPLE: Why should people consider becoming vegetarians? Perhaps they want to do what they can to help the environment and save valuable resources, like water. “It takes 25 gallons of water to grow one serving of rice, 63 gallons of water to produce one egg, and 625 gallons of water to make one quarter-pound hamburger. It takes up to 100 times more water to produce one pound of beef than one pound of wheat” (“Wet”).

Works Cited

"Wet” Your Appetite!" SF Environment,

Citing a Work by Multiple Authors

For sources with two authors, list the last names of both authors in the parenthetical citation. 

For sources with more than two authors, only list the first author’s last name followed by et. al., just as you would in the Works Cited entry.

             EXAMPLE of a paraphrase:

Nickerson et. al. explain that the influence of peer dynamics may be one reason why bystanders rarely choose to step up and stop bullying (372).

EXAMPLE of a direct quotation:

In bullying situations, “peers play a potential role in exacerbating or abating the bullying. Bystanders witness more than 80% of bullying episodes but intervene less than 20% of the time” (Nickerson et. al. 372).