Using MLA to Cite Sources Inside Your Paper
There are two ways to indicate that you are using an outside source in an essay. The first is the
use of tag lines or signal phrases. These are recommended to use to give credibility to your
source, but not always required. However, if you are paraphrasing or summarizing the source
using more than one sentence, you are required to use a tag line or signal phrase to indicate where
the source use begins.
The second way to indicate that you are using an outside source is to use an in-text citation.
These are required to use for every source referred to in your paper, whether word for word
(direct quotes) or in your own words (paraphrasing or summarizing), even if you just take a
general idea from a source. If you do not use a tag line or in-text citation when required, your
paper will contain plagiarism.
1) Tag Lines or Signal Phrases
A. The main role of a tag line is to give credibility to your source.
B. Tag Lines can use any piece of information from the Works Cited page to make
your source sound credible
a. Don’t include information that is not impressive. For example, the date of
publication is usually not relevant or the name of an author that is unknown.
b. Do research to find out an author’s credentials to include as part of your tag
line. For example, “James Hoover, an associate professor at Stanford who
does research in online networking, claims that….”
c. Consider if the name of the journal is impressive, and/or do some research to
find out more about it. For example, “According to an article in The Lancet,
which is the world's leading general medical journal and specialty journals in
Oncology, Neurology and Infectious Diseases, ….”
d. The main point is to make your source sound impressive!
C. All information in a tag line should be formatted the same way it is in the Works
Cited page. For example, if you use the journal name, it should be in italics, just as it
is in the Works Cited page. If you use the title of the article, it should be in quotation
marks, just as it is in the Works Cited page.
D. Remember, you MUST use a Tag Line when a paraphrase or summary is longer
than one sentence.
a. For example: “An article in Information Today shows that teens tend to
develop motor skills faster when playing video games. Teens who play
video games are 25% better at responding to physical stimuli” (“Video” 21).
E. Try to vary your use of types of signal phrases as well as their placement.
Here are some verbs often used in signal phrases:
acknowledges comments admits reasons illustrates
insists argues asserts notes observes
claims believes points out suggests says
writes agrees declares reports thinks
These are not necessarily interchangeable so make sure that you use a context appropriate verb.
To insist, for example, is not the same as to suggest, or admit, or observe. Choose your verb
2) In-Text Citations
A) You must use some version of an in-text citation after EVERY quote, paraphrase or
summary! See rules and exceptions in section E.a.-c.
B) An in-text citation consists of the first major word of the MLA citation plus page
a. There is NO comma, and it must be in (parentheses).
b. It is considered part of the preceding sentence, so the period comes after the
c. “The”, “A”, and “An” do not count as formal words.
d. You must keep the format of the first word of the MLA entry (if the
word is in quotation marks or italics, for example).
e. It does not matter if there are multiple authors or if there is no author name,
MLA only uses the first major word of the citation.
Example: “This is a direct quote” (Smith 24).
Smith, John. “Title.” Journal. Publisher. 23 Oct. 2010. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.
Example: This is a paraphrase (“Best” 2).
“The Best Source Ever.” New York Times. 3 Apr. 2009. Web. 12 Nov. 2011.
C) Some exceptions to the rule:
a. Two works by same author or authors with the same last name : include
the first (formatted) major word of the title also (but not the words
“a/an/the”). (Landis “First” 24).
b. Two works that start with the same word: Use as many words as you can
until there is a difference:
(“Petroleum Exports on the Rise” 5).
(“Petroleum Exports on the Decline” 1).
c. Works that you translated:
(Landis, my trans. 44).
D) About the page numbers:
a. if using a web source that does not have page numbers, count the
paragraphs, and use the paragraph number with the word “par.”
Example: (Smith par. 3).
b. If there are no paragraphs in the web source, you may omit the number
c. If referring to multiple, consecutive pages or paragraphs, those numbers may
Example: (Smith 1-3). (Smith par. 10-12).
d. If referring to multiple, non-consecutive pages or paragraphs, separate
numbers with commas.
Example: (Smith 1, 3). (Smith par. 1, 3).
E) Rules about when to use an in-text citation:
a. If the first word of the MLA entry was explicitly mentioned in the most
directly preceding tag line, you may use the page or paragraph number only
in the parentheses. However, if there is no page or paragraph number
available, no end citation is necessary (this is rare).
b. Place the in-text citation at the end of a paraphrase (but if the paraphrase is
longer than one sentence, you must use a tag line at the beginning).
However, if a direct quote is used INSIDE the paraphrase, you must have an
in-text citation BOTH directly after the quote and at the end of the
c. If citing from the same source throughout one paragraph, you may just use
page or paragraph numbers after the first in-text citation. If there is no page
number, you must use a full in-text citation. However, it must be clear what
is YOUR argument and what comes from the source. Also, this rule
becomes invalid if you introduce a second source.
d. Indirect quotes (when you are quoting something that has been quoted in
your source by the author, but not originally written by that author):
i. use “qtd. in” before the regular in-text citation
For example: The New York Times article mentions President
Obama’s new initiative, where he declares “Community colleges are
the future of this country” (qtd. in Smith par. 2).
In this case, Smith wrote the article, but quotes Obama.
ii. You should try to use the tag line or signal phrase to indicate that
this is an indirect quote also.
e. Block quotes. If the quoted material is longer than four lines of text in your
document, you must “block the quote”. Here are the rules for doing so:
i. Indent entire quote as a block (use tab key)
ii. Do not use quotation marks
iii. Use appropriate in-text citation at the end of the quote. However,
this is the only time where the period comes before the in-text
iv. Introduce the quote with a tag line. However, any of your own text
should not be blocked, but included in the line above the block.
Your own text after the blocked quote should start flush left, and not
be tabbed like a new paragraph.
3) General Rules for Using Sources:
A. There are three ways to incorporate an outside source in your text:
a. Direct Quote—copying the source word for word; using quotation marks
b. Paraphrase—putting a small amount of the source into your own words (1-2
sentences 1-2 sentences)
c. Summary—putting the main point of the whole source in your own words
(whole article 1-2 sentences)
B. ANY materials, whether it be specific words or just ideas, taken from an outside source
MUST be cited correctly, or it is considered plagiarism. No more than three words in a
row can be taken from a source unless properly quoted, or it is plagiarism.
C. If the material that you are quoting or paraphrasing can be found in 4 or more sources, it
is considered common knowledge and does not need a citation. However, you should put
one anyway to 1) make your claim more convincing and 2) avoid plagiarism.
D. A quote or a paraphrase should be integrated into your OWN sentence and be used to
support your OWN argument. Don’t just drop a quote into a paragraph and expect the
reader to interpret its relevance. Also, do NOT end a paragraph with a quote. Always
explain what the relevance of the quote is to your own argument.
E. You should decide if the material is more convincing as a quote or
a paraphrase. Remember, your main goal is to CONVINCE the reader that what you are
saying is reasonable.
F. You may cut parts or beginning/ends of quotes by using ellipses (…).
a. Example: According to the New York Times, "the new initiative has vastly great
resources that ..... will eventually lead to success" (Smith 23).
b. Be careful not to take out material essential to understanding the passage you are
c. Be sure that whatever remains after you’ve inserted an ellipsis is grammatically
G. If you change any part of the quote to make it fit into your own sentence (either with
capitalization, punctuation, or grammatically), use brackets around the changes to
indicate that you have changed the original.
a. Example: Original: “This is very good pizza.”
Quoted: The New York Times article asserts that “[t]his is very good pizza”
b. This does not apply to end punctuation.