In-Text Citations Made SimplePosted In Writing | Posted By Kristy Robins
Writing a researched essay in MLA format with in-text citations (also called parenthetical documentation) often feels intimidating to students who haven’t had much experience in research writing. As students reach middle school and high school, more is expected of them. With so many moving parts, students often struggle with maintaining good writing while also making sure their format and citations are correct. It’s easy for students to get overwhelmed by the complicated process.
Of course, there are many online resources to help students with this process, such as my favorite, the Purdue Online Writing Lab. The problem is that many of the resources contain so much information that students can get overwhelmed trying to find the information they actually need.
When I navigate to the Purdue OWL page for MLA in-text citations, I have to scroll through a long list of more than a dozen possible scenarios. Finding the right information can be a daunting task, but the good news is that, most of the time, students only need to become familiar with two or three types of in-text citations.
I’ve created a list of FAQs regarding in-text citations to make this process a little simpler. I hope it’s helpful!
When an assignment requires in-text citations, what exactly do I have to cite?
Cite quotations and paraphrased information you find in your research. Anything that is not reasonably considered “common knowledge” should be attributed to a source with both in-text citations and a corresponding entry in the Works Cited. For more information on proper paraphrasing techniques, check out this article and accompanying videos on avoiding plagiarism.
What kinds of things are considered “common knowledge,” and therefore, do not have to be cited?
To answer this question, consider the audience. For an academic research paper written in the secondary grades, common knowledge would be facts that are well-known to teenagers and adults. For instance, George Washington was the first president of the United States. Writers who are seeking publication in academic journals can assume their audiences have a higher degree of base knowledge in a particular field. For example, a meteorologist writing a journal article about storm patterns can assume his or her audience would understand the basics of cloud types and atmospheric pressure, and therefore, would not have to cite that type of information.
The research paper requires in-text citations. Does that mean I have to have a citation after every sentence?
Not necessarily. It depends on how the paper is organized. If several sentences use information from the same source, cite the source at the end of that section. If the same source is used for several paragraphs, it is a good idea to cite the source at the end of each paragraph. When using direct quotations, place a citation immediately after the quote.
How do I figure out the format for in-text citations?
While the Purdue OWL site lists more than a dozen scenarios for in-text citations, most students will find that their sources fit into only two or three categories. Use the questions below as a process to figure out how to format your in-text citations:
1. Does the source have an author listed?
If the answer is yes, the student will include the author in the citation.
2. Is the source a print or electronic source?
If the source is a print source (like a book or a physical copy of a magazine), the student will also need to note the page number in the in-text citation. For electronic sources (like articles found online), students are not required to include the page number.
Using the questions above, the student will be able to format most sources. For instance, if a student finds a book by an author, the student would format the in-text citation by writing the author’s last name and including the page number where the information was found (see the example body paragraph below to see what this looks like). In this example, the student has paraphrased the information from a print source with an author. (If the source was electronic, the citation would include only the author’s last name.)
Bringing a new kitten home can be an exciting experience, but it is important to follow some simple procedures to make the process a smooth one. First, the cat owner will want to create a comfortable and calm environment. When the kitten arrives at its new home, the owner should place the carrier in a quiet room, open the carrier door, and let the kitten take the lead. The owner should be prepared to allow the kitten to explore at its own pace. The kitten may remain in the carrier for several minutes or even hours as it works up its courage to venture out into an unknown environment. With time and patience, the kitten will eventually feel comfortable in its new home (Tombesi-Walton 24).
3. What if the source doesn’t list an author?
Don’t let it worry you if the resource doesn’t list an author. Simply cite the article title. If you’re using a newspaper or magazine article, it will be easy to determine the article title (just look at the top of the page). If you’re using a website, be sure that you are citing the page title as the article title. For instance, after doing a quick Google search, I found a page called “Domestic Cat” on the FelineWorlds website. I then used the page or article title in my citation. See the sample paragraph and citation below. Notice that no page number is included because it is an electronic source.
The history of domestic cats starts about 4000 years ago in the Middle East. Ancient Egyptians revered them, and some were even buried with their cats. Today cats are among the most popular pets in the United States. Appreciated for their independence, agility, beauty, and playful tendencies, cats make great pets (“Domestic Cat”).
The information above will help you format most of your citations; however, if you encounter other types of sources, you can consult the Purdue OWL web page on MLA in-text citations to help you.
How do I place and punctuate in-text citations?
In MLA format, in-text citations are placed at the end of the sentence, right before the end punctuation mark. No comma is needed between the author and page number. When citing by article title, include quotation marks around the title of the article.
If you’re looking for a homeschool curriculum that will help your student learn an effective approach to the research process and research paper writing, consider giving Essentials in Writing a try. Our program introduces research in the elementary grades and slowly steps up the rigor as the student progresses to high school. Our incremental approach helps students to build their research writing skills and their confidence in order to prepare them for the challenges of college.