Disclaimer: With few exceptions, all of the examples of quotation here are entirely fictitious.
While other forms of citation are based on footnoting passages, MLA internal citation simply uses parentheses to indicate textual information when quoting or paraphrasing sources.
The most common way that MLA parenthetical citation is taught to students is that a quotation or paraphrase of a passage from a source should be marked by recording the author of that source’s last name in parentheses followed by the page number from which the quotation or paraphrase originally appeared. In other words you might follow a quotation from Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” with a parenthetical citation like this: (Jefferson 24).
While the above example is an acceptable form of MLA internal citation, its usage is more an exception than the rule. Most MLA internal citation is simply marked by the page number from which the quotation or paraphrase came—i.e. (24) because marking a text appropriately with citation information is usually done in the sentence leading up to the parenthetical citation. In other words, a better example of a proper internal citation of Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” might be:
In Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence,” Jefferson claims that we should recognize every citizens’ rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (24).
In the above example it becomes unnecessary to include Jefferson’s name in the parenthetical citation because it is very clear in the sentence leading up to the citation that Jefferson is the source being referred to.
There are three important pieces of information that all proper MLA internal citations should include (or imply) in the sentence leading up to a quotation or paraphrase:
· The author of the writing that you are quoting or paraphrasing.
· The name of the source that you are quoting or paraphrasing. This might be the name of a magazine or journal article or the title of a book, film, web page, etc. that you are quoting (whatever is appropriate).
· Enough context for the quotation or paraphrase to make sense.
All three requirements are met in the above example.
On first reference to a source all of this information is necessary to make a citation clear. Additionally, it should be noted that the author’s full name as it appears in the text should be given on the first reference to a work. So, for example these statements might work:
In Elizabth T. Wilson’s essay "The Death of Dogs," Wilson discusses the death of her dog, Rover, saying, "he whimpered, stumbled, whimpered, stumbled, and collapsed at my feet" (19).
According to “Drug Usage Among Police Officers” from the FBI's website, "9 out of 10 police officers have smoked marijuana."
Note that the FBI's website example allows coverage of author and source in a different manner. Many web sites lack specific authorship and instead are simply credited to the organization responsible for the source—a corporate author. The “author” of this article is the FBI and the source is their website, so combining the two makes sense. Also note, that no page number is needed to follow this citation. It is a web site and web sites typically do not include pagination. Similarly, a quotation directly from a film (not its script would not include a page number.
Finally, note that while the first quotation required a clear context--we needed to know that Wilsonl was talking about her dog for the quotation to make sense--the second did not require such a clear context because the statement makes sense on its own.
As noted earlier, the three pieces of information required in any quotation must be included in the sentence leading to a quotation or at least imply that information. Thus, on any reference following the first one it is usually only necessary to include:
· The author (or an appropriate pronoun indicating the author) of the additional quotation or paraphrase’s last name. Please note that in MLA citation style, we do not include titles with last names. Do not include Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms, Dr., etc. The last name is sufficient.
· Any context necessary for the quote to make sense.
Examples of appropriate citation of quotations to a text that has already been quoted once might include:
Wilson goes on to describe her grieving process: "I cried and cried and cried and cried... until I stopped" (21). In another essay ,"The Death of My Kitty," she decribes the death of her cat, "she just fell down dead. Boom! Just like that!" (11).
The FBI's web site also refers to these officers as "reefer monkeys."
Please note that in the first example, while it was simply necessary to refer to Wilson as “she” in the second sentence (if the gender of the author of an article is unclear—for example, if Wilson published under the name E. T. Wilson, rather than Elizabeth T. Wilson—a phrase the “the author describes” would have worked just as well) , since it was clear that the same author was “speaking.” It was necessary to add the full title of another article in the second sentence’s citation, since it is not a quotation from Wilson’s original source. In other words, use common sense when “telling the story” of where your research materials have come from.
Sometimes an author will quote someone else, and you'll want to quote their quotation. For example, perhaps in a text by Martin Luther King, you find something like this:
Adolph Hitler was clearly an idiot. In fact Hitler said this quite plainly in Mein Kampf, stating that "I am an idiot" (32).
Now, what you may be interested in quoting here is not all of King's discussion but what King claims that Hitler said. So, in your essay, your internal citation might look something like this:
In Martin Luther King's essay "What I Think of Hitler," King quotes Adolph Hitler, who said of himself, "I am an idiot" (91).
Note that the page number is different. That is because Hitler is quoted on page 91 of King's essay "What I Think of Hitler," and that is the essay that you read and that you are citing, not Mein Kampf. The quote from Mein Kampf is from page 32 of that book but that doesn't matter in your citation because the source that you are looking at is King's essay.
Thus on your Works Cited page, you will cite King, not Hitler:
King, Martin Luther. "What I Think of Hitler." Selected Essays of Martin Luther King. Ed. Jim Y. Brown. New York: Random House, 1984. 77-98.
For further examples, check your library. Find articles written in MLA and see how those articles cite their sources. You will largely find articles written in MLA in academic journals—found in the periodicals section of university libraries—that are about literature and language (for example, journals like PMLA, American Literature, or Shakespeare Studies).
You may wonder why this complicated bit of attribution is necessary for all of these sources, when simply placing an author’s name and page numbers in parentheses is usually considered to be an “acceptable” form of citation.
The simple answer is that explaining outright to your audience where your source material comes from makes your research clearer and more understandable.
But, perhaps the most important reason for students to understand this process, is that it will help you to clearly differentiate in your research papers what you have to say about your topic and what the researchers that you are examining have to say about the topic. Doing so, both better establishes your own voice in an essay, but it also helps in avoiding potential plagiarism problems.
Consider the following two paragraphs:
Clearly, drug use in the police force has risen over the years in alarming proportions. It is established that in 1989, "2 out of 10 police officers had smoked marijuana during their tenure as officers" (Stephens, 16), while, in 2004 “9 out of 10 police officers have smoked marijuana.” The causes of this problem are unclear. Is it a result of poor ethical training on the part of police academies or a result of a more general shift in American culture regarding the legality or morality of drug use in general (Stephens, 20)? I plan to consider which of these reasons is the more likely cause.
As opposed to this one:
Clearly, drug use in the police force has risen over the years in alarming proportions. In a study entitled “Marijuana Usage by Ameican Police Officials” by Douglas Stephens, Stephens found that in 1989, "2 out of 10 police officers had smoked marijuana during their tenure as officers" (16), while, in 2004, a study published on the FBI’s web site “Drug Usage Among Police Officers,” found that “9 out of 10 police officers have smoked marijuana.” Neither essay suggests what the cause of these problems might be. Is it a result of poor ethical training on the part of police academies or, as Stephens predicted that it might become, a result of a more general shift in American culture regarding the legality or morality of drug use in general (20)? I plan to consider which of these reasons is the more likely cause.
It should be evident that the ideas of the author of the second essay are more clearly differentiated from those of his two sources, Stephens and the FBI web site, then the the first author’s.
Even in the first two sentences of the first essay there is a lack of clarity about whether or not the observation that “drug use in the police force has risen over the years in alarming proportions” is a conclusion drawn by the author or if that fact were established in one of the essays that he cites in the following paragraph. It is inherently clear, though, that this is the conclusion of the essayist in the second because Stephens and the FBI’s information is neatly set apart from those observations by simply adding them as subjects in the the second sentence.
Likewise, it is entirely unclear how the two theses posited in the fourth sentence are related to Stephens with the paraphrase of his essay marked simply by (Stephens, 20). However, in that same sentence in the second essay, it is clear that Stephens must have suggested a reason why drug usage might rise in the next few years and another thesis is being posited by the author.
The whole purpose of this paragraph has become exceedingly more clear thanks to that proper citation, as it is clear that the author plans to test his own thesis against Stephens in the essay that is to follow.