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Citation Help for MLA, 9th Edition: Parenthetical Documentation


It sounds painful, but it doesn’t have to be!  Basically parenthetical documentation or in-text citations means that you are telling the reader where you got any and all information that did not come from inside your own head.  This is more obvious when you are directly quoting from a source, but it is also needed when you have summarized or paraphrased from a source and even if you got an idea from somewhere else. 

So how do you do it?  As the names imply, you are going to put the information about the source in parentheses in the text of your paper as opposed to a footnote where the source information is at the bottom of the page or an endnote where it goes at the end of your paper.  There are slight differences depending on which style you are using – APA or MLA. 

Basically you only need to list the author’s last name either in the text of the paper or in parentheses at the end of the sentence and the page number(s) where you got your information. Please see the examples below for options on how this could work in your writing. Also refer to your professor and how the discipline for which you are writing uses parenthetical notation as it can differ.

Special note for literary studies students: 

If it is clear from your paragraph or sentence to which of your works cited you are referring, then you only need the page number in parentheses.  This is common for scholarship in literary studies. 
If readers will not be able to tell to which of your works cited you are referring, then you need the author's last name and page number in parentheses.  This is rare in literary studies.

Take home message: In order to avoid plagiarism, it is extremely important that you cite all words and ideas that you got from somewhere else.

Please see the following handbook on reserve in the Library for more information: MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association, 2021.

Parenthetical Notation

Variation Example
Quote with author's name in text Smith stated, "This is true" (119).
Paraphrase with author's name in text Smith stated that this is all true (119).
Quote spanning more than one page with author's name in parentheses "This is true" (Smith 119-20).

Paraphrase with author's name in parentheses from several spots in a source

This is seen as being true (Smith 119-20, 123).

No page numbers - cite the author name only or the first word or words from the title "This is true" (Smith).
"This is true" ("Facts on File").
More than work - separate with a semi-colon We all agree (Smith 119; Lee 146).

Long Quotations

If your quotation is longer than four lines, it is considered a long quotation or a block quotation.

  • Place a colon at the end of the line before the quote starts. Smith states:
  • Indent the quote 1/2 inch or five spaces from the left.
  • Do not put quotation marks around the quote.
  • Place the period at the end of the quote before the parentheses for your parenthetical notation  ....the end. (119)

Number of Authors

Number of Authors or Editors Format of Parenthetical Notation
One (Smith 119)
Two - include "and" in between the names (Smith and Wilson 119)
Three or more - use Latin phrase "and others" (Smith et al. 119)

No Known Author

When there is no author given, use the first one, two, or three words from the title of the work, but don't include the initial articles (A, An, or The).

If the title is in Italics in the Works Cited list, italicize it in your parenthetical notation - (Long Story 44)

If the title is in quotation marks in the Works Cited list, keep the quotation marks - ("Short Story" 44)