Documenting MLA Within the Text

  • The MLA’s in-text citations are made with a combination of signal phrases and parenthetical references. Citations in parentheses should be concise yet complete enough so that readers can find the source on your Works Cited page at the end of the paper.

    Signal Phrase

    Use a signal phrase to lead into the quotation or borrowed information. Then use a parenthetical citation directly after the quotation or borrowed information.

    Author named in a signal phrase

    You can use the author’s name in a signal phrase. This allows you to:

    • Prepare readers for a change of voice
    • Keep the parenthetical citation brief


    Flora Davis reports that a chimp at the Yerkes Primate Research Center “has combined words into new sentences that she was never taught” (67).

    Note the signal phrase—Flora Davis reports that—and the parenthetical citation containing the page number. And note that the period goes after the parenthetical citation.

    Author Not Named in a Signal Phrase

    If you choose not to put the author’s name in the signal phrase, or if you don’t use a signal phrase, then the author’s last name must appear in parentheses along with the page number.


    Although the baby chimp lived only a few hours, Washoe signed to it before it died. (Davis 42).

    Note that you must cite the source here because you are using a fact from Davis’ book.

    Sometimes the idea or information you are borrowing represents the entire theory or perspective of your source; in other words, it’s not confined to specific pages. In that case, the page number can be omitted from the parenthetical citation.

    An Indirect Source

    When a writer’s or speaker’s quoted words appears in a source written by someone else, begin the citation with the phrase “qtd. in”.


    “We only used seven signs in his presence,” says Fouts. “All of his signs were learned from the other chimps” (qtd. in Toner 24).

    This tells the reader that you got the Fouts quote from page 24 of Toner.

    Quotation Four Lines or Longer

    Long quotations are block indented ten spaces, quotation marks are omitted, and no period is used after the citation.


    Desmond describes how Washoe tried signing to the other apes when the Gardners returned her to an ape colony in Oklahoma:

    One particularly memorable day, a snake spread terror through the castaways on the ape island, and all but one fled in panic. This male sat absorbed, staring intently at the serpent. Then Washoe was seen running over signing to him “come, hurry up.” (42)

    Altering a Quote

    When using a direct quote in which you insert a word of your own, place square brackets [ ] around the word you have inserted.


    Robert Seyfarth reports that “Premack [a scientist at the University of Pennsylvania] taught a seven-year-old chimpanzee, Sarah, that the word for ‘apple’ was a small, plastic triangle.” (13).

    If you delete part of a quote, use ellipsis dots . . . to indicate where you have deleted from the original source.


    In a recent New York Times article, Erik Eckholm reports that “a 4 year-old pygmy chimpanzee. . . has demonstrated what scientists say are the most human like linguistic skills ever documented in another animal.” (A1).

    Watch Those Transitions

    In a small band, you can hear the individual musical instruments, even though they work together to create a unified song. In a research paper, readers also have to be able to recognize the words or ideas that belong to others. But they also want to read a smooth and unified piece of writing. To achieve this, pay close attention to your transitions.

    All information written on this page has been excerpted from the official handbook of the IUP writing center:
    Gibaldi, Joseph.
    MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: MLA, 2003
    Hacker, Diana.
    A Writer's Reference. 5th ed. Boston: St. Martin's, 2003.