Writing about Literature

Quotation, Citation, and Documentation

Citation and Documentation

Parenthetical Citation


The generic MLA parenthetical citation includes an author’s name and a page number (or numbers). If the source has two or three authors, include all last names, as in (Gilbert and Gubar 57). If it has four or more, use the first author’s name followed by et al. (Latin for "and others") in roman type, as in the second example below. In all cases, nothing but a space separates author’s name(s) from page number(s).

Most domestic poems of the 1950s foreground the parent-child relationship (Axelrod 1230).

Given their rigid structure, it is perhaps "[n]ot surprisin[g]" that many sonnets explore the topic of "confinement" (Booth et al. 1022).

Notice the placement of the parenthetical citations in these examples. In each one the citation comes at the end of the sentence, yet it appears inside the period (because it is part of the sentence) and outside the quotation marks (because it isn’t part of the quotation). Such placement of parenthetical citations should be your practice in all but two situations (both described in the next section).


In terms of placement, the first exception is the block quotation. In this case, the parenthetical citation should immediately follow (not precede) the punctuation mark that ends the quotation.

As historian Michael Crowder insists, Western-style education was the single "most radical influence on Nigeria introduced by the British" because it came to be seen as a means not only of economic betterment but of social elevation. It opened doors to an entirely new world, the world of the white man. Since missionaries had a virtual monopoly on schools, they were able to use them as a means of further proselytization, and continued to warn their pupils of the evils of their former way of life. (195)

The second exception is the sentence that either incorporates material from multiple sources or texts (as in the first example below) or refers both to something from a source or text and to your own idea (as in the second example below). In either situation, you will need to put the appropriate parenthetical citation in mid-sentence right next to the material to which it refers, even at the risk of interrupting the flow of the sentence.

Critics describe Caliban as a creature with an essentially "unalterable natur[e]" (Garner 458), "incapable of comprehending the good or of learning from the past" (Peterson 442), "impervious to genuine moral improvement" (Wright 451).

If Caliban is "incapable of... learning from the past" (Peterson 442), then how do we explain the changed attitude he seems to demonstrate at the end of the play?


The generic MLA citation may contain the author’s name(s) and the relevant page number(s), but variations are the rule when it comes to content. The six most common variations occur when you do the following:

  1. Name the author in a signal phrase
    Parenthetical citations should include only information that isn’t crucial to the sense and credibility of your argument. Yet in nine cases out of ten, information about whose ideas, data, or words you are referring to is crucial in precisely this way. As a result, it is usually a good idea to indicate this in your text. When you do so, the parenthetical citation need only include the relevant page number(s).

Jefferson’s "new generation" are, in Judith Fetterley’s words, just "as much bound by the code of gentlemanly behavior as their fathers were" (619).

According to Steven Gould Axelrod, most domestic poems of the 1950s foreground the parent-child relationship (1230).

  1. Cite a poem or play
    In the case of most poetry, refer to line (not page) numbers.

Ulysses encourages his men "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" (line 70).

  1. In the case of classic plays, indicate act, scene, and line numbers, and separate them with periods.

"I know not ‘seems,’ " Hamlet claims (1.2.76).

  1. Cite multiple works by the same author or a work whose author is unknown
    When citing multiple works by the same author or an anonymous work, you will need to indicate the title of the specific work to which you refer. Either indicate the title in your text, putting only the page number(s) in a parenthetical citation (as in the first example below), or create a parenthetical citation in which the first word or two of the title is followed by the page number(s) (as in the third example below). In the latter case, you should format the title words exactly as you would the full title, using quotation marks for essays, short stories, and short poems, and using italics or underlining for books.

As Judith Fetterley argues in "A Rose for ‘A Rose for Emily,’ " Jefferson’s younger generation is just "as much bound by the code of gentlemanly behavior as their fathers were" (619).

Jefferson’s "new generation" is, in Judith Fetterley’s words, just "as much bound by the code of gentlemanly behavior as their fathers were" ("A Rose" 562).

Arguably, Jefferson’s "new generation" is just "as much bound by the code of gentlemanly behavior as their fathers were" (Fetterley, "A Rose" 619).

  1. Cite a source quoted in another source
    When quoting the words of one person as they appear in another author’s work, mention the person’s name in a signal phrase. Then create a parenthetical citation in which the abbreviation "qtd. in" is followed by the author’s name and the relevant page number(s).

Hegel describes Creon as "a moral power," "not a tyrant" (qtd. in Knox 2108).

  1. Cite multiple authors with the same last name
    In this case, you should either use the author’s full name in a signal phrase (as above) or add the author’s first initial to the parenthetical citation (as below).

Beloved depicts a "a specifically female quest powered by the desire to get one’s milk to one’s baby" (J. Wyatt 475).

  1. Cite multiple sources for the same idea or fact
    In this case, put both citations within a single set of parentheses and separate them with a semicolon.

Though many scholars attribute Caliban’s bestiality to a seemingly innate inability to learn or change (Garner 458; Peterson 442; Wright 451), others highlight how inefficient or problematic Prospero’s teaching methods are (Willis 443) and how invested Prospero might be in keeping Caliban ignorant (Taylor 384).

  1. Cite a work without numbered pages
    Omit page numbers from parenthetical citations if you cite:
  • an electronic work that isn’t paginated;

  • a print work whose pages aren’t numbered;

  • a print work that is only one page long;

  • a print work, such as an encyclopedia, that is organized alphabetically.
  1. If at all possible, mention the author’s name and/or the work’s title in your text (so that you don’t need any parenthetical citation). Otherwise, create a parenthetical citation that contains, as appropriate, the author’s name and/or the first word(s) of the title.
  1. Italicize words that aren’t italicized in the original If you draw your readers’ attention to a particular word or phrase within a quotation by using italics or underlining, your parenthetical citation must include the words "emphasis added."

Like his constant references to "Tragedy," the wording of the father’s question demonstrates that he is almost as hesitant as his daughter to confront death head-on: "When will you look it in the face?" he asks her (34; emphasis added).

Next >>