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Lesson 7: In-Text Citations

An in-text citation is the information that you insert into the body of your text so the reader can locate your source on the Works Cited page. As you have already learned, in MLA, this information is inserted between parentheses, and therefore an in-text citation is the same thing as a parenthetical citation.

What goes in the parentheses?

What if I can’t find the author’s name on the webpage?

What if I have several titles with unknown authors, and they all start with the word “Soviet”?

The important thing to remember is this: The purpose of citing your material is so readers can easily locate and evaluate your sources first-hand. Therefore, whatever is in your parentheses must also be the first word of the corresponding entry on your Works Cited page.

Many times I have read student papers with parenthetical citations like this:

Stalin killed 20 million people (“Soviet Dictators”).

To verify the source, I flip to the Works Cited page, and after much searching I find an entry like this:

Ivankin, Michael. “Soviet Dictators of the 20th Century.” History of the Soviet Union. 24 May 2007. Web. 25 Nov. 2009.

The student has made a serious error. What is the error that this student has made?

To understand this error, put yourself in the shoes of the reader. The reader sees (in the parenthetical citation) that the source for the information is "Soviet Dictators". So naturally, she's going to look under the "S" on the Works Cited Page. (Remember, the Works Cited Page is sorted alphabetically). But the reader is not going to find "Soviet Dictators" under S, where it should be; instead, it's listed under "I" (Ivankin).

The reader will feel angry and frustrated: If—in the parenthetical citation—you listed your source as "Soviet Dictators", how was I supposed to know that—on the Works Cited Page—you listed it under "Ivankin"?

In other words, if you knew the author's name (Ivankin), then you should have put the author's name in the parenthetical citation. The first word of your parenthetical citation should always match the first word of the corresponding entry on the Works Cited page!

Make sure you understand this point before you go on. If you don't, ask the teacher for clarification!)

Check Your Understanding:

  1. What goes inside the parentheses of a parenthetical citation?
  2. If you do not know the author of the article you are citing, what do you put in the parenthetical citation?
  3. What do you do if you have several titles with unknown authors, and all of them start with the same word?
  4. Do the names of articles get put in quotation marks? Or do they get italicized?