MLA Checklist




































































































Checklist 9: Signal Phrases



Are all your direct quotes introduced with a signal phrase?


Did you "drop" any quotes into your text?

  • A dropped quote is a quote that is not introduced by a signal phrase. It is considered bad form, unless you are only quoting a short phrase within your own sentence.

Did you put your signal phrases before the quotes (instead of after them)?

  • Advanced writers occassionally put a signal phrase after the quote, but you shouldn't try this until after you have written several more MLA papers.

Did you follow the "Name Rule" througout your paper?

  • Name Rule: The first time you introduce someone, use the person's full name, and include in your signal phrase an appositive that describes that person's occupation, expertise, or relevance. Thereafter, use only the person's last name.

Did you use anybody's first name more than once in your paper?

  • Fix it. (See the "Name Rule", above).

Did you follow the "Appositives Rule" throughout your paper?

Appositives Rule: A long appositive should be placed after the name, between parenthetical commas. A short (one-or-two word) appositive can be placed before the name, and in this case there should not be a comma between the name and the appositive.

Study the following examples:

  • Barack Obama, the president of the United States, claims that . . .
  • President Barack Obama claims that . . .


  • According to John Smith, a professor at Harvard University, 
  • According to Harvard professor John Smith,

Are your appositives relatively short?

  • Short appositives increase the readability of your paper.
  • Long appositives are clunky and should be avoided whenever possible.

Occassionally a student will find an appositive in somebody else's work and feel obliged to use the "whole thing." Here is an example from a student paper:

According to Thomas Posse, a German philosopher who is currently the Director of the Global Justice Program and Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University,

I asked the student to shorten the appositive, so he revised it to this:

According to Thomas Posse, a German philosopher,

The result was that his paper became more "readable."

So, keep your audience in mind. Unless you are writing for a very narrow audience of people who want a lot of details, keep your appositives short.


Are any of your appositives too vague?

  • Appositives should be specific enough to be helpful and informative.

The following signal phrases, all taken from student papers, are unacceptably vague:


A writer says that global warming is a serious problem.

Which writer?




A woman commenting on an article has a valid point.

What woman? What article?




A website says that . . . 

What website?




In the article it says that . . .

What article?




Did you refer to any treaty or organization which the reader may not be familiar with? If so, did you introduce it properly?

  • Treaties and organizations are sort of like people. Introduce them properly. Nobody wants to read a paragraph about NATO without having some idea of what the letters NATO stand for or what this organization does.
  • Keep your audience in mind. If you are writing for a general audience, define obscure acronyms before you use them.

Study this example:


President Truman was big supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This defensive alliance was meant to halt Soviet expansion into Europe. However, NATO proved to be . . .