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Step 12: Research Paper Quotes and Citations (MLA)

In any research paper, it is critical to use good research to support the claims being made and to correctly cite this research. In the humanities and liberal arts, the style most often used is MLA, which stands for the Modern Language Association. Documenting research in an MLA paper involves two basic steps: noting where research is used in each instance within a paper and entering a citation in the Works Cited Page. While finding and integrating information into a paper can sometimes be challenging—which is sometimes the point with these assignments—citing it correctly is not as difficult. This article will focus on how to integrate research into an MLA paper and how to correctly format in-text citations and entries in the Works Cited page.

When to Use Research in an Academic Essay or Research Paper

The first thing to understand about quoting and formatting is when it is needed in a paper. The basic structure for any academic essay or research paper paragraph is to introduce a point or make a claim, support that point or claim with evidence, and then to explain more fully how the evidence supports the point being made. 

Research is most often used as the evidence in the academic essay paragraph. For example, a student researching the business model of Starbucks might make a claim that the chain understands how to thrive in international communities. Several pieces of research can support this claim as evidence, such as statistics about Starbucks’ growth in China over the past few years or a quote from an industry expert who explains how well Starbucks does internationally compared to other coffee chains. This research evidence helps prove the paragraph’s claim. The writer would then unpack and explain the data or quote used, “connecting the dots” in order for the reader to fully understand the point the writer was making.

For paragraphs with simple claims, often one piece of evidence is needed. However, it is sometimes necessary and completely fine to use more than one piece of research or more than one quote in a paragraph. However, this is why proper formatting is important—properly formatted quotes help the reader better understand the information being presented, keeps different research organized discreetly, and allows the reader to easily find the research being used in the Works Cited page.

Quoting Information Versus Paraphrasing

Deciding how to incorporate your research into a paper depends on what the writer needs the research to do exactly and how it will impact the length and flow of the paragraphs. Paraphrasing is when a writer uses his or her own words to convey someone else’s idea in a paper. The major benefit of paraphrasing is being able to highlight or emphasize specific points from research without having to worry about other ideas or unnecessary information that is not relevant to the claim being made and supported. However, it is easier with paraphrased information to incorrectly restate the researcher’s point and to forget to put the in-text citation note in the paper. 

Quotes are easy to use because the language is there to be copied directly into the paper. Direct quotes are most useful for explaining an idea in the author’s exact words and when a paraphrase would no suffice, or in cases to provide examples from the source text, such as the word choice or style of an author.

Inserting Citation Notes in the Body of a Paper

Each time ideas from outside sources are used within a paper, the writer must make a note of it, whether those ideas are directly quoted, paraphrased, or referenced. All citation notes in MLA must include the author’s name and the page number, if available. In some cases, the title of the researched work is also used. The most common form of notes to give this information is parenthetical citations.

Parenthetical citations present information between parentheses at the point where the information from an outside source is being used. The purpose of a parenthetical citation is to give the reader the information he or she needs to find the entry for the research in the Works Cited page. 

Basic In-text Citation Information

For MLA, the most common and preferred information for a citation is the author’s last name and the page number(s) where the cited research comes from in the source text. This can be provided all within the parenthetical citation or in combination with a signal phrase that provides some information about the research in the sentence.

Example Parenthetical Citation

The poetry of William Carlos Williams is considered to be “the most authentic to the American experience of the early 20th century” (Leeds 17-18).


Example of parenthetical citation and signal phrase

According to critic Walter Leeds, the poetry of William Carlos Williams is considered to be “the most authentic to the American experience of the early 20th century” (17-18).


In both cases, the author’s name and the page number where the quote can be found is included in the sentence. Whether or not a writer chooses to provide all of the information within a parenthetical citation or whether to use a signal phrase depends on issues such as clarity and style preferences. Also, note the formatting in the first parenthetical citation. The author’s last name is followed by the page numbers. There is only one space between the author’s name and the page numbers, and there is no punctuation separating them. The page numbers are separated by a dash (the key to the right of the 0), and the period for the sentence goes on the outside of the last parentheses. Although it is easy to think about the parenthetical citation being separate from the idea of the sentence, the citation must be included within the sentence to show the reader that the research is tied to that sentence.

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Common Mistakes to Avoid with Parenthetical Citations:

  • (Leeds pp. 17-18): Avoid putting a “p.” or “pp.” in the parenthetical to signal page numbers. Other styles use this convention in citations, but MLA does not.
  • (Sampson, 11-12): Do not put any punctuation between the author’s name and the page numbers.
  • (Sampson 11–12): Avoid using an emdash or endash to separate the page ranges for the research being cited. Note how the correct dash is shorter.
  • rabid raccoons. (Sampson 11-12): The period is always placed to the right of the parenthetical citation.

Block Quoting

A block quote is a type of citation for direct quotes that exceed 3 lines in length. It requires special indentation within the paper, which some writers see as a good way to take up space. However, most instructors see block quotes differently and many are opposed to their use in a research paper because they are not handled correctly. Because a writer is expected to engage with all the research he or she puts into a paper, using a long quote signals to the reader (and person grading the paper) that all of the information in the quote is too important to leave out through a shorter quote or through paraphrase. Therefore, the writer must provide some explanation for why the block quote is being used, either through calling attention to the specific language being used or by engaging with the entire quote.

Place quotations on a new line in their own block of text without quotation marks. Indent all the text 1 inch from the left margin, and use an additional indentation of ¼ inch for the beginning of each paragraph being quoted. The parenthetical citation is included at the end of the quotation, but in this instance, it comes after the period, not before it as with short quotations.

Typical Issues With In-Text Citations

For many writers, the challenge of in-text citation come from not knowing how to properly cite a source if it does not have a typical or easy to find author or page number. Here are some common challenges many writers run into and the rules and an example for how to properly cite them within a text.

Multiple Authors

In this case, list all of the authors’ last names as they appear in the original source. If there are more than three authors for a work, the last name of the author credited first can be used, followed by the phrase et al.:


According to Robinson, Lopez, Jacobs, and Cho, increasing exercise to 30 minutes a day has a drastic impact on lowering the risk for heart disease (110-112).


Increasing exercise to 30 minutes a day has a drastic impact on lowering the risk for heart disease (Robinson et al. 110-112).


Author is an Agency or Corporation

This issue is common for sources such as government reports or information released from corporations, such as an annual report. Use the name of the agency or corporation as the author’s name.


Starbucks’ profit in 2014 was 30% greater than in 2013 (Starbucks 20).


According to Starbucks, their profit in 2014 was 30% greater than in 2013 (20).


Author is Unknown

When the author is not known or not given, the shortened title of the source should be used in place of the author’s name. Stories, poems, articles, television episodes, and other short works require quotation marks, while books, films, and other long works should be italicized. Exclude words such as A, An, or The and always include the first word in the title to help readers locate it in the Works Cited page.


Humans became more receptive to making art once levels of testosterone declined among the species (“Art”).


Multiple Works by Same Author

When citing two or more pieces of research from the same author, include a short title, either in the parenthetical citation or in the signal phrase. If the author’s name and the title are both included in the parenthetical citation, separate them with a comma.


Hemingway uses bull imagery to develop themes of stoicism (Sun Also Rises 188) and water imagery to develop themes of isolation (Old Man 52) [or (Hemingway, Old Man 52)].


Religious Works 

For sacred texts, include the name and version of the text the first time it is cited. The amount of information needed in the in-text citation, such as chapter number or verse numbers, will depend on the text being used. 


According to the King James Version of the Bible, children should be obedient “for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Col. 2.20).


Quoting a Quote Within a Source

Just as a student quotes others in his or her research paper, authors will quote someone else in their papers. In order to use this quote within a quote—also known as an indirect source—the phrase “qtd. in” is used in the parenthetical citation to clarify. Note in the example how the signal phrase attributes the person who is responsible for the quote while the parenthetical citation lists the author where the quote is found.


Gauthier examined the link between screen time and neurological development and found “some evidence to support causation between excessive use of screens and delayed social skills among toddlers” (qtd. in Harvey 199).


In-text Citations and the Internet

As more and more research and content is generated online, students are increasingly using these sources for research papers. As with all sources, the goal is to provide enough information in the in-text citation so that the reader can easily find the entry for the research in the Works Cited page. This means including the author’s name, if known, the page number or other marker for identifying the content if there is one, and sometimes the title of the work. Sometimes there is even no need for a parenthetical citation if all of the necessary information is given in the signal phrase.


According to the infographic “The True 1%” on CNN.com, most of the wealthy elite in the country are over the age of 50. [Without an author, the title of the infographic is given, as well as the source where it was located].



Columnist Bianca Flores points out that “more Millennials live at home than any generation since World War I.” [The name of the author is sufficient to help readers locate the entry in the Workc Cited page]


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