How to Make In-Text Citations

With this lesson, you’ll get to know the basics of creating in-text citations. We’ll go over both MLA and APA style parenthetical citations and how to use them to cite different types of sources.


When you are writing, sometimes you want to use a fact that you didn’t find out for yourself. For example, you might want to use the fact that the planet Earth is 238,855 miles from the moon, but you’re not super-thrilled about the idea of building your own spaceship and flying up to check for yourself. That’s where citations come in.

In academic writing, you can look up someone else’s measurement of the distance between the earth and the moon, and then use it in your own work with a citation. A citation tells the reader where you got information or an idea from. It’s a way to credit other people for putting in the hard work of actually flying to the moon to check so you don’t have to. Here are some example sentences that could be in your paper:

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  • According to NASA, the earth is 238,855 miles from the moon (NASA Space Place).
  • Experts in astronomy agree that the moon and the earth are ”really far apart” (NASA Space Place).

You have to cite every fact in your paper that you found out from someone else, unless the fact is common knowledge. For example, you don’ have to cite the fact that Washington, D.C., is the capital of the USA: everyone knows that. But, you do have to cite the fact that Congress first met in Washington, D.C., on November 17, 1800, because most people don’t know that. When in doubt – cite. You will never get in trouble for citing something unnecessarily, but you can get in trouble for not citing when you should have.

Also, use citations any time you quote someone else’s words or use someone else’s ideas. Here are some more examples:

  • Winston Churchill has a very high opinion of the Duke of Marlborough, referring to his ”genius…in the field and his sagacity in counsel” (Churchill 38).
  • Winston Churchill strongly approved of Queen Anne’s decision to place the Duke of Marlborough in supreme command of her armies (38).

Academic books can have thousands of citations, so everyone wants to keep them short. So, we’ve come up with several ways to squeeze all the information you need into short, easy-to-read citations. In this lesson, you’ll learn two major ways to cite sources: APA style and MLA style. It does feel really nitpicky at first, and it’s kind of annoying to pay attention to, but it’s important to give other people credit for their ideas.

In both MLA and APA styles, you’ll have a bibliography at the end of your paper. The bibliography lists every single source you took facts or ideas from, with enough information that the reader can find the exact same source. Then, in your in-text citations, refer readers to particular works in the bibliography and tell them where to look within each work.

MLA Citations

MLA stands for the Modern Language Association. MLA citations use parenthetical citations with the author and page number. These short citations tell the reader which source in your bibliography to look up and where in the source to look. Here’s an example:

  • One historian praises Godolphin as the ”able Lord Treasurer” (Churchill 41).

If you mention the author in the sentence, you can just give the page number:

  • Churchill praises Godolphin as the ”able Lord Treasurer” (41).

If your readers want to look up that quote, they can just go to your bibliography, look up the Churchill book, and find the quote for themselves.

If you have a source that doesn’t have a single author, like a website, you can replace the author’s name with any identifying phrase, like the title of the website. If you have a source without page numbers, like a painting, you can simply leave them out.

But, what if you have two books by Winston Churchill? This quote is from his book History of the English-Speaking Peoples, but maybe you are writing a whole paper on Winston Churchill, so you’re also citing his book Marlborough: His Life and Times. No problem, just use a shortened version of each source title to tell the reader which book you mean:

  • Winston Churchill praises Godolphin as the ”able Lord Treasurer” (English-Speaking Peoples 41).
  • He also says that None had his knowledge, and few his easy, suave, adaptable competence, or his calm, even temper (Marlborough 535).

The MLA publishes rules for citing just about any kind of source you can possibly imagine, including all the weird ones like patents, TV shows, people’s blog posts, personal conversations, and advertisements. It’s tedious to sift through all that and try to memorize it before you even need it. So, just remember that you can find all that information at the Purdue University Online Writing Lab, which explains all the weird source types and how to format them.

APA Citations

APA stands for the American Psychological Association. APA citations use parenthetical citations with he author and the date. Unlike MLA citations, APA citations have the date in the parenthetical, and they also use a comma and a ‘p.’ before the page number. Here’s an example:

  • One historian praises Godolphin as the ”able Lord Treasurer” (Churchill, 1957, p. 41).

Like MLA citations, if you mention the author in the sentence you can just give the page number, but you still have to put the date after the author’s name:

  • Churchill (1957) praises Godolphin as the ”able Lord Treasurer” (p. 41).

If you’re not citing any specific page of a work, you can simply name the source and the date:

  • At least one History of the English-Speaking Peoples covers events on both sides of the Atlantic (Churchill, 1957).

Of course, there are plenty of things that you might need to cite besides journal articles. Luckily the Purdue Online Writing Lab also has an APA guide for you to look up anything you like.

Citation Systems

For all the brave souls who watched this far, now you get the shortcut! There are several programs that will automatically create citations for you, so you don’t have to worry about all the little details about what to italicize where or where to put your commas. Microsoft Word has a built-in citation manager where you can plug in information about your source, and Word will automatically generate references and a bibliography in either MLA or APA. Other bibliography generators include EndNote and Zotero. Use them! They make your life easier and help you avoid silly typos.

Lesson Summary

When you’re writing a paper, you need to cite every idea that isn’t your own and every fact that you didn’t personally find out, unless it’s common knowledge. Scholars want to squeeze citations into as small of a space as possible, so they’ve come up with some citation formats that everyone can agree on.

In MLA style, use parenthetical citations with the author and page number. In APA style, use author-date parenthetical citations with the page number. You can find complete formatting guidelines for both styles on the Purdue Online Writing Lab website or use an automatic citation generator to take the headache out of it.


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