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ENG101 / 102: Professor Spencer: MLA Citations

This is the guide for LIB100B2. This is a Learning Community Course attached to Professor Spencer's ENG101CC class.

MLA Citations

MLA style is a format used by English and the Humanities to help us document the works of other writers (articles, books, etc.) whose words and ideas we use in our own paper. In order to give credit to those authors, we need to provide information about where we found our sources.  A documented essay includes "citations" to any works that you have consulted in order to write your research paper. For instance, if you are writing about a short story, you will use brief excerpts from the story to support your analysis and develop a thesis for you paper, so your first "source" to cite would be the story itself (this is called a primary source). Next, you might refer to articles that literary scholars have written about this story to further support your thesis.  These are called secondary sources. You will combine quotes from the story with quotes from these articles alongside your own analysisto help support your overall thesis. 

Anything that you cite word for word from an outside source is a "direct quotation" and must be enclosed in double quotation marks (From Purdue Owl's Online Writing Lab):


Romantic poetry is characterized by the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" (Wordsworth 263).

See Purdue Owl's Online Writing Lab:

Quotations are most effective if you use them sparingly and keep them relatively short. Too many quotations in a research paper will get you accused of not producing original thought or material (they may also bore a reader who wants to know primarily what YOU have to say on the subject).

All of these sources need to be clearly indicated in your paper and a list of these in proper format will appear on a separate page called a Works Cited page.  The MLA Citations tab will help you understand this process better.

For a great overview ot the citations process and all of the steps to writing and citing a paper in MLA format, please take a look at this link to  Purdue University's excellent Writing Lab guide entitiled:

Purdue Owl (MLA Guide)

What is a Citation?

NCC's MLA Citation Guide

MLA Containers

You Quote It Video Tutorial

Sample MLA Paper

How to Introduce Quotations Into Your Paper

Collecting Quotations

While you’re researching your topic, when a brilliantly worded sentence catches your eye, save it. When you find a statement summarizing evidence you plan to use or evidence you think you might use, save it. Look for statements that concur with your argument, but also for assertions that contradict your claims, as you’ll use these for refutation purposes.

To quote an author, you should copy the author’s exact language and frame the words with quotation marks, which signals that you are reproducing exact language from another source. Quotation marks give full credit to the original author, so you’ll need to make it clear whose words they are.

Introducing a Quotation

An introductory tag is one way to effectively introduce quotations. This is also known as a “signal phrase.” An introductory tag is a phrase that introduces a quote by providing the authority’s name and a strong verb. For example:

Desmond Tutu counters, “Racism, xenophobia and unfair discrimination have spawned slavery, when human beings have bought and sold and owned and branded fellow human beings as if they were so many beasts of burden.”

This is only one way to introduce a quotation, however, and if it’s the only method you use, your paper could begin to sound stilted. Consider incorporating the quote into a sentence in other ways, as well. You may, for example, explain the quote before offering it:

Thousands of years ago, Gautama Buddha was offering teachings on how not to hold on to hostilities, saying: “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” This is by no means a new problem.

Formatting and Punctuating Quotations

Quotations call for special rules regarding punctuation:

If a quotation is introduced formally, use a colon.

  • The author explicitly states: “Socrates was only a figment of Plato’s imagination.”

If a quotation is set off with “he said” or “she said” (or the implication of it), use a comma preceding the quotation.

Use an ellipsis (…) to indicate that there is more to the quote than you offer here.

  • He brought listeners to tears when he ended his last broadcast with his familiar, “And that’s the way it is…”

If your quotation has a quotation within it, the inner quotation needs a pair of single quotation marks and the outer needs a pair of double quotation marks.

  • This is the pivotal part of the story: “The doorman cried out, ‘You forgot your coat!’ as he ran after the cab.”

If you choose to break up a single-sentence quotation with your own words, use commas to offset the quotation from your explanation.

  • “In the middle of the novel,” the critic claims, “the main character’s reflections are restricted by his sense of impending change.”

Periods and commas should be placed inside the quotation marks. Colons, semicolons, and dashes should be placed outside the quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points should be placed inside the quotation marks, unless the punctuation applies to the whole sentence (not just the quote).

  • When the team’s best player said, “We’re in for a bad season,” it became clear that the team’s morale was flagging.
  • Was America really listening when President Kennedy said, “Ask what you can do for your country”?

When to Use Brackets Within Quotations

When using quotations, you need to be very careful to copy the words as they appear in the source text. However, you may find that a quotation does not grammatically align with the way you want to use it, or that the relevance of the quotation may not be readily apparent to a reader. When that happens, you might want to change it slightly in order to make it fit your essay. In such cases, square brackets should be used around words not contained in the original quote.

Brackets can be used to do the following:

Clarify meaning:

  • “[Fiestas] are the lifeblood of this region. We need to honor our traditions even, and especially, after tragedy.” Sr. Gomez told reporters. (The original quotation used the pronoun “They,” in answer to a reporter’s question about a fiesta.)

Enclose a change in verb tense to better flow with your sentence:

  • Silven maintained the assertion throughout his life: “It seems unlikely that this pairing [was] due to a human need for companionship.”

Enclose an explanatory phrase if a word isn’t clear:

  • Renowned family therapist Virginia Satir once mused, “I have often thought had there been somebody like me around, something might have been able to be done [about her own divorce].”

Block Quotations

If you are using a long quotation (four or more typed lines), instead of quotation marks, you should indent the entire quotation five spaces. If the quote is two or more paragraphs, indent the first line of each paragraphs an additional five spaces (maintaining the indent of the rest of the quote). When using this format, you do not need to use quotation marks.



Quotation on a rock: A quote on the wall of Thierry Ehrmann’s “Abode of Chaos.” This graffiti-style quotation cites its source text and page number.