In-Text Citation: Basic Rules


When you cite your sources in the text of your essay (what is commonly called in-text citation), you normally need to give just enough information so your reader can easily find the source in your final list of references. As with MLA style, citations are included in the text and not in the footnotes, though you are of course allowed to add footnotes for clarification and extra information.

There are a few sources that can be cited only in the text, and not in the reference list:

  • Personal communications that are not easily accessible
  • General references to websites, journals, apps, etc.
  • Quotations from research participants
  • Epigraphs

Core Principles

APA in-text citations focus on the author and the date of publication. If you’re quoting (rather than paraphrasing) you should also add the page number.

Here are a few sample in-text citations using the same source:

Jones (2017) argues that children who are unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum are more likely to experience bouts of depression during adolescence.

In 2017, Jones argued that children who are unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum are more likely to experience bouts of depression during adolescence.

Children who are unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum are more likely to experience bouts of depression during adolescence (Jones, 2017).

For children unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum, the results can be tragic: “Around 16% suffer from depression in their teenage years” (Jones, 2017, p. 44).

The first two examples are called narrative citations because they are part of the sentence itself. The last two examples are parenthetical citations: they enclose all the information in a final set of parentheses.

If you’re familiar with a different method of citation, watch out for the following features of APA style:

  • Authors are cited by last name only, though in the final list of references, initials may also be given.
  • All elements within parentheses are separated by commas.
  • Page numbers are introduced with a “p.” or “pp.”
  • Suffixes (e.g., Jr.) are omitted.

You will also note that APA essays frequently engage with the overall argument of a source, rather than some small detail or snippet. That is why often only the author and date are given, and no page number is provided. However, page numbers are important for direct quotations and can be helpful when paraphrasing a specific passage in a longer work.

The Ampersand

When citing works with multiple authors, you should join the names with “and” in the text of your essay, and with an ampersand (&) in parentheses:

Urchin, Urnwood, Unction, and Creep (2007)

(Urchin, Urnwood, Unction, & Creep 2007)

No Date of Publication

Should it happen that your source lacks a date or has not been published yet, then you can add “n.d” or “in press”:

(Crikey, n.d.)

(Flaky, in press)

Repeated Citations

When you use the same source multiple times in the same paragraph, you don’t necessarily need to cite it in every sentence. For example, when paraphrasing a source, make sure it is cited in the first sentence. Subsequently, when naming the source in the course of a sentence (as opposed to in parentheses), you can omit the date. If you introduce a different source or start a new paragraph, you’ll have to cite your original source in full again:

Fleaburg (2005) argued that giving more expensive roses on Valentine’s Day provided a greater happiness quotient than during the rest of the year. Part of the reason appears to be that the added cost is a marker of investment in the relationship. However, Fleaburg points out that once the cost reaches a certain threshold (typically around three times the normal price), the emotional returns start to dwindle, and may even be reversed should the parties be struggling financially or be of Dutch heritage. Similar research by Tillbury (2009) and Muffin (2018) confirms these findings. Nevertheless, it has been pointed out that more research needs to be done to take into account the effect of Costco wholesale flower prices (Fleaburg, 2005).

Numbers of Authors

One Author

When citing a single author, drop any suffixes (e.g., Jr.), and provide both the author’s name and the date:

Obermaus (2016) determined that psychotic taxi drivers are less likely to cause accidents.

Psychotic taxi drivers are less likely to cause accidents (Obermaus, 2016).

As mentioned above, if you’ve mentioned the author’s name outside of parentheses, then you can omit the date the next time you mention the name outside of parentheses (and in the same paragraph):

Obermaus (2016) determined that psychotic taxi drivers are less likely to cause accidents. Still, Obermaus also found that psychotic taxi drivers are more prone to road rage during traffic jams.

However, if you are citing multiple sources, or if the name is in parentheses, then make sure you provide both the name and the date in your next citation. This rule also applies if you’re citing more than one author.

Two Authors

For a single work by two authors, provide both names in every citation:

Frock and Flinck (1999) found that among some of the Bogo tribes, ritualized courtships consisted of elaborate handstands and cartwheels.

Among some of the Bogo tribes, ritualized courtships consisted of elaborate handstands and cartwheels (Frock & Flinck, 1999).

Note the use of the ampersand when names are joined in parentheses.

Three or More Authors

Anytime you’re citing a source by three or more authors, list just the first name followed by the Latin abbreviation et al. (and others):

Pointdexter et al. (2011) found …

(Pointdexter et al., 2011)

Notice that the abbreviation is not italicized.

If the shortened citation and date are the same as for another publication (that shares a similar group of authors), cite as many authors as necessary to distinguish the two sources. For instance, let’s say you want to shorten the following lists of authors:

(Smiley, Gaylord, Sanguin, & Giggles, 2009)

(Smiley, Stephens, Smith, & Stitch, 2009)

You would shorten as follows:

(Smiley, Gaylord, et al., 2009)

(Smiley, Stephens, et al., 2009)

If the last author is the only one that’s different, then just write out all the names.


Some sources are authored by groups (e.g., associations, societies, institutions). Spell them out fully the first time. If you intend to shorten them later, add the abbreviation in the parentheses:

The Pathological Liars Study Group (PLSG, 2010) found that …

(Pathological Liars Study Group [PLSG], 2010)

Notice the use of square brackets in the second example to avoid confusion between different sets of parentheses. After the first citation, you can provide just the abbreviated form:

The PLSG (2010) argued …

Group names should be spelled out fully in your reference list.


Now that you’ve learned the author-date system, check out also our other page on in-text citation, which covers some more unusual types of citations. 

For more information about APA in-text citation, see chapter 8 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

In-Text Citation: Additional Rules


We have covered the basics of in-text citation elsewhere. This page details some unusual cases and exceptions.

Additional Rules

Same Last Name

If you’re citing authors who share a last name, provide the first author’s initials in each citation:

The problem has been discussed by B. Frank (1992) and I. M. Frank (2008).

Bush, Goldstein, & Frank (1995) argue …

Notice that in the second example Frank is not the first author listed, so there is no need to add initials. The reader can check the reference list to find out which Frank is meant.

If two co-authors share a last name, then you don’t have to use initials:

(Jones & Jones, 2020)

No Author

If a source has no author, provide a short version of the title (or whatever else is the first information in the reference list):

(“Wimpy Kids,” 2005)

(Gender Euphoria, 2011)

If the title lacks italics in the reference list, then place it between quotation marks. Capitalize important words in the title.

In the rare instance where a work is actually signed “Anonymous,” you can use that as the name:

(Anonymous, 2015)

Multiple Works

If you’re citing multiple works in the course of a sentence (and not in the final parentheses), then you can use any order you want:

Wiener (2012), Mayer (2009), and Franks (2001) all argued that the name Hotdog Syndrome might sound catchy, but would never pass muster as an official diagnosis.

By contrast, when citing multiple works in final parentheses, organize them alphabetically by the name of the first contributor. Use semi-colons to separate the sources:

The size of a handbag contributes less to social status than the colour and materials (Johansen, 2009; Prude & Clasp, 2012).

If an item is in press, list it last:

(Vogelsang, 2010; Beard, in press)

When citing multiple works by the same author(s), give only the date for each item after the first:

(Jones, 2001, 2008, 2014; Peters, 2009)

If two or more dates are the same, use letters (a, b, c…) to distinguish them:

(Young, 2005a, 2005b; Zielinski, 2003)

Finally, if you want to emphasize one of your sources, you can place it first and introduce the other sources with a phrase such as see also:

(Ker, 2015; see also Bragg, 2016; Loreman et al., 2007)

In this example, Ker’s study is given priority (breaking the rule about alphabetization), and the other sources are treated as of secondary importance.

Multiple Dates of Publication

Sometimes you might want to provide two dates of publication. This is useful for reprints, translations, and so on. Separate the dates with a slash:

(Pavlov, 1933/2009)

Adler (1929/2015)

Second Hand Information

If one of your sources cites another source, one that you cannot access yourself, then you can use the phrase “as cited in”:

Her last will and testament stated that “the black sheep will get nothing” (as cited in Smith, 2005).

The ascent of Mount Sinister took four weeks and claimed the lives of two mountaineers (Sharp, 1999, as cited in Fillmore, 2011).

Use this method only when you can’t look up the original source yourself.

Citing a Part of Source

Quotations are generally cited by page number, but there are other ways cite a specific section of a source. These include tables, paragraphs, chapters, theatrical references, Bible verses, and much more:

(Gibbet, 2008, pp. 23-24)

(Karpati, 2001, Table 3.1)

(Felicity, 2003, paras. 5-6)

(Bronsman, 1962, Chapter 5)

(Newly Revised Still Standard Bible, 2019, Rom. 4:1)

(Shakespeare, 1623/2009, 2.4.12-14)

(Fillmore, 2018, “Methodology” section, para. 2)

When citing a heading or section of a longer work, you can abbreviate the title.

In all such citations, the words page(s) and paragraph(s) are abbreviated, and most other descriptive words are capitalized (though not section).

Personal Communication

Any personal communication that is not accessible to your readers (i.e., is not recoverable) should be cited as follows:

E. G. Sand (personal communication, May 3, 2017)

(B. Sandwich, personal communication, December 22, 2014)

Make sure you provide the person’s initials and give the date in full. This is important because personal communication is not included in the final reference list.

Personal communication can include emails, letters, lectures, text messages, conversations, and so forth. Such sources are only cited in the text of your essay, and not in the reference list.

Citations in Parentheses

If some text in parentheses includes a citation, don’t use an extra set of parentheses to set it off:

Incorrect: (see Angstfreund (2008), Chapter 5, for a detailed discussion)

Correct: (see Angstfreund, 2008, Chapter 5, for a detailed discussion)

In such cases, commas will do.

For more information about APA in-text citation, please see chapter 8 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

In-text Citation


When you cite your sources in the text of your writing project (what’s often called in-text citation), you need to give just enough information so that people can trace the quotation or image back to its source.

Usually that means providing the author and page number:

Boredom is sometimes seen as a threat to productivity in the work place. However, it has also been called the “single greatest cause of creativity and invention” (Jones 35).

The reader can then turn to your Works Cited page and find the complete citation:

Jones, Mark. “Boredom and Creativity.” The Causes of Boredom: A Collection of Essays, edited by Esther Yawn, Etcetera Press, 2017, pp. 34-49.

Of course, when the author and page number are not available, or you’ve used a source such as a play or poem, you will have to find other alternatives. Further down, we will review the options.

For now the main thing to realize is that the MLA guidelines promote an unobtrusive citation style. Your in-text citations should state only the most essential information. That way the reader can enjoy your writing without distraction.

How Much to Cite

When students first begin to do research, the tendency is to provide too much bibliographic information in the body of the text. Here is some advice about when to provide additional information.

First of all, try to keep page numbers inside the parentheses. There has to be a good reason to draw attention to a particular page. Here are some examples of where it makes sense to break the rule:

Pages 80-101 contain a beautiful series of photos of the author’s extended family.

For some reason, page 72 is missing in the manuscript

Yet just two pages further Susan Ballantyne argues the exact opposite.

The same thing is true for the title of your source. Don’t mention it unless you have a good reason. And here are some good reasons to include the title:

  • You are discussing a primary source (as opposed to a secondary source)
  • You are dealing with multiple works by the same author and need to differentiate them (e.g., in a comparative essay about two Shakespeare plays)
  • You want to discuss the wording of the title (perhaps the phrasing is problematic)
  • You want to focus more extensively on a particular source, or indicate a more extensive debt
  • The work has no author and is known primarily by its title

Otherwise you can typically leave out the source’s title. The same applies to the rest of the publication information. Save it for your Works Cited.

The Basic Rules

Author and Page

As mentioned, the normal procedure is to cite just the author and page number (with a space in between):

As has been observed, “The mating rituals of the Australasian gannet are a model for us all” (Quack 92).

If the author or page has been mentioned in the text already, there’s no need to repeat it in parentheses:

As Herman Kuiper writes, “Zimbabwean origami is deeply influenced by the shape of the Victoria Falls” (109).

When the name is provided in parentheses, omit the first name. In the body of the text it is customary to give the full name for the first citation. After that you can often use just the last name.

Finally, place your citation as close to the quotation as possible:

Hannah Patton deplores “the use of the coat rack as a fashion statement” (4), especially as it is usually covered with coats.

You don’t have to wait till the end of your sentence before giving the citation.

Authors with the Same Name

If you are citing from multiple authors with the same last name, you can add some clarity by adding an initial (or the full name if the authors share initials):

As has been observed, “The mating rituals of the Australasian gannet are a model for us all” (I. Quack 92).

Use the full name when including it in the text rather than in parentheses.

Multiple Works by the Same Author(s)

If you are citing multiple works from the same author(s), you can add a short version of the title, either in the text or in parentheses:

As Bledsoe and Smith argue in “Misogyny,” Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 cannot be rescued from “a charge of anti-feminism” (18).

It has been suggested that the phrase interpersonal relationships is “rife with redundancy, for when is a relationship not interpersonal?” (Funke, Communication 3).

Notice that the title is italicized or placed in quotation marks just as it appears in the Works Cited. Also, if the parentheses contain the author and title, then add a comma before the title, but not after.

To shorten a title, look for a key noun phrase, or, if there is none, use the opening few words.

Multiple Authors

If a work is published by two authors, cite both:

The distance between one’s toes “may have an effect on self-esteem levels, especially among surfers and swimmers” (Lovegood and Sorenson 55).

For three or more authors, use the abbreviation et al. (Latin for “and others”):

Jane Austen’s villains are “either superficial Romantics or dissipated boors” (De Bourgh et al. 98).

Avoid using the abbreviation if you cite the authors in the text rather than the parentheses. Either cite all the authors or use a work around (e.g., “De Bourgh and others”):

De Bourgh and others argue that Jane Austen’s villains are “either superficial Romantics or dissipated boors” (98).

No Author

If a source lacks an author, cite it by its title instead. In the body of your text, you may use the full title (at least the first time), but in parentheses a short version is required:

The Dakar Rally: The Greatest Race on Earth provides a riveting account of the famous race, but it lacks any reference to the death toll.

The Dakar Rally has long been “one of the most dangerous races on earth” (Dakar Rally 42).

If there is no title or author, then use whatever descriptive phrase you have used in the Works Cited.

Missing Page Numbers

If a source has no page numbers, try use an alternative label. Here are some sample abbreviations you can use:

par. or pars. for paragraph or paragraphs

sec. or secs. for section or section

ch. or chs. for chapter or chapters

Here is what that looks like in practice:

Only one critic noted that “the most prominent aspect of Rostropovich’s playing was his baldness” (Baldwin, ch. 3).

As this example shows, if you provide both the author and label in parentheses, then separate them with a comma.

On the other hand, if your source has no numbers whatsoever, then leave out all numerical references:

This effect has been called the “Disneyfication of Winnie the Pooh” (Smith).

Don’t feel bad about giving only the author’s name (or a short title), and don’t start counting paragraphs or line numbers yourself.

Other Citations

For some sources you will want to provide a different numbering. Here are the most common examples:


Cite plays by act, scene, and line number:

1.2.15-16 (refers to act 1, scene 2, lines 15-16)

If the play is in prose and lacks line numbers, you may cite it by author and page number.

Audio and Video

Cite time duration in hours, minutes, and seconds:

02:03:27-29 (refers to 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 27-29 seconds)


Cite poems by line numbers:

lines 9-14

After the first citation, you may omit the descriptive label (“line,” “scene,” etc.). Avoid abbreviations (e.g., ll. for lines)


If a source is published in multiple volumes, and you cite only one volume, you need provide only the page number. However, if you borrow from multiple volumes by the same author, provide the number of the volume as well as the page number(s):

It was the dreaded black fly that “did them in” (Irigano 4: 89-90).

This citation refers to pages 89-90 in volume 4. Make sure to add a space after the colon.

Common Prose Works

Let’s say you’re quoting from a famous novel like Brave New World. There are so many editions in print that your reader may have a difficult time finding a passage based on a page number alone. In such cases you can add more information at the end of your citation:

Huxley 87; chapter 8

If the source uses other numbering (e.g., sections), you can use that instead.


If you borrow an idea and put it in your own words, you are paraphrasing. In such a situation you may need to cite multiple authors whose work you have summarized. Separate them with semi-colons:

Some researchers believe that optimism can help patients heal faster, but that telling people to be happy is more likely to leave them depressed (Bile 59; Choler 44-46).

Indirect Quotations

Sometimes you find the perfect quotation—the only problem is that it’s already a quotation in your source. In such cases you can use the description “qtd. in” (quoted in) to show where you found the passage:

As Ariana Humboldt notes, “a phobia of spiders can suggest an underlying fear or trauma” (qtd. in Kidney 221).

However, avoid using this method too frequently, or it will seem that you get all your best ideas second hand.

Repeated Use

Should it happen that you repeatedly use the same source, you can slack off in how much you cite. In the following example, both quotations are from the same source. Since they come in quick succession, the author has decided to cite just once.

As Herman Kuiper writes, “Zimbabwean origami is deeply influenced by the shape of the Victoria Falls.” Kuiper sees the frequent origami reproductions of the famous waterfall as a paradoxical attempt to “capture what cannot be contained in art–namely, a flowing, ever-changing process” (109, 112).

This method is especially handy if an entire paragraph is indebted to a single source. Even if you do decide to provide a separate page number after each citation, you do not have to give the author’s name each time.

On the other hand, if another source intervenes, be sure to provide more clarity:

As Herman Kuiper writes, “Zimbabwean origami is deeply influenced by the shape of the Victoria Falls” (109). In fact, most scholars agree that such paper reproductions represent “the archetype of African origami” (Sinderbad 24). Nevertheless, the shape or image is hardly static. Kuiper sees the frequent origami reproductions of the famous waterfall as a paradoxical attempt to “capture what cannot be contained in art–namely, a flowing, ever-changing process” (112).

In this example, the quotation from Sinderbad comes in between the two passages from Kuiper.

In summary, the basic rule is that if you think a reference is clear enough then you can give less information about its source.


This page does not cover every single rule for in-text citation. When you work with particular texts you may come across other ways of citing information (e.g., cantos, chapter and verse, etc.). Part of learning the rules for citation is about adapting to the customs of your discipline.

Now that you know the basic rules for in-text citation, you may want to check out our more extensive guide to integrating quotations (part 1 and part 2). It follows the MLA guidelines and will teach you everything from citing poetry to using ellipses and block quotations.

For more information about in-text citation, see chapter 6 of the MLA Handbook (9th ed.).

Footnotes and Endnotes


The MLA Handbook (9th ed.) discourages extensive use of footnotes and endnotes. After all, the whole point is to cite your source in the body of the text.

However, sometimes a note may be helpful to provide some information without adding a digression or interrupting the flow of the argument. You can use notes for all kinds of reasons, including explaining what edition of a text you used, listing additional citations when there are a lot of sources, or simply providing more information.


To add a note, place your cursor in the text (typically at the end of a sentence or unit of thought). Then go to the References panel in MS Word and insert either a footnote or endnote. Whichever option you choose, don’t mix and match. The note(s) will show up as a superscript number in your text:

Dietitians are still divided on some key questions. Should the job title be spelled “dietitian” or “dietician”?¹ Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?² When does obesity become morbid? However, everyone does agree that forcing children to eat Brussels sprouts is immoral.

Here are the corresponding notes:

¹Like most practitioners (which is also spelled without a “c”), we prefer “dietitian.”

² While the issue appears to be settled in favour of the fruit camp, Olaf B. Ferguson notes that “some Transylvanian critics remain stalwart holdouts” (44). For a fruitful discussion of the issue, see especially Legume and Leek 79-99.

Unless you are publishing online, make sure you indent the first line of each note. Place your cursor before the number and press “Tab.”

Here is another example, for good measure:

³ The same observation is found in subsequent textbooks (e.g., Emerald 101, Luxemburgher 22). Only recently has there been some questioning of the traditional paradigm. See Islander 44 for some probing questions.

When a note primarily adds more references, it is called a bibliographic note, whereas if it consists mostly of added commentary then it is termed a content note.

Formatting Notes

Notes should use Arabic numbering (1, 2, 3, etc.). In addition, text in footnotes is usually in a smaller font (e.g., Times New Roman size 10).

It is up to you (or your instructor) whether you use footnotes or endnotes. If you choose the latter, place them after the text and before the Works Cited. Adding a title such as “Notes” would be a nice touch.

For more information, see chapter 7 of the MLA Handbook (9th ed.).