When you write a formal, academic research essay, you need to present our own ideas and then explain or prove those ideas with different types of supporting details. Those supporting details usually come from outside sources of information. In order to avoid plagiarism, you need to acknowledge those authors. We call this citing our sources, or adding citations. Citations tell the reader where information in your paper came from; it allows them to find the same information and demonstrates credibility.
For example, you might just mention a specific number, such as the population of Portland. However, you didn’t count all those people yourself; someone else did. So you must acknowledge that source of information. In this case, you might write something like this: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Portland, Oregon in 2010 was 585,340. In that sentence, we identified the U.S. Census Bureau as our source of information. If a reader wants to check our data, they know where to look.
We cite our sources of information using MLA8 or MLA9. MLA means Modern Language Association. The “8” or “9” means we are using edition #8 or #9 of its style guide. (Either one is OK for this course.) Citations are both in the middle of your writing and at the end of your paper.
Watch this video to learn more about citations:
You must cite the source of every piece of outside information. If you use a supporting detail from an outside source of information you must cite it. If you use a quotation from an outside source of information, you must cite it. If you paraphrase information from an outside source, you must cite it. Every source must be cited both in the text and on a Works Cited page.
When do you NOT need citations? You do not need to cite yourself when you use your own words to express your own ideas. You do not need to cite common knowledge (example: There are 24 hours in a day.)
There are two types of citations:
- In-text citations: a brief note in the text of the paper where the quotation or paraphrase appears
- Bibliography citations: complete information on a separate page at the end of the paper
This type of citation generally uses the author’s last name and the page number of the information. However, there are several ways to include these two pieces of information. The page number goes in parentheses after your quote or paraphrase. If you do not use the author’s name in the sentence, then include that inside the parentheses, too. Here are three examples using the same citation:
- Jorge Garcia stated that South American poetry featured “a sense of magical realism found only in Latin America” (362).
- South American poetry often features “a sense of magical realism found only in Latin America” (Garcia 362).
- Garcia clearly argues that magical realism in poetry originates in Latin American literature (362).
But what if your source does not have an author? Then use the article title instead. For example:
- Air compressors manufactured by AC/DC Inc. are more reliable than those built by its competitor, JoGen Technology (“Compressed Air: High Tech for Low Prices” 44).
No page number (for example, if you are using a web page)? Then just skip that part. For example:
- Mark Romero says, “Air traffic control is ready for new technology,” and he wants to be the one to design the new computers (“Highways in the Sky”).
The last page of your paper is called the “Works Cited” page. Here, you must include every source that you cite in your paper. This is where you give the reader all the information they need to be able to find your source. You start a new page. You include each source of information in MLA8 format. You arrange the sources in alphabetical order by the first word of the citation. You use hanging indents (these are opposite paragraph format: the first line begins at the margin and the lines that follow are indented). Here is an example:
It looks complicated, but here you can let the computer do the work for you. The Works Cited page is the only place where you can simply copy-and-paste information from a website. There are two ways to make the citations for your Works Cited page.
- Library database: When you find information in the library, use the library database to create the citation for you. Look for the “CITE” or “CITATION” button and choose MLA8. Copy and paste this information into your Works Cited list.
- MyBib.com: When you find information on the internet, use MyBib.com to make your citations. Then copy and paste this information into your Works Cited list. Here is a video about how to use this website:
Now practice with this exercise; it is not graded, and you may repeat it as many times as you wish:
For more information, check out these resources:
Some text has been adapted from: Purdue Writing Lab. “MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics // Purdue Writing Lab.” Purdue Writing Lab.
Videos from: Burke, Anne. A (Very) Brief Introduction. 2014, www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/citation/. Accessed 29 Dec. 2021. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) and Tedone, Diana. “How to Use MyBib.” YouTube, 5 Mar. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1vutetyhYQ. Accessed 29 Dec. 2021.