Overview of Citing Sources
Citing sources in the text, no matter the documentation style, allows
the reader to refer quickly and easily to the list of sources and see
the full information about the source. Each citation should be "keyed"
directly to an entry on the list of sources so that the reader can see
immediately which source the citation is referring to. It should take no
more than a few seconds for the reader to notice a citation, flip to
the list of sources, and see which source matches.
The citation itself has only a small amount of information so that it
does not impede readability. If the citations had too much information,
the essay would be hard to read. Citations should be kept as short as
possible because the full information is at the back of the essay. For
example, if you use the author's name in the sentence, do not include it
in the citation. Also to maintain readability, place citations at the
end of a sentence or at a place in the sentence where there is a pause,
such as just before a comma, unless you have more than one citation in a
In MLA format, an in-text citation might look like (Zinsser 14). That
indicates the writer took the quotation or paraphrase from page 14 of a
work by Zinsser. When the reader sees this citation, he or she should
be able to flip to the Works Cited page, run a finger down the left-hand
side, and find the name Zinsser in alphabetical order. That entry
will give the remaining publication information, such as the title and
date of publication. In APA, the citation will look like (Zinsser, 1998,
p. 14), but the process works the same. Footnotes in Chicago will also
match up quickly to entries on the Bibliography. The citation should
always match the item at the left-hand side of the list. The reader
should not have to read within the list looking for the matching entry.
When a source has an author (either a person or an organization),
making sure the citation and entry on the source list match is easy.
However, even when a source has no author, that match must still be
clear. For sources with no author or corporate author, in MLA and APA,
the title will be the first element of the entry on the source list.
Therefore, use the complete title, if it is brief, or the first
important word or words of the title in the citation. For example, take
an essay that uses an anonymous editorial titled "When Don't Smoke Means
Do" from the New York Times website. In MLA style, the
citation could be ("When Don't Smoke") because that is a shortened
version of the title. In APA, the citation could be ("When Don't Smoke,"
2006). Notice the quotation marks, which indicate that the words "When
Don't Smoke" is part of a title. Because the source is online, it has no
page numbers. In Chicago, this source would be listed by the periodical
title, New York Times, so that title would appear first in the footnote.
Ultimately, every source you cite in the essay should have a matching
entry on the list of sources, and every source on that list must be
cited in the essay. There should be no extra sources in either place.
In MLA and APA styles, there are only two
possibilities for correct in-text citations: the last name of the
author(s) or the title (shortened if necessary) if there is no author.
Each of these would be succeeded by the page number if the source
includes page numbers.
To learn about citing sources more specifically in MLA, APA, or Chicago style, see the relevant pages for those styles.