An in-text reference is a note in an academic paper that documents the source of any quotation or claim. This page explains the format for creating an MLA in-text citation. The information has been compiled by experts and is taken from the MLA Handbook (8th Edition).

Remember that including a source in your text is only one part of a reference. The other part appears in a list of Works Cited at the end of your essay. This list features all the details about your sources, allowing your reader to locate them easily. You should always include both parts.


When documenting a source in your essay, you should note the name of its author (or, if the source has no author, its title). You may also need to include additional elements, such as a page number.

MLA in-text works in one of two ways. The first way is to include the full name of the author or the title of the work in your argument, followed by a page number (if necessary) in round brackets. Alternatively, you can place the author’s surname or an abbreviated title (plus a page number) together in round brackets. These two approaches are respectively known as narrative and parenthetical references.


Example: Michel Foucault argues that the guillotine created a “new ethic of legal death” (15). 

Structure: Author First Name(s) and/or Initial(s) Author Surname (Page(s))


Example: It has been argued that the guillotine changed the nature of capital punishment in Europe (Foucault 15).

Structure: (Author Surname Page(s))


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The above examples are the basic models for referencing works with a single author. However, there are many other types of sources that you might wish to reference. In what follows, we list the in-text MLA citation format for a range of different sources.


To reference a source that has two co-authors, include both of their surnames in your text.


Example: Horkheimer and Adorno equate the Enlightenment with totalitarianism (4).

Structure: Author 1 Surname and Author 2 Surname (Page(s))


Example: It has been argued that the “Enlightenment is totalitarian” (Horkheimer and Adorno 4).

Structure: (Author 1 Surname and Author 2 Surname Page(s))

If there are three or more authors, include the first author’s surname, followed by “et al.” which means “all the rest.”


Example: Schultebraucks et al. have studied how traumatic films induce a “biological stress response” (653). 

Structure: Author 1 Surname et al. (Page(s))


Example: Traumatic films are known to induce biological signs of stress (Schultebraucks et al. 653).

Structure: (Author 1 Surname et al. Page(s))


When a corporation or an organisation is named as the author of a work, abbreviate any terms that would commonly be abbreviated, but otherwise list their full name in your documentation.


Example: The UK government’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education noted in 2011 that “libraries in both schools and communities have a positive effect on reading” (5). 

Structure: Corporation or Organisation Name (Page(s))


Example: A governmental report published in 2011 found that “libraries in both schools and communities have a positive effect on reading” (Great Britain, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education 5). 

Structure: (Corporation or Organisation Name Page(s))


If there is no author associated with a source, you should refer to it by its title. If you are using a narrative reference, you should provide the full title. If you are using a parenthetical reference, then you can use an abbreviated title. To create an abbreviated title, you should use either a distinguishing word or the first noun of the title, accompanied by any preceding adjectives. Note that, if the title is for a larger work like a book or a film, then it should be italicised in your text and in the Works Cited list. Titles of smaller works such as poems, chapters, and articles are not italicised and are contained within quotation marks.


Example: The Book of Margery Kempe is the most famous biography of the fifteenth century. 

Structure: Title (Page(s))


Example: The biography is described as a “short treatise” (Kempe 33). 

Structure: (Abbreviated Title Page(s))

Note that “Kempe” is used as the abbreviation here, since it is more distinctive than “Book,” which is the first noun.


If you are referring to works by two authors with the same surname, include their initial(s) to avoid ambiguity. Or, if you are referring to multiple works by the same author, include their name and a title in order to distinguish between them, like so:

“Ozymandias” uses the framing device of a traveler who makes a discovery and then recounts his findings (P. Shelley 198). It is interesting that the same device is used by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, which was written around the same time (1-18). She would also employ the same technique yet again in her second novel (Shelley, Last Man 3-7).

Narrative Structure: Author Name and/or Title (Page(s))

Parenthetical Structure: ((First Initial) Surname, Abbreviated Title Page(s))


As the above examples show, there is no need to include publication dates when referencing your sources. There is also no need to include the abbreviations “p.” or “pp.” to indicate pages. That said, some sources like poems or plays are identified by something other than page numbers (they might use lines or scenes, for example), in which case you should include an abbreviation to indicate that this is the case, as in the following examples.


Sources that are divided by section, chapter, or paragraph can be referenced using the appropriate abbreviation (sec., ch., or par.), like so:

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 set out five principles for assessing whether or not a person lacks capacity (part 1, sec. 1).

Narrative Structure: Author Name/Title (Abbreviated section(s).)

Parenthetical Structure: (Author Surname/Title Abbreviated section(s).)


Poems and plays, particularly classic works, can often be identified by book or canto, followed by a line number. For example:

Milton’s Satan acts “with ambitious aim / Against the throne and monarchy of God” (I.41-42).

Narrative Structure: Author Name/Title (Book/Canto.Line(s))

Parenthetical Structure: (Author Surname/Title Book/Canto.Line(s))

Quotes from Shakespeare are given using an abbreviated form of the title, followed by an act, scene, and line number, as in this quote from The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained:

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. (MV 4.1.180-81)

Finally, note that you shouldn’t abbreviate “line(s)” to “l.” or “ll.” If you are only referring to a poem by its line number, write the word “line” out in full when you first mention the source, followed by the relevant number:

Keats’ speaker longs to take flight on “the viewless wings of poesy” (line 33).

All subsequent references to the same poem can simply include a number. You don’t need to write out “line” every time.


The first time you reference a religious source, you should reference the edition of the text you consult. In subsequent references to the same work, you can simply use an abbreviation to refer to the relevant book, chapter, and verse. If you’re referring to a particular translation of a religious work, such as an English version of the Qur’an, you should include the name of the translator. Also, remember that, while general terms such as “Bible” and “Qur’an” are not italicised, the titles of specific editions are, as in the following example:

The Genesis myth states that the creation of the world took six days (King James Bible, Gen. 1.5-31). This timeline is echoed in the Qur’an, where it is written: “it was He who created the heavens and earth in six Days” (Abdel Haleem 230; 57.4).

Structure for scripture in English: (Title of Religious Work, Abbreviated Book. Chapter No.Verse(s))

Structure for scripture in translation: (Translator Surname Page(s); Chapter No.Verse(s))


As the above examples show, the punctuation used when documenting sources can be confusing. For instance, while you shouldn’t include a punctuation mark between the author’s name and the page number, you should use a comma when referencing multiple, nonconsecutive pages, like so:

Joyce concretises Bloom’s experience through portmanteau words like “meatjuice” and “sheepsnouts” (214, 217).

If you want to include multiple sources in parentheses, separate them using a semicolon:

Donna Haraway builds on Richard Dawkins’ analysis of phenotypes that are “extended and unbounded” to highlight the “irreducible vulnerability, multiplicity, and contingency of every construct of individuality” (Dawkins 264; Haraway 220). 

To refer to multiple works by the same author at the same time, include the author’s surname and the titles of the works, separated by the word “and” if there are two, or by commas and the word “and” if there are three. For example:

We encounter Tom Riddle’s diary very early on, but it is not until later that we learn that it is a horcrux (Rowling, Chamber and Prince). 

Finally, if you need to explain how you’ve altered a quotation (or that you haven’t altered it), include an explanation after a semicolon, like so: 

Given the play’s exploration of the themes of feasting and musical festivities, it makes sense for the first line to include a synaesthetic combination of both: “If music be the food of love” (TN 1.1.1; my emphasis). 


Abdel Haleem, M. A. S., translator. The Qur’an. Oxford UP, 2015.

Dawkins, Richard. The Extended Phenotype: The Gene as the Unit of Selection. Oxford UP, 1982.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan, Vintage, 1995.

Great Britain, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education. Report of the Inquiry into Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy. Education APPG, 2011, Accessed 24 August 2020. 

Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Free Association Books, 1991.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Translated by Edmund Jephcott, Stanford UP, 2002.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. Penguin, 2000.

Keats, John. The Major Works. Edited by Elizabeth Cook, Oxford UP, 1990.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Edited by Alastair Fowler, Pearson, 2007.

MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Bloomsbury, 1998.

–––. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Bloomsbury, 2005.

Schultebraucks, Katharina, et al. “Heightened Biological Stress Response during Exposure to a Trauma Film Predicts an Increase in Intrusive Memories.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology, vol. 128, no. 7, Oct. 2019, pp. 645–57. APA PsycNet, doi:10.1037/abn0000440.

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Edited by John Drakakis, Bloomsbury, 2010.

–––. Twelfth Night. Edited by Keir Elam, Bloomsbury, 2008.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text. Edited by Marilyn Butler, Oxford UP, 1993.

–––. The Last Man. Edited by Morton D. Paley, Oxford UP, 1994.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. The Major Works. Edited by Zachary Leader and Michael O’Neill, Oxford UP, 2003.  

The Bible: Authorized King James Version with Apocrypha. Oxford UP, 1997.

The Book of Margery Kempe. Translated by Barry Windeatt, Penguin, 1985.

The Mental Capacity Act. Parliament of the United Kingdom, 2005, Accessed 24 August 2020.

Tomas Elliott (MA)

Tomas Elliott is completing a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has taught academic writing, research methodologies, and referencing.