How to Create Citations in MLA

What is a citation?

  • The term “citation” refers to two things: (1) a piece of content that is drawn from an outside source and (2) the act of mentioning the identifying information of a research source (author name, article title, etc.).
  • When an instructor says, “Cite your sources,” she is telling you to clearly indicate where and when you are pulling material from research sources.
    • (This is done in the body of the essay each time we cite and later we also provide information about each cited source in the essay’s Works Cited section.)
  • Another term for this kind of citation is “in-text citation.”
  • Citations, by definition, offer a very clear indication as to what source is being referenced and a good in-text citation distinguishes where the borrowed content begins and ends within the essay being written.

Example Citation

Here is an example of an in-text citation to get us started:

In “Does Climate Change Cause More War?” journalist Robinson Mayer reports that researchers at UC Berkeley and Stanford University have found “an empirical connection between violence and climate change persists across 12,000 years of human history.”

What are citations for?

Academic writing often emphasizes the importance of research. Academic writers use research for a variety of reasons.

  • To gather information that leads to a developed understanding of a topic
  • To build or grow expertise within an area of study
  • To attain a detailed and nuanced understanding of a complex issue
  • To support an argument (and to understand counter-arguments)

After conducting research, academic writers naturally seek to utilize the knowledge and expertise they have gained and to use the information and ideas they have discovered. To do this, academic writers include citations in their writing.

More Resources on How to Cite in MLA

A Few Words on Plagiarism in Relation to Citing

Academic writing actively encourages the use of citations in student papers. And acting on this expectation, many students have been shocked to find their essays marked with the word, “plagiarism,” when all they did was pull material from research sources like their teacher instructed.

Plagiarism takes a variety of forms, but essentially it boils down to a lack of honesty and transparency. If you are drawing ideas and quotations from a specific research source, you have to mention that this is the case. You have to say, “I did not come up with this myself. I got this material from a research source.” The typical way to do that in academic writing is to cite your sources.

If you draw material from an outside source and do not change the language of that material in any way, place it inside quotations and indicate the source with a signal phrase.

If you draw material from an outside source and re-write the material so that it has now been rendered in your own words, you still need to indicate the original source of the ideas you have drawn from your research. Paraphrased citations still need to provide attribution to the source where the idea/information is coming from. 

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