Common Citation Mistakes

There are many ways to create correct in-text citations in MLA, but there are also many ways to create incorrect citations. Some mistakes are more common than others.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common citation mistakes and how to fix them.

Problem: Dropped Quotations

  • Dropped quotations occur when a writer places a quotation into the essay without adding any new language to it.

Dropped quotations have not been integrated into the writing that surrounds them in the essay.

They’ve just been “dropped in.”

Solution: Use a signal phrase.

Example of a Dropped Quotation:
Swimming pools are fun but expensive. “A majority of American families that report interest in buying a pool say that they cannot afford one” ” (“Household Spending”). 
A Corrected Version of the Same Citation  
Swimming pools are fun but expensive. According to Pew Research, “A majority of American families that report interest in buying a pool say that they cannot afford one” (“Household Spending”). 
Note: The punctuation at the end of the sentence comes after the parenthesis in this case.

Problem: Too much material is selected to quote. 

  • Selecting too much material to quote can lead to problems of relevance. We only want to include the most necessary and relevant material to cite and include in our essay. 
  • Creating overly-large quotations also creates the impression that a writer is trying to cheat by filling out his own paper with other people’s writing. 

Solution: Quote in small chunks and use the quotation to support a specific point. (Quotations require block formatting when they are four or more lines.)


Problem: Cited material does not align with the point being made.

  • This is another issue of relevance. Sometimes in the research process, we find a great piece of information and we plan to use it in our essay. But then when we actually write the essay, that information is no longer helpful because our planned argument has changed. 
  • This can also happen when we start writing a paragraph thinking it will prove X, but the writing takes a turn and proves Y instead. The quote we were going to use supports point X but not point Y. 
  • Citations must directly fit the argument being made.

Solution: Revise the point being made or select different material to cite.


Problem: Attribution is provided but it’s in the wrong place. 

  • Attribution is provided after the cited material or sometimes at the end of a paragraph.
  • This is a problem because there is no way for the reader to know what specifically was coming from the research source and what was original with the writer of the essay.

Solution: Set-up the citation. Present a signal phrase at the beginning of the citation. To be safe, attach attribution to every sentence where you are citing ideas from a source. (Attach the attribution right next to the cited material where necessary.)

An Example of Good Attribution
According to Alex Dunn, boxing legend Muhammad Ali turned to Islam “specifically for its liberation theology” (93). When Ali adopted his new name, he reportedly lost $2 million as a result through a loss of endorsements (94), but he did not change his mind or change his course.
Note #1: By inserting the page number in the second sentence, we have indicated that the information being presenting is a citation from the previously mentioned source. This works because the sentences are sequential (one right after the other). 
Note #2: When citing statistics, we often will not place the information inside quotations. This means we will use only the raw data in our citation, not the language that surrounded it in the original.

Problem: Signal Phase Placed After Cited Material

In academic writing, it is conventional to precede quoted material with a signal phrase, which is different from what we might see in magazines and newspapers. Academic writing and journalism have quite a bit in common, but this is one area where the two modes differ.

Example of Misplaced Signal Phrase
“Skill and talent should not be understood as two different things,” according to Max Verbatim.
Corrected Version
According to Max Verbatim, “Skill and talent should not be understood as two different things.”

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