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art courtesy of
Janet Preslar, FrActivity

Primary Sources
(Quoting Your Sources)
MLA Style


  • Two Types:
    • Primary Sources...the main work, either a story or essay, you are analyzing.
    • Secondary Sources...the works written about the primary work, or those general works used to analyze primary work.
  • The following information concerns both primary and secondary sources. Keep in mind that MLA formatting refers to English and Language Arts courses. For APA formatting, see Quoting Your Sources, APA style.


  • Uses exact words from author.
  • May be a word, phrase, sentence, or series of sentences.
  • Place citation directly after the quotation or the particular statistic. Placing the citation at the end of your sentence in which you include your own information implies that the author is being given credit for your idea or claim.

In-text citation is simply the author's LAST name and the page number for stories (Jones 34) [or just author's last name if no page is available (Alexie)], line numbers for lyric/poetry) (Prine 3-6), or act and scene (for plays) (Sakespeare II:3) in parentheses: no commas, no p. or pg. . Separate multiple authors by comma (Jones, Smith 34). Cite multiple works by the same author by title, capitalizing and quoting ("Survivor Type<" 12) or italicizing (The Stand 645) the title according to the type of work it is.

  • Quotation is always both preceded and followed by your analysis of quote's importance and/or relevance. The paragraph will be a sandwich of sorts, and consider quoted text the mustard in the sandwich. You don't want it on the top or the bottom. See the LONG QUOTE EXAMPLE below for an example of a paragraph with text in it.
  • Follow with author and page in parentheses before terminal punctuation, except when punctuation determines the manner in which something is stated or asked.


    • Original text:
      He drove through the night.
    • In your paper:
      "He drove through the night" (Jones 34).

    • Original text:
      I hate you!
    • In your paper:
      "I hate you!" (Jones 34).

    • Original text:
      Is this your answer?
    • In your paper:
      "Is this your answer?" (Jones 34).


    • Original text:
      She was a modern woman.
    • In your paper:
      They called Audrey a "modern woman" (Jones 34).

    • Original text:
      Ernest Hemingway was considered a man's man.
    • In your paper:
      Sometimes referred to as "a man's man" (Jones 34), Hemingway engaged in traditionally masculine endeavors such as drinking, big game hunting and world travel.

    Editing of a quotation requires that you indicate that you have modified the original text.

    • When omitting text, replace the missing word or words with ellipses (...).
      • Original text:
        Her attributes included a strong personality, a big heart and a devastating smile.
      • In your paper:
        Gilda was known for her "strong personality...big heart and...devastating smile" (Jones 34).

    • When adding text, put your words in brackets ([ ]).
      • Original text:
        Her attributes included a strong personality, a big heart and a devastating smile.
      • In your paper:
        Gilda had many "attributes, [including] a strong personality, a big heart and a [now-famous] devastating smile" (Jones 34).

    N.B.: You may NOT change the meaning of the work with editing. You are only editing for clarity and to match sentence structure.

    Citation of any information that is not a direct quotation is called an indirect quote. Examples of such material would be paraphrases, statistics and claims. A paraphrase is essentially rewording an author's ideas into your own words while maintaining the essential truths. Many instructors require that the students cite paraphrase, but given that the vast majority of what you're researching is new information for you, theoretically you would be citing every sentence. For the purposes of my class, I want you to only cite any paraphrase in which the author is making a specific claim, such as the value of something, the veracity of someone else's argument or some kind of specific idea. Statistics refer to specific information, most commonly numbers and percentages, that explain, for example, a percentage of the population that engaged in a particular behavior or something along those lines. Statistics need citation because we need to know where you got your statistics as they often vary from source to source. Be sure to put the citation directly after the statistics rather than at the end of your sentence because you are citing a statistic itself, not your explanation of what it means. Claims are particularly important in terms of citation. You are essentially giving an opinion that is derived from someone else, and you are giving that opinion in your own words. It is important that the person whose opinion is being expressed is credited with that opinion. Again, the citation should directly follow the opinion itself, not your assessment of it.


    • Original text:
      Edgar Allan Poe is believed to be one of the greatest writers ever.
    • In your paper:
      Jones claims that Poe is one of the best writers in history (Jones 34).

    • Original text:
      Hemingway's portrayal of women consistently reveals his biases against them.
    • In your paper:
      Jones claims that Hemingway's works revealed a bias against women (Jones 34).


    • Original text:
      Stephen King once said that he is sure he will never win a Pulitzer Prize for literature.
    • In your paper:
      King is reported to have claimed he would never win a literary award (Smith 34).

    Keep in mind that as you make reference especially to different resources in the same sentence, you want to identify which information came from which author. In the following sentence, notice that the information has been clearly defined as to whom made which claim.

    • Research tells us that better libraries mean higher reading scores (see McQuillan 43 and studies reviewed in Krashen 235) and Keith Curry Lance has provided evidence confirming the positive impact of library staffing on reading achievement (Lance 994).


    • Poetry and lyrics are cited by author(s) and line number(s).
      • "Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world" (Hunter, Garcia lines 8-9).


    • Movies, television shows and other video are quoted with title and time code; "My snakes!" (Duel 1:12:34 -1:12:35). If working from actual script, cite by author's last name as you would any written document.
    • When citing plays, cite with act and scene.
      • Act is a Roman numeral, and act and scene are separated by a colon.
        • "Out, out damned spot!" (Shakespeare, II:6).
    • Youtube and other videos are cited by poster's name (not subject in the video) and time code (Douglas Vasconcelos, 2:34-2:43). If poster's name is not available, cite in text by title of video and time code ("Nebraska - Bruce Springsteen" (2:34-2-43).


    • The Bible (as most religious works) was written in verse, so it is cited by chapter and verse, with a colon as a separator. First citation should include Bible version (there are many). "JUDGE not, that ye be not judged" (NIV, Matthew 7:1). Each subsequent reference only requires chapter and verse unless you change versions. "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" (Matthew 7:3).


    • Use regular quotation marks to show that someone else's words are being cited, but also use single quotation marks to show that the passage was already in quotes.
    • Single marks always go inside the double marks.


    • Original text:
      "Look at that!"
    • In your paper:
      "'Look at that!'" (Jones 34).

    • Original text:
      "I need a drink," she said quietly.
    • In your paper:
      "'I need a drink,' she said quietly" (Jones 34).


    LONG QUOTE EXAMPLE: The following is the text of an essay with a long quotation embeeded within it.
         Maddin Storm from Beechman's "Fire on High" is an excellent example of a conflicted character. Her dilemma was best described by her older sister in a conversation with her mother-in-law.

      Mrs. Moore looked at Sue and said, "She was always in love, always searching for that perfect beast. Yet something inside forced her to pick the worst possible mate, someone who, it always turned out, was exactly not what she wanted." Sue shifted and smiled uneasily. "Maybe Iris's failures were a subconscious self-destruction that none of us could stop." (Jones 34)
    It was that "self-destruction" (Jones 34) that was also exhibited when she tried to save her son's marriage, a decision that clearly shows situational irony when her attempts to fix the situation ensured that it would spiral out of control.


    • Indent entire passage as you would a long quote.
    • Create a new line and indent for each time the character who is speaking changes.
    • Include regular quotation format as indicated in text, since this is a long quote format.

    The two characters argue as to who is right, neither willing to see the other's perspective.

      "I can't go now."
      "Yes, you can."
      "I really don't like these people."
      "Sure you do." (Jones 34)

    He clearly is not listening to her, demonstrating his lack of respect for her.


    • Citation of more than one work by the same author(s) in your paper will be by TITLE of the works.
    • Any citation that includes a title must quote or italicize the title to be consistent with your use of the title in the text or your paper
    • For standard (not long form) quotes, drop terminal punctuation of quoted piece and insert a parenthetical reference with author's last name and page number (Jones 34).
    • Then put period, comma, semi-colon or other appropriate punctuation at end.
    • Leave in question mark or exclamation point, but still end citation with a period.
    • In long quote, parenthetical goes after terminal punctuation.
    • Use text for support; it is not meant to be self-explanatory.
    • Make sure the text you use is clearly directly related to your point.
    • Don't use too many quotes--one or two will suffice in most cases.


    © T. T. Eiland, 1998-2019
    Last modified: July 5, 2018