ENC1101 Learning Unit 6
MLA and APA Citation
One reason using sources is confusing for students is that different disciplines abide by different sets of rules for documenting information. For example, most English and humanities classes use what is called the MLA format (MLA stands for the Modern Language Association), while science and business classes typically use the APA format (APA stands for the American Psychological Association). There are other formatting styles, as well, but because this chapter is meant to serve as a very basic general overview, we are only going to touch on these two formats. Always remember to ask your instructor (or your boss if you are writing for your job) which format to use as you begin your research. (1)
In-text Citation and Source Lists (Works Cited and References Pages)
Regardless of whether you are using the MLA or APA format, you need to understand from the very start of your writing project that you are responsible for citing your sources intwo ways : you have to explain what source you are using at the moment you introduce its information inside the paper , which is called in-text citation , and you have to list all of the pertinent publication information for all of your sources at the end of your paper on a list of sources. This list is called a works cited page if you are using the MLA format and a references page if you are using the APA format.
Most researchers build their lists of sources (their works cited pages or references pages) as they compile research material. Again, this list goes at the very end of the paper on a separate page titled either “Works Cited” or “References.”
After they’ve constructed these pages, writers can use them to help them accurately create the in-text citations that must be included each time one of the sources from the list is used in their papers. You can think of the in-text citations as notes to readers that let them know which source from the list at the paper’s end is being used. (1)
Three Ways to Use a Source: Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing
Writers can cite a source in a number of ways. The first is to quote it. This is when a writer takes the exact words of a source and repeats them verbatim in his or her paper. When you quote a source, you have to put its words inside quotation marks. Let’s take a look at examples of quoting in both the MLA and APA formats:
MLA: According to philosopher Mark Stephens, “understanding what the best course of action may be requires analyzing both the action’s context and the ethical framework within which the judge of that action is operating” (456).
APA According to Stephens (2015), “understanding what the best course of action may be requires analyzing both the action’s context and the ethical framework within which the judge of that action is operating” (p. 456).
In both cases, the quote itself (“understanding what the best course of action may be requires analyzing both the action’s context and the ethical framework within which the judge of that action is operating”) is introduced by a signal phrase , a group of words that signal to the reader that a specific source is being used. When a source has a clear author, you provide at least that author’s last name (in the MLA you can provide his or her first name, as well) so that the reader can look it up on the works cited or references page at the end of the paper. Also, the APA requires that you list the year the source was published; in a signal phrase, you put that year in parentheses right after the author’s name . Notice that a page number is provided at the end of both examples, as well. When you use the MLA format, you don’t put a “p.” in front of that number, but you need to include it if you are using the APA format.
Note that if you provide an author’s name in a signal phrase, you do not need to mention it in the parentheses at the end of the sentence. This is true for all of the different kinds of in-text citation, including paraphrasing and summarizing. (1)
Another way to cite a source is to paraphrase it. Paraphrasing is when you put a source’s information in your own words without using any of the source’s original phrasing. Many instructors consider paraphrasing to be the most effective way to cite because it shows that a student has a clear understanding of the source material. Also, when you put source material in your own words, it blends nicely with the rest of your paper.
Paraphrasing is not easy to do well. This is because you have to make sure that you don’t use any of the original’s language; your version has to sound significantly different in order for you to avoid plagiarizing the source. In addition, many students forget that paraphrasing requires just as much citation as quoting . This is because you are using someone else’s ideas and information, so it does not belong to you, regardless of whether you used your own words to state it.
Here are two basic examples of paraphrasing. In both cases, a printed source with a single author is being cited. The original source material is also provided so you can see how different the paraphrased versions look.
Original Source: When an essential ethical decision must be made, understanding what the best course of action may be requires analyzing both the action’s context and the ethical framework within which the judge of that action is operating.
MLA: Philosopher Mark Stephens explains that making a truly ethical choice must involve familiarity with the situation within which that choice must be made and awareness of the ethical standards of the system that the decider is using to make the choice (456).
APA: Stephens (2015) says that every important ethical choice necessitates an awareness both of the situation’s background factors and also of the principles the chooser holds dear (p. 456). (1)
The final way to cite a source inside your paper is to condense it down to its main ideas and explain its overall point or importance; this is called summarizing a source. Unlike paraphrasing, which is when you rewrite a particular portion of a source in your own words, summarizing involves summing up an entire source (or at least a large section of it) in a short burst of language. Like paraphrasing, though, you must use your own words when you summarize; you must avoid using the original’s language unless you want to quote the source’s words. Also, just like quoting and paraphrasing, summarizing requires that you clearly explain what source you are using and provide author information and page numbers. Here are two examples:
MLA: Philosopher Mark Stephens focuses on all of the factors that go into ethical decision-making in his article “We Are What We Choose;” he ultimately argues that there will never be a perfect algorithm for making existential choices and that being human means never knowing whether a choice is absolutely good or just (450-465).
APA: Stephens (2015) emphasizes the complexity of all existential decisions and defines personhood as the capacity to choose coupled with the inability to foresee a given choice’s ethical ramifications (p. 450-465).
Note in both cases the page range is provided so that a reader knows exactly what part of the original work is being summarized. Though we cannot reprint the whole span of pages here, reading them would reveal that neither example used the exact language of the original. Finally, notice that the publication year is provided in the APA example. (1)
Indirect Citation: Citing a Source That is Inside Another Source
One very confusing situation that often comes up when you are citing a source occurs when you want to quote the exact words of someone who is already being quoted by the source you are using! In other words, the words you are quoting are not those of your source’s author but of someone that author is quoting him or herself. For example, imagine that this is the part of a source you are interested in using:
The effects of solitary confinement can be catastrophic, and health care professionals argue vehemently for its abolition. Dr. Murray Baker, who has worked with prisoners for decades, argues that “confinement like this for long periods is quite simply the cruelest, most debilitating kind of torture a society could deign to practice. Its use is unconscionable.”
-Andrea Skate, from her 2013 book The Cruelest Cage , p173
Citing a source like this (which often is called an embedded source since it is embedded or housed inside another source) is called creating an indirect citation , and the MLA and APA formats have different rules for doing it. (1)
If you are using the MLA format , you can explain the details of the embedded source in your signal phrase and then provide the information about the source where you found it (the secondary source , if we want to be technical) in the parenthetical citation at the sentence’s end. Thus, if we were citing the example above, our citation might look like this:
According to Dr. Murray Baker, who has years of experience working with prisoners, solitary confinement “is quite simply the cruelest, most debilitating kind of torture a society could deign to practice” (qtd. in Skate 173).
Notice that in the parentheses at the end of the sentence, the abbreviation “qtd. in” appears, meaning that Baker was “quoted in” the book by Skate. The page number of Skate’s book where Baker’s words originally appeared is then provided.
For clarity’s sake, let’s break this down once more. Dr. Murray Baker is the embedded source whose words appear in Andrea Skate’s secondary source , the book The Cruelest Cage. In our citation, we mentioned Baker (the embedded source) in our signal phrase, and then provided the pertinent information about Skate’s source (the secondary source) in our parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence. (1)
The process is similar if you are using the APA format , but it looks slightly different. It will be easiest if we go ahead and look at an APA example of an indirect citation and then break it down, so here’s a citation of the above source again, this time in the APA format:
According to Baker, solitary confinement “is quite simply the cruelest, most debilitating kind of torture a society could deign to practice” (as cited in Skate, 2013, p. 173).
Again, Dr. Baker’s name appears in the signal phrase at the beginning of the sentence, and the secondary source’s information is included in the parenthetical citation at the end. Notice, however, that the APA format uses the words “as cited in” instead of the abbreviation “qtd. in” and includes the secondary source’s publication date as well as a “p.” in front of the page number, and all of this information is separated by commas. (1)
Citing Sources without Authors and/or without Page Numbers
Another confusing situation arises when a source you want to cite either has no author attributed to it or, because it is an online source, it has no page numbers.
In the case of a source without an author, both the MLA and APA formats require you to mention the next most important piece of information about that source when you create an in-text citation. This piece of information will typically end up being the first thing you list for that source on the list of sources at the end of your paper (your works cited or references page).
If you are dealing with a book, the book’s title will usually be what you will mention in an in-text citation. Book titles always appear in italics when you cite them.
If you are dealing with a magazine, newspaper, or journal article, the article title is the thing you will mention. If you are citing a web page, usually the title of the page you are citing (not the overall website but the specific page or article you are referencing on that site) is what you will mention. In the case of all such articles, you put the titles inside quotation marks. (1)
Book with no author, MLA:
According to Science and Service , there are well over 200,000 science-based jobs being performed in the military (25).
Book with no author, APA:
According to Science and Service (2015), there are well over 200,000 science-based jobs being performed in the military (p. 25).
Article with no author, MLA:
The article “Controversies in Online Communities” breaks down several ways that online communication becomes toxic, including “micro-aggression, gas lighting, race basting, breaking the sacred, personal information dumps, friend forging, and triggering” (127).
Article with no author, APA:
The article “Controversies in Online Communities” (2016) breaks down several ways that online communication becomes toxic, including “micro-aggression, gas lighting, race basting, breaking the sacred, personal information dumps, friend forging, and triggering” (p. 127).
Note that the APA versions include dates (and the “p.” in front of the page numbers). (1)
As for sources without page numbers like web-based articles, the MLA does not require any additional work; you just present the author or book/article title (if there is no author) in the signal phrase or parenthetical citation. The APA, however, requires that you list paragraph numbers if the paragraphs are numbered in the source (usually you will see those numbers in the right margin). If no paragraph numbers are provided, you are required to provide the section of the source in which the cited material appears and then count the paragraphs from the beginning of that section and present that number, too.
Source with no page numbers, MLA:
According to Dr. Charles Millen, a specialist in Western myth and popular culture, “today’s superheroes embody a strange combination of elevated archetypal dignity and a base tendency to engage in hyper-violence due to the commercial interests that control their destinies.”
Source with no page numbers but with paragraph numbers, APA:
According to Millen (2016), “today’s superheroes embody a strange combination of elevated archetypal dignity and a base tendency to engage in hyper-violence due to the commercial interests that control their destinies” (para. 7).
Source with no page or paragraph numbers, APA:
Marshall (2016) argues that “resistance can’t take the form of the very thing it resists, for it then becomes a hypocritical play of force that threatens the integrity of the resistor” (Violence in Context section, para. 3). (1)
There are many, many more in-text citation situations that you will encounter as you write research papers in college and beyond. We can only provide a basic overview here, and as you move forward with your education, you will likely want to purchase the MLA Handbook or the Publication Manual of the APA, depending on which format your discipline uses. Many online resources are available, as well. (1)
Creating Source Lists: Works Cited Pages (MLA) and References Pages (APA)
As we mentioned at the beginning of this module, every research paper must include a list of the sources that are used within the paper. This list appears as the very last page of a paper (it should always be on its own page). The MLA calls this list a works cited page, while the APA calls it a references page.
We have included both a sample works cited page in this module 6 and a sample references page in module 5. Pay close attention to the way the sources are formatted on those sample pages. You will notice the following general attributes of both MLA and APA source lists based on these examples.
- the title of the pages (Works Cited or References) appears at the top and is centered; it is NOT bolded, underlined, or italicized, and it has the same font size as the rest of the paper.
- the pages are double-spaced, just like the formatting of the rest of the paper.
- each entry on the page is listed in alphabetical order according the first letter of whatever starts the entry. There are no bullets or numbers in the list!
- each entry that is longer than one line has a hanging indent; this means that the second (and all subsequent) lines are indented half of an inch from the left margin.
Because there are so many different kinds of sources, we will only be able to discuss a few examples in this module in order to provide you with a general idea of the information you need to include on an accurate works cited or references page. More information and examples are available in the course shell.
A Print Book with a Single Author
This is the simplest kind of source to include on a source list. For the MLA , you need to include the author’s name (last name and then first name), followed by the title of the book, the publisher’s name, and the publication date.
For the APA , you need to include the author’s name (last name and first initial), followed by the publication date in parentheses, the book’s title, the place of its publication, and the name of the publisher. Note the capitalization and punctuation differences in the examples below.
Matysik, Larry. Drawing Heat the Hard Way. ECW Press, 2009.
Matysik, L. (2009). Drawing heat the hard way. Toronto, Ontario: ECW Press. (1)
A Print Article in an Academic Journal with a Single Author
For the MLA , include the author’s name (last and then first), the title of article, the title of the journal (in italics), the volume number, and the issue number if it is available. Include the year and page numbers at the end of the entry.
For the APA , include the author’s name (last name and first initial), the title of article, the title of the periodical, the volume number (with the issue number in parentheses), and the pages on which the article appears.
Abdous, M’hammed. “A Process-Oriented Framework for Acquiring Online Teaching Competencies.” Journal of Computing in Higher Education , vol. 23, no. 1, 2011, pp. 60-77.
Abdous, M. (2011). A process-oriented framework for acquiring online teaching competencies. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 23(1), 60-77. (1)
There are many, many more in-text citation situations that you will encounter as you write research papers in college and beyond. We can only provide a basic overview here, and as you move forward with your education, you will likely want to purchase the MLA Handbook or the Publication Manual of the APA, depending on which format your discipline uses. Many online resources are available, as well.