Jerz > Writing > Academic > [ Argument | Titles | Thesis Statements | Blueprinting | Quoting | Citing | MLA Format ]
The MLA-style in-text citation is highly compressed, designed to balance the flow of your own ideas with the precision of brief references.
Rather than interrupting your ideas with long chunks from other sources, prefer integrated quotations — short, meaningful quotes that work organically with the grammar of your original sentence, invoking outside evidence with power and precision. (See also: Academic Writing; Thesis Statements.)
|One engineer who figures prominently in all accounts of the 1986 Challenger accident says NASA was “absolutely relentless and Machiavellian” (Vaughan 221) about following procedures to the letter.|
|This passage integrates a very brief quotation (just four words) into a sentence that helps the author make a point. MLA style uses just the author’s last name and the page number (or for a poem, line number) separated by a space–not a comma.|
|Diane Vaughan cites a shuttle engineer who says NASA was “absolutely relentless and Machiavellian” about following procedures to the letter (221).|
|In the above example (which is also acceptable), when your own sentence mentions the author, do not repeat the author in the parenthetical citation.|
|Diane Vaughan, a professor of psychology at Boston College and an expert in corporate reactions to emergencies, published an extensive study of the 1986 Challenger disaster, called The Challenger Launch Decision. In that book, on page 221, she cites a prominent shuttle engineer who says NASA was “absolutely relentless and Machiavellian” about following procedures to the letter.|
|In high school, you may have been rewarded for introducing every quote with a full sentence identifying the author and mentioning the author’s credentials. But as a college writing teacher, what I see is filler.|
|An MLA-style paper does not ask you to give the full name and credentials of your sources in the body of your paper, or even the full title of your source. (Save that information for the Works Cited list.)|
Integrate Brief Quotations from Outside Sources
If you bring your essay to a screeching halt in order to introduce the full name and credentials of each author, you will bury whatever argument you were trying to make.
Spot the Wordy Formula
|Have you ever noticed how some people just won’t shut up? In the book Why I Love Words by humorist Ira Talott, a similar point is made on page 45: “The streets are full of people who talk to themselves, who write journal entries to nobody. Do they feel that speaking and writing is more important than listening and reading? These people are boring at parties, but are they arrogant? They are compulsive communicators. It’s more likely that they simply live in perpetual fear of silence.” This quote shows that people who talk too much may not actually be able to help themselves, so we should be kind to them.|
|The above example makes a very small point, quoting a much longer passage than necessary, and expending far too many words on the buildup.|
|Wordy Formula||All That Really Matters|
|Intro||Have you ever noticed how some people just won’t shut up? In the book Why I Love Words by humorist Ira Talott, we see a similar point is made on page 45.||Have you ever noticed how some people just won’t shut up? In the book Why I Love Words by humorist Ira Talott, we see a similar point is made on page 45.|
|Quote||The streets are full of people who talk to themselves, who write journal entries to nobody. Do they feel that speaking and writing is more important than listening and reading? These people are boring at parties, but are they arrogant? They are compulsive communicators. It’s far more likely that they may simply live in perpetual fear of silence.||The streets are full of people who talk to themselves, who write journal entries to nobody. Do they feel that speaking and writing is more important than listening and reading? These people are boring at parties, but are they arrogant? They are compulsive communicators. It’s far more likely that they may simply live in perpetual fear of silence.|
|Opinion||This quote shows that people who talk too much may not actually be able to help themselves, so we should be kind to them.||This quote shows that people who talk too much may not actually be able to help themselves, so we should be kind to them.|
|Talott is sympathetic towards “compulsive communicators,” who are “boring at parties,” but who are not actually arrogant; instead, they “simply live in perpetual fear of silence” (45).|
|Which version do you think is better writing — the original (114 words) or the revision (27 words)?|
Which version takes more skill to write?
Which would you rather read?
Three Potential Ways to Apply Borrowed Material
The following examples show three different ways that the same quoted material could be used to advance an original argument, by directly tying the material from one source to related material from another source.
|Talott is sympathetic towards “compulsive communicators,” who are “boring at parties” (45), but who are not actually arrogant. These people “live in perpetual fear of silence,” which makes them “especially susceptible to bottom-feeding advertising campaigns” (Jones 132) that prey upon low self-esteem and body image.|
|Talott is sympathetic towards “compulsive communicators,” who are “boring at parties” (45), but who are not actually arrogant. These people “live in perpetual fear of silence,” not unlike Miss Bates from Emma, whose well-meaning but dull conversation makes her an easy victim of the heroine’s insensitive teasing.|
|Talott is sympathetic towards “compulsive communicators,” who are “boring at parties” (45), but who are not actually arrogant. These people “live in perpetual fear of silence,” which contrasts sharply with the title character in Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” who would “prefer not to” leave the silent prison of his own making. [Note: In this last case, Bartleby repeatedly says that he would “prefer not to” do various things… I didn’t cite a specific page number, because the phrase appears in multiple places. –DGJ]|
|Note the absence of phrases like, “This quote supports my claims because…” or “Another quote offers a useful contrast with this quote.” These revisions aren’t wasting any words talking about “quotes” or “sources,” just as a good carpenter won’t call attention to nail holes or sawed joints.|
Integrate Borrowed Material Smoothly and Efficiently
Avoid clunky, high-schoolish documentation like the following:
|In the book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, by Fredrich A. Kittler, it talks about writing and gender, and says on page 186, “an omnipresent metaphor equated women with the white sheet of nature or virginity onto which a very male stylus could inscribe the glory of its authorship.” As you can see from this quote, all this would change when women started working as professional typists.|
|The passages “it talks about” and “As you can see from this quote” are very weak attempts to engage with the ideas presented by Kittler. In addition, “In the book… it talks” is ungrammatical (“the book” and “it” are redundant subjects) and nonsensical (books don’t talk).|
|In the mid 1880s, “an omnipresent metaphor equated women with the white sheet of nature or virginity onto which a very male stylus could inscribe the glory of its authorship” (Kittler 186), but all this would change when women started working as professional typists.|
|This revision is marginally better, but only because it uses fewer words — it’s still not integrating the outside quote into the author’s own argument.|
Don’t expend words writing about quotes and sources. If you provide a lengthy introduction such as “In the book My Big Boring Academic Study, by Professor H. Pompous Windbag III, it says” or “the following quote by a government study shows that…” you are wasting words that would be better spent developing your ideas.
Using about the same space as the original, see how MLA style helps an author devote more words to developing the idea more fully. We shall continue to revise the above example:
|Before the invention of the typewriter, “an omnipresent metaphor” among professional writers concerned “a very male stylus” writing upon the passive, feminized “white sheet of nature or virginity” (Kittler 186). By contrast, the word “typewriter” referred to the machine as well as the female typist who used it (183).|
|This revision is perhaps a bit hard to follow, when taken out of context. But if you put a bit of introduction into the space you saved by cutting back on wasted words, the thought is clearer.|
|According to Kittler, the concept of the pen as a masculine symbol imposing form and order upon feminized, virginal paper was “an omnipresent metaphor” (186) in the days before the typewriter. But businesses were soon clamoring for the services of typists, who were mostly female. In fact, “typewriter” meant both the machine and the woman who used it (183).|
|The above revision mentions Kittler’s name in the body, and cites two different places in Kittler’s text (identified by page number alone). This is a perfectly acceptable variation of the standard author-page parenthetical citation.|
If your college instructor wants you to cite every fact or opinion you find in an outside source, how do you make room for your own opinion?
- Paraphrase. You can introduce studies that agree with you (Smith 123; Jones and Chin 123) and those that disagree with you (Mohan and Corbett 200) without interrupting your own argument. (See what I did there?)
- Quote Selectively. If you must use the original author’s language, work a few words from the outside source into a sentence you wrote yourself. (If you can’t supply at least as many words of your own analysis of and rebuttal to the quoted passage, then you are probably padding.)
- Avoid Summary. Summarizing someone else’s ideas is one of the easiest ways to churn out words; while students often turn to summary when they want to boost their word count, paragraphs that merely summarize are not as intellectually engaging, and therefore not worth as many points, as paragraphs that analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. See “Writing that Demonstrates Thinking Ability.”)
While MLA Style generally expects authors to save details for the Works Cited pages, there’s nothing wrong with introducing the work more fully — if you have a good reason to do so.
For example, in a paper on the history of the typewriter, you might want to refer to the typist who appears in T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land.” If so, you should identify the source as a poem, so that reader won’t mistake the reference for an academic article. In a similar way, if your paper mainly cites poets, you might need to identify somebody else as an editor or literary critic. Or, perhaps you feel that a particular author’s nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, or education level may affect the relevance of a particular point raised by the author.
Don’t give the full, high-schoolish introduction without a good reason — the presence of irrelevant details is a signal to your reader that you don’t know what you want to say.
Integrated Quotes Facilitate Smarter Writing
How good is a composer who only lets one instrument play at a time? Would you like a pizza that was served to you first as a dry round crust, then a bowl of tomato sauce, then a hunk of cheese?
Avoid a rigid, simplistic organizational structure focused only on summarizing or reflecting on the sources you have found. It’s not possible to think about an issue in a complex way if you examine only one source per paragraph.
|Sweeping general statements, gradually working to a specific mention of topic X.|
Summary of how Source A “talks about X.”
Summary of how Source B “talks about X.”
Summary of how Source C “talks about X.”
Conclusion: “Therefore, this paper has shown that A, B, and C all relate to topic X.”
|This structure won’t permit you to make original connections between your sources and your main idea. You will end up writing too much summary and not enough original argument. The organization of your paper should flow from the argument that you plan to make.|
Consider instead the following, more intellectually complex use of sources:
|Introduction (If source A says “All novels are works of fiction,” and source B says “In Cold Blood is a nonfiction narrative,” and source C says “In Cold Blood is a novel,” they can’t all be right. Your introduction would be where you explain how you will solve the problem. You might not know your answer when you sit down to start writing, but once you find your answer, revise the opening. Don’t keep your thesis a mystery until the end of your paper.)|
Point 1 (If A is right that all novels are fiction, and B is right that In Cold Blood is nonfiction, then what do we make of C’s claim that In Cold Blood is a novel? Rather than just asking the question, here is where you would present your answer, and write a paragraph that draws on all 3 sources to support the position you take.)
Point 2 (If B is right that this book is nonfiction, and C is right that this book is a novel, is A wrong to claim that all novels are nonfiction? Again, rather than just asking the question, you would take a position, and present the evidence that supports your position.)
Point 3 (If C is right that this book is a novel, and A is right that all novels are fiction, is B right to claim that this book is nonfiction? Instead of just asking the question, you would take a position and write a paragraph that presents evidence to defend that position.)
Conclusion: Based on how you resolved the problems you noted above, what new insights are available? Rather than repeating your introduction, or asking a new question that you leave unanswered, this is where you make statements that your reader can only accept after reading the connections you have drawn between the details you have cited from several sources in the body of your paper.
|You don’t need to find such a perfectly balanced three-way argument. Simply finding two credible sources that disagree with each other, and taking one side or the other, is often good enough.|
I constructed this three-way argument in order to demonstrate a complex order that does not focus on one source at a time. It would be impossible to make this complex argument in a paper composed of separate paragraphs that engage with one source at a time.
If you ask yourself questions about how your sources relate to one another, then you can avoid summary and still have plenty to write about.
These are subtleties that you cannot really investigate when you introduce outside sources only in self-contained paragraphs that reference no other sources.
|Dennis G. Jerz|
Finding Good Sources
A reference librarian is specially trained to help patrons find the best sources. An Internet search engine, on the other hand, will show you plenty of sources that will waste your time.Dennis G. Jerz
Integrating Quotations in MLA Style
The MLA-style in-text citation is a highly compressed format, designed to avoid interrupting the flow of ideas. A proper MLA inline citation uses just the author’s last name and the page number (or line number), separated by a space (nota comma).Dennis G. Jerz
Academic Journals: Using Them Properly
“Crazy Joe’s Shakespeare Website” probably won’t have the authoritative information your English professor is looking for. If you want up-to-date, accurate articles, look in an academic journal.David Nies and Dennis G. Jerz
Using MS-Word to Format a Paper in MLA Style
This step-by-step set of directions will help you use MS-Word to format an English paper properly.Dennis G. Jerz
MLA Style Bibliography Builder
Updated to handle web sources (Jan 2001). Choose a form, fill it out, and push the button… you will get an individual MLA “Works Cited” entry, which you may then copy and paste into your word processor.
03 Oct 2007 — extracted and expanded from a handout that focused on finding good sources.
04 Nov 2011 — reorganization and updates
20 Dec 2016 — further reorganization and updates
06 Dec 2017 — expanded Kanye example
12 thoughts on “Integrated Quotes: Citing Sources Effectively in MLA-Style Papers”
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great posting thanks a lot !!
still confused on how to insert things when needed and basically using it in general paper is due wednesday rough draft
Leslie, it’s great that your instructor is giving you the chance to revise. He or she is doing twice or three times the work it would take just to give you a single grade, and you will learn a lot if you take full advantage of the opportunity.
You are bang on correct!
I’m looking at the author’s footnote, and it says “…STATISTICS”.
So I Google the article in the NYT by it’s title: “Belt-Loosening in the Work Force” (NYT 2 Mar 2003)
and the article’s author writes:
The economists — Shin-Yi Chou, Henry Saffer and Michael Grossman — presented their findings in a working paper called ”An Economic Analysis of Obesity” for the National Bureau of Economic Research. In the paper, the economists note that…
So I Google An Economic Analysis of Obesity and find it’s REALLY:
An Economic Analysis of Adult Obesity: Results from the Behavioral
Risk Factor Surveillance System
Shin-Yi Chou, Michael Grossman and Henry Saffer
NBER Working Paper No. 9247
JEL No. I12, I18
The mis-cited, mis-cited :) statement is on page 28:
“Without trend terms, the increase in the per capita number of restaurants makes the
largest contribution to trends in weight outcomes, accounting for 69 percent of the growth in
BMI and 68 percent of the rise in the percentage obese.” (Chou 28)
So, first, kudos to you!!! – for even taking the time to fact-check the quote…
If it wasn’t for you, I’d have been wrong, and wronger :)
Second, now that I have the correct citation information, do I
a) cite Banzhaf only, and
b) with a [sic]?
The reason I ask is… I learned from you, elsewhere on your site, that I should not quote from an “outside source”…
If I quote Chou’s paper, I’m thinking that is considered an “outside source”?
You blow my doors off with your attention to detail.
Your own detective work was pretty good, too! Most professional researchers will put this level of scrutiny into every source they plan to use in their papers, which is why it’s worth the effort for students to find and use peer-reviewed academic sources, rather than random web pages.
If you want to use that statistic, I wouldn’t cite Banzhaf at all — which looked like a random website, not a scholarly publication. Just cite the MBER paper directly.
I just wanted to catch up and say thanks for your help.
I was (and still am) under a ton of deadlines, so I wasn’t able to stop back here right away…
FYI: The Banzhaf essay in question is in a textbook called:
“They Say/I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing : With Readings. By Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russel K. Durst. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0393931747
The final was due within hours of my last post, so I had to make a corporate decision as to what(whom) I should cite…I picked Banzhaf.
Citing him was easier than going with the MBER paper :)
I received a solid “B”.
I kinda thought I was getting an A (hah! giggle…)
When I read my professor’s critiques of my paper, however, she was deadly accurate as to what I needed to improve upon. It certainly was not an A paper, after all.
So, I’ve got new goals for paper #2 :)
She made this very neat-o checklist of what constitutes A level work, B level work, C level work, etc…
I’ll ask her permission to scan in and send to you…might be something cool to pass along.
An interesting anecdote:
Discovering the mis-cited, mis-cited information in the Banzhaf essay/NYT article led me to my thesis topic for paper #2.
(I’m still trying to work out how I’m going to explain somewhere in that paper that ya’ got ta’ put da’ lime in de’ coconut… but it’ll come to me…)
Keep up the awesome work on helping all of us of out here in “the intertoobs” land… we, the unwashed masses of inept paper writers :)
How delightful to hear your update! If you are taking your learning this seriously, I don’t see how you can go wrong.
I love your website!
I’m in a college English Comp class and am working on a thesis paper.
I’m quoting an author named John Banzhaf and have a question about how to cite the quote.
My author’s essay is actually a transcript of his Congressional testimony.
He uses footnotes to provide references to validate his statements.
In one of his footnotes, he quotes an excerpt from an article in the New York Times.
I’ve quoted that same NYT excerpt.
How would I format the quote citation?
Do I cite the quote as coming from the author’s body of work, and not worry about it’s original source?
I’m thinking it should be:
(I’ve included my own lead-in, for your to see what I’m trying to quote)
…it is one of these footnotes that refers us to a study done by the National Bureau of Economic Statistics and subsequently reported in the New York Times that the “growth of fast-food accounted for 68 percent of the rise in American obesity”. (Banzhaf 166)
I asked my professor, and she wasn’t sure.
MLA’s website doesn’t provide specific formatting help (buy the book :)
and Purdue doesn’t mention a quote within a quote…
Thank you for any help!!!
You are an ENORMOUS help to us literary n00bs :)
You’re playing the telephone game — I am reading what you say Banzhaf said the New York Times said something called the “National Bureau of Economic Statistics” said.
I just did a Google search, and I found a US Bureau of Economic Analysis and National Bureau of Economic Research. I don’t know anything about economics, so I don’t know whether perhaps the same organization had a recent name change, but it looks to me like Google references to NBES are actually talking about the NBER instead. At any rate, that’s enough of a warning sign that I’d say the problem is not how to cite Banzhaf, but rather how to trace the 68% statistic directly to its source. (I’d start by looking for the NYT article that Banzhaf mentions.)
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