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MLA - Referencing Guide

Citation Methods

Citation Methods

There are four common methods of referring to a source document in the text of an essay, thesis or assignment. These methods are direct quotation from another source, paraphasing or summarising material, and citing the whole of a source document. In academic writing, most of your essay or assignment should be phrased in your own words and the overuse of direct quotation should be avoided.


Quotations must be identical to the original, using a small section of the source.

Quotes match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.

When quoting, the relevant page number(s) must be given.

For longer quotes, omit the quotation marks and indent the block of text.

Some examples:

Winters's mumbling performs a "labour of disarticulation" (Litvak 167).

In the late Renaissance, Machiavelli contended that human beings were by nature "ungrateful" and "mutable" (1240), and Montaigne thought them "miserable and puny" (1343).

John K. Mahlon adds a further insight to our understanding of the war of 1812: Financing the war was very difficult at the time. Baring Brothers, a banking firm of the enemy country, handled routine accounts for the United States overseas, but the firm would take on no loans. The loans were in the end absorbed by wealthy Americans at great hazard -- also, as it turned out, at great profit to them. (385)

Paraphrasing and summarising

Both paraphrasing and summarising involve putting information from source material into your own words.

When paraphrasing, do not add your own opinion or use the original wording. The purpose of paraphrasing is to express the ideas of others in your own words.

Paraphrased material may be shorter than the original passage, taking a larger section of the source and condensing it slightly. When paraphrasing, you must cite the original source.

Page numbers should be given, to assist in locating the relevant passages within the source material, unless you are referring to the ideas of a whole work in general (see example below).

Summarising also involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material. Once again, it is necessary to cite the original source. You are encouraged to include page or chapter numbers when summarising, particularly if it will help your reader locate the relevant passage within a longer work.

Some examples:

Between 1968 and 1988, television coverage of presidential elections changed dramatically (Hallin 5).

In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin states that he prepared a list of thirteen virtues (135-37).

Another engaging passage is the opening of Isabel Allende's story "Toads Mouth" (83).

In Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun, the rejection of Lindner's tempting offer permits Walter's family to pursue the new life they had long dreamed about (274-75).

Citing the whole of a document

Sometimes it may be necessary to give a general reference to the whole of a source document. This method of referencing is used least often.

If citing an entire work, page numbers are not given and the author's name is usually incorporated in the text:

McDonald argues that authors and editors should be aware of, and comply with, the provisions of the Copyright Act.

See the All Examples page for examples of in-text and reference list entries for specific resources such as articles, books, and web pages.