Using Sources Correctly

53 Crediting and Citing Your Sources

When you summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote a source, you must cite it. Giving credit to the sources you used creating a text is important, and useful, for several reasons:

  1. It adds to your own credibility as an author by showing you have done appropriate research on your topic and approached your work ethically.
  2. It gives credit to the original author and their work for the ideas you found to be useful, and in giving them credit it helps you avoid unintentionally plagiarizing their work.
  3. It gives your readers additional resources (already curated by you in your research process) that they can go to if they want to read further your topic.

Credit/Cite Your Sources

For academic work, this generally means two things: in-text (or parenthetical) citation PLUS a “Works Cited” or “References” page. These two things may look different for different types of classes. For example, it’s likely your writing class will use Modern Language Association (MLA) format, while a psychology class is more likely to use American Psychological Association (APA) format.

The specific details required and the order in which they appear changes between different formats, but practicing one of them will give you a general idea of what most of them are looking for and will get you accustomed to following a strict, detail-oriented procedure. All of the information we look at here is specific to MLA—the format you will use for your writing and some other humanities classes.

In-Text Citation/Parenthetical Citation

Both in-text and parenthetical citations include the author’s last name and the page number—or place in the source—the information came from (if applicable). Sometimes you can accomplish in-text citation by mentioning the author or title of a source inside the language of your sentence, but other times you’ll use a parenthetical citation. Parenthetical means that the citation appears in parentheses within your sentence or at the end of it, before the period.

  • For example, an article written by Lisa Smith is in a physical magazine and spans pages 38-42. If, on page 41, she says, “While most studies have shown that Expo dry erase markers have superior lasting power, erasability, and colour saturation than other brands on the market, their higher cost is a concern for some consumers,” I might incorporate that into a paper like this:
    • By most measurable standards, Expo markers are clearly the favored option (Smith 41).

However, you don’t always need both components (last name and page number) in the parenthetical citation.

  • If I introduced the source material in the sentence above a little differently, introducing the author before delivering the material, I wouldn’t need to repeat the author’s name in that same sentence in the parenthetical citation. In that case, my sentence would look something like this:
    • According to Lisa Smith, Expo markers are clearly the favored option by most measurable standards (41).

Three Ways to Cite or Identify Written Source Materials

1. Introduce the Author and/or the Title of the Source—Framing

By introducing the author or the material, you make it clear to the reader that what you’re talking about is from a source. Here’s an example of a quotation that is identified by introducing the author and the title of source (which are underlined and are the first parts of the sentences).

In the article, “Grooming Poodles for Fun and Profit,” Jonas Fogbottom explains, “Poodle grooming is a labour of love. It takes years of practice to be good at it, but once learned, it’s a fun and worthwhile career.”

Here’s an example of a paraphrase that is identified in the same way:

In the article, “Grooming Poodles for Fun and Profit,” Jonas Fogbottom says that although it takes a long time to become a skilled poodle groomer, it’s well worth the effort and leads to a good career.

Note that, in the example above, (1) if there are no page numbers to cite and (2) if the name of the author is signaled in the phrase that introduces the bit of source material, then there is no need for the parenthetical citation. This is an example of a situation where mentioning the author by name is the only in-text citation you’ll need. And sometimes, if the name of the author is unknown, then you might just mention the title of the article instead. It will be up to you, as a writer, to choose which method works best for your given situation.

The first time that you mention a source in your writing, you should always introduce the speaker and, if possible, the title of the source as well. Note that the speaker is the person responsible for stating the information that you’re citing and that this is not always the author of the text. For example, an author of an article might quote someone else, and you might quote or paraphrase that person.

Use the speaker’s full name (e.g., “According to Jonas Fogbottom . . .”) the first time you introduce them; if you mention them again in the paper, use their last name only (e.g., “Fogbottom goes on to discuss . . .”).

2. Use Linking or Attributive Language—Signal Phrases

Using linking language (sometimes called attributive language or signal phrases) simply means using words that show the reader you are still talking about a source that you just mentioned.

For example, you might use linking language that looks something like this:

  1. The author also explains . . .
  2. Fogbottom continues . . .
  3. The article states next that . . .
  4. The data set also demonstrates . . .

By using this kind of language, you make it clear to the reader that you’re still talking about a source. And while you’ll use this type of language throughout any researched essay whether you’re also using parenthetical citations or not, as we mentioned above, sometimes this linking language will be all you need for in-text citation.

CAUTION: Make sure you use strong and respectful attributive language (signal phrases).

  • Avoid phrases like
    • Smith talks about…
      • What does Smith actually argue? (Also, if it is a written source, “talk” is not accurate.)
    • Johnson mentions…
      • Johnson probably put a lot of thought into their material; they do not simply “mention” evidence.
    • Moriarty writes about…
      • Sure, we can write “about” anything, but what are we arguing about the topic? If I say that I write “about” racial profiling, you still don’t know what I’m arguing about that.
    • Lake tries to…
      • Unless you are writing a critique or response, and your point is that Lake truly does not actually achieve their purpose, don’t say that authors simply “try” to argue but do not accomplish it.
  • DO USE strong, respectful language, such as in the four linking language examples above this textbox.

Let’s look back at the last Fogbottom example from above the textbox, and imagine you wanted to add two more sentences from the same source. The linking language is underlined:

In the article, “Grooming Poodles for Fun and Profit,” Jonas Fogbottom tells us that, although it takes a long time to become a skilled poodle groomer, it’s well worth the effort and leads to a good career. Fogbottom explains that one undergoes a great deal of training in the art of dog and poodle grooming. The article points out that  there are many resources for people who want to know more about a dog grooming career.

Using the linking language makes it absolutely clear to your reader that you are still talking about a source.

Whatever comes first in the Works Cited citation is what will go into the parentheses in a parenthetical citation. Most often that item is an author’s last name, but sometimes it’s a title or abbreviated title of an article or other type of text. This is another good reason for starting by creating a Works Cited entry the moment you begin working with a source.

3. Parenthetical Citations

The parenthetical citation includes the author’s name and, if there is one, a page number. To learn more about parenthetical citation and see some examples, see the Purdue OWL article “MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics” (available from

Here’s an example:

(Fogbottom 16)

If there are two authors, list both (with a page number, if available):

(Smith and Jones 24)

If there are three or more authors, list the first author only and add “et al.”* (with a page number, if available):

(Smith et al. 62)

*et al means “and others.” If a text or source has three or more authors, MLA style has us just list the first one with et al.

But my source doesn’t have page numbers!

If you are using an electronic source or another kind of source with no page numbers, just leave the page number out:


If you’re quoting or paraphrasing someone who was cited by the author of one of your sources, then that’s handled a bit differently. For example, what if you quote Smith, but you found that quote in the article by Fogbottom. In this case, you should introduce the speaker (Smith) as described above, and then cite the source for the quote, like this:

(qtd. in Fogbottom)

But my source doesn’t have an author!

This happens sometimes. Many useful documents, like government publications, organizational reports, and surveys, don’t list their authors. On the other hand, sometimes no clearly listed author can be a red flag that a source is not entirely trustworthy or is not researched well enough to be a reliable source for you.

If you encounter a source with no author, do look for other indicators that it is a good (or poor) source—who published it, does it have an appropriate list of references, is it current information, is it unbiased?

If you determine that this source is an appropriate source to use, then, when you create your in-text citation for it, you will simply use the title of the source (article, chapter, graph, film, etc.) in the place where you would have used the author’s name. If the title is long, you should abbreviate by listing the first one or two words of it (with a page number, if available).

Let’s imagine you’re working with a newspaper article entitled, “What’s New in Technology,” enclosed in quotation marks to indicate that this is an article title, and with no known author. Here’s what that would look in a parenthetical citation:

(“What’s New” B6)

If there is no author and you’re working with an electronic article, use the first one or two words in your parenthetical citation, again, enclosed in quotation marks. Let’s imagine you’re working with a web article entitled, “Pie Baking for Fun and Profit” and with no author. Here’s what that would look in a parenthetical citation:

(“Pie Baking”)

The parenthetical citation should be added at the end of the sentence that contains the source material. Let’s go back to the Fogbottom example and see how a parenthetical citation would work:

“Poodle grooming is a labor of love. It takes years of practice to be good at it, but once learned, it’s a fun and worthwhile career” (Fogbottom).

Here’s what it would look like if we used it with a paraphrase instead of a quotation:

Although it takes a long time to become a skilled poodle groomer, it’s well worth the effort and leads to a good career (Fogbottom).

Note that the citation is placed at the end of the sentence; the period comes after the parentheses. Misplacing the period is one of the most common formatting errors made by students.

Using parenthetical citation makes it clear that a sentence comes from source material. This is the easiest way to cite or identify your source materials.

If using parenthetical citations is easy, why would we bother with using introduction or linking language to identify sources?

Good question! Only using parenthetical citations all the way through your writing would do the job of citing the material, but it wouldn’t read smoothly and would feel somewhat rough because every time a parenthetical citation popped up, the reader would be “stopped” in place for a moment. Using a combination of framing, signal phrases, and parenthetical citations makes the writing smoother and easier to read. It also integrates the source material with the writer’s ideas. We call this synthesis, and it’s part of the craft of writing.

Works Cited Entries

At the end of texts that have drawn from existing sources, you will find a Works Cited page, which gives more information than the parenthetical citations do about the sources referenced in the work. The entries all follow a specific and consistent format so that it is easy for readers to find the information they are looking for and so that the shape and type of that information is consistent no matter who is writing the entries.

Until recently, the MLA required a slightly different format for every type of source—an entry for a Youtube video required certain information that was different from an entry for a book that was different from an entry for an online article. The most recent version of MLA, though—MLA 8—has simplified this so there is just one format rather than many.

You can learn how to create works cited entries in MLA 8 format, and see an example, in the “Creating a Works Cited Page” appendix to this text.

Text Attributions

  • This chapter was adapted from “Crediting and Citing Your Sources” in The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, which is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 Licence. Adapted by Allison Kilgannon.


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Advanced English Copyright © 2021 by Allison Kilgannon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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