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Skidmore College
The Skidmore Guide to Writing

Citing Sources within Your Paper

A Works Cited page or References list at the end of your paper does not fulfill your obligation as an honest writer; you must also clearly indicate in the text of your paper which quoted or paraphrased passages, summaries, or ideas come from which sources.

Traditionally academic writers used footnotes or endnotes to provide publishing information. Superscript numbers inserted in the text led the reader to notes at the bottom of the page or at the end of the paper. Footnoting and endnoting were the most widely used system of documentation in the humanities until the Modern Language Association moved to a parenthetical reference system. 

Footnotes still appear in humanities papers; their main use is to provide supplemental information that would not fit smoothly or logically into the text.  Writers frequently use content footnotes to develop interesting points that supplement their main issue but that might intrude upon the flow of the paper. In such footnotes, you can also discuss further complexities of an issue or mention additional sources related to the footnoted point. When used productively, content footnotes can add fascinating sidelights and fruitful resources for pursuing points under discussion.

Since a few disciplines, most notably history, still prefer footnotes, check with your professors to see whether they prefer parenthetical notations or footnotes.


  • Clearly refer to a single work on your list of works cited. Usually an author's last name will suffice.
  • Indicate as specifically as possible the exact location of borrowed material. Cite page numbers for specific information.
  • Maintain the readability of your text by keeping references as brief as possible.

Here are guidelines, along with examples showing parenthetical citations:

Place parenthetical references at the end of the sentence but before the final period:

Since most of the world's available cropland is already in use, we cannot hope to solve the world's food shortage by finding more usable land (Brown 31-34).

Sometimes, you may choose to place your reference within the sentence to indicate which part of the sentence it documents:

Despite Brown's insistence that "achieving a stationary population will be painfully difficult if contraceptive services are not backed by legal abortion" (154), the Reagan administration did its best to fight legal abortions at home and to discourage them abroad.

The standard MLA parenthetical reference includes an author's last name and page numbers. Note that there is no comma between the author's name and the page number and no "p" before the page number:

One historian argues that Jesus clearly rejected many of the Hebrew attitudes towards women (Grant 83-86).

When the author is clearly indicated in your sentence, you need only include page numbers in parentheses:

As Grant has pointed out, the women who followed Jesus "remained conspicuously faithful to him right up to and after his death, exceeding in loyalty and understanding ... all the other apostles" (85).

To cite an entire work rather than a specific passage, give the author's name and the title in your sentence and omit any parenthetical reference:

Writing in Jesus: An Historical View of the Gospels, Michael Grant argues that much can be learned about the life of Jesus by applying the methods of history to the written record which survives.

When your sources include more than one work by the same author, distinguish among them by using a shortened version of the title. You also might include the full title in your sentence. Use a comma to separate the author from the title:

Current societal problems, like increased drug abuse, pointless violence, and political nihilism, may well be symptoms of our psychological difficulty in coping with the current rapid rate of social change (Toffler, Future 343).

In The Third Wave, Toffler argues that the "Represento-Kit," including all the mechanisms we associate with representative democracy, has been embraced by capitalists and socialists alike (72-73).

When no author is given, cite a work by its title or a shortened form of the title:

The most famous of the medieval morality plays concerns one man's struggle to give up his attachment to worldly things and prepare himself for death ("Everyman").

If you are quoting a source that itself has been quoted, include "qtd. in' before the name of your source:

Richard Harrington notes that sleep deprivation has been a persistent problem among overseas flight crews, and it often manifests itself in drowsiness and inattentiveness in the computerized cockpits of 747s, "where the crew spend most of their time in a darkened environment, lulled by the drone of jet engines, and reduced to little more activity than monitoring dials and screens" (qtd. in Stenson 36).

Literature in-text citations

Common editions: In many of your literature classes, everyone in the class will be using a common edition. When that is the case, you may, if your professor recommends, cite just the page number on which a reference appears. For instance, if everyone is using the same edition of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and there are no other of Conrad's works being read, you could cite just the page number when citing this novella (88). If you are discussing two common editions of works by different authors, simply add the authors' last names: (Conrad 86) and (Forster 17). When you are discussing two common editions by the same author, simply distinguish in abbreviation between the two works: for example, (HD 18) and (LJ 44), for Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Forster's Lord Jim respectively.

Multiple editions: Because novels, plays, and poems are printed in many editions, the Modern Language Association recommends that when you cite a classical work of literature (one with numerous editions), you provide information in addition to page numbers so that readers using different editions from yours can locate the passage you are citing. After the page number, add a semicolon and other appropriate information, using lowercase abbreviations such as pt., sec., ch.  In some cases, your professor will ask you to omit the page reference and cite the act, scene, and line number. Use either Arabic or Roman numerals, or a combination of both:

In Shakespeare's King Lear, the Fool chides Lear that "Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise" (426; I.iv.48) or (1.4.48).

Poetry: When citing poetry, cite the section number (if appropriate) and line number, or, for poems without numbered lines, by title:

In "Broadway," Walt Whitman wistfully remarks of its citizenry, "Could but thy flagstones, curbs, facades, tell their innumerable tales" (line 7).

Classic verse plays and poems: When you cite classical verse plays and poems, the MLA recommends that you omit all page numbers and divisions and lines. Use periods to separate the various numbers. It is also common practice to use appropriate abbreviations to cite certain well-known works. For example, Od. 7.126 refers to book 7, line 126 of Homer's Odyssey.

The MLA prefers Arabic numerals to Roman numerals to indicate divisions and page numbers. Some instructors still prefer to use Roman numerals for documenting scenes in plays (Hamlet IV).  If your instructor does not insist on this practice, use Arabic numerals (Hamlet, 4. 1.).

A book from the Bible: When citing a book of the Bible, cite the chapter and verse numbers. Do not underline the name of the book of the Bible or put quotation marks around it: (Genesis 25.8)

Note: In common practice, you include the Bible only in your in-text citation, not in your Works Cited, but check with your professor.


In APA formatting, each paraphrase, summary, quotation, study, etc. is followed by the last name of the author, the date of the publication, and (when needed for quotations) exact page references. When you clearly mention the author and/or the date in the text, you do not need to repeat the information in the parenthetical citation. More extensive bibliographic information is provided in the reference list. The following would be an example of textual references in the APA system:

Indeed, Halpern (1997) says that some research has shown that increased levels of testosterone typically lead to greater visual-spatial ability and lower verbal ability.

Past studies have indicated that differences in the cognitive abilities of the sexes vary over time, which makes it difficult to argue that these differences are innate (Huguet & Regner, 2007).

Metacognition can be thought of simply as thinking about thinking. Flavell has elaborated on this basic notion, defining metacognition as "knowledge that takes as its object or regulates any aspect of cognitive endeavor" (1984, p.353). 

The role of metacognition has been a focus in recent studies in regard to both first language reading (Baker & Brown, 1984; Brown, 1980; Garner, 1987; Gordon, 1980) and second language reading (Block, 1986, 1992; Carrel, 1989; Carrel, Pharis and Liberto, 1989; Devine, 1984, 1988).