In-Text Citations: The What, Why and When

When referencing sources for your papers and essays, you’ll create a works cited list (also known as a reference list). This list is usually found at the end of a paper, and will comprise of citations detailing all the relevant sources that you’ve used.

The purpose of a works cited list is so the person reading your work can see where you found the information that you have quoted or referenced. But to do this, they need to know which part of your work each citation is referring to. This is where in-text citations come into play.

An in-text citation is inserted directly into your body of work — usually immediately following the information you wish to cite (or at a natural break or pause point) and usually enclosed by parentheses i.e. (like this). However, there are numerous different styles of citation formatting to choose from, with the in-text citations for each varying slightly. Let’s take a look at examples from one of the most popular citation styles, APA.

APA Format In-Text Citations

In APA format, in-text citations can follow a direct quote or paraphrased information. For direct quotes, the in-text citation should immediately follow. If you’re citing a book, the in-text citation will usually include the author’s surname, the year of publication and the relevant page number or numbers, enclosed by parentheses.


Quote or paraphrase (Author’s surname, Year of publication, p.#).

For example:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” said Gandalf (Tolkien, 1954, p. 20).

If you reference the author within the text, however, you don’t need to include it in the in-text citation.

For example:

In the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien writes, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (1954, p. 20)

If you’re referencing paraphrased information then a page number is not always needed. It depends on whether you wish to direct your reader to a specific section.

For example:

The universal theme of The Lord of the Rings is the battle between good and evil (Tolkien, 1954).

When explaining the history of the ring to Frodo, Gandalf touches on themes of fate and having a pre-ordained purpose (Tolkien, 1954, p. 20).

Don’t forget to also add regular citations for the sources to your bibliography at the end of the paper.

MLA and Chicago Formatting

To keep you on your toes, the different formats follow different rules for in-text citations. For example, MLA format in-text citations don’t usually include a publication date.

For example, let’s take the same in-text citation example from above and put it into MLA format.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” said Gandalf (Tolkien 20).

Chicago style in-text citations can follow the (author, date, page number) in-text citation system, like APA format. Alternatively, some following the Chicago style prefer to use a notes and bibliography system, which does away with in-text citations completely, using numbered footnotes or endnotes instead.

You’ll also find variations of in-text citations within each format, depending on factors like the type of source and number of authors. For help understanding how to create in-text citations, you’ll find handy citation guides for APA, MLA and Chicago formats on the Cite This For Me website.