What is an in-text citation?

An in-text citation is a reference made within the body of text of an academic essay. The in-text citation alerts the reader to a source that has informed your own writing.

The exact format of an in-text citation will depend on the style you need to use, for example, APA. Check with your academic institution to ensure you provide the in-text citations in the format they are expecting and use Cite This For Me’s citation generator to create them for you, automatically.

How to write an in-text citation

In most cases only the author’s last name, date of publication and page number from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken needs to be included, with the complete reference appearing in your bibliography (or works cited) page at the end of your essay.

The in-text citation should be presented in brackets directly after the text you have quoted or paraphrased so it’s easy for the reader to identify. In some cases, in-text citations are presented as a superscript number, with the corresponding number listed in your bibliography.

Looking for an easier option? Why not let Cite This For Me do the hard work for you by using our mobile app or free web tool. We’ve got over 7,000 styles in our books and are constantly adding new ones, so we’re sure to have the style you need.

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 and typically use the author’s last name or the first item included in the full citation if not the author’s name.

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).

In MLA format, in-text citations can either be included in the prose or as a parenthetical citation (or a combination of the two). Any information about the source that is included in the prose does not need to be included in the parenthetical citation. For example, using the above example, a citation in prose would be:

In Tolkien’s book, Gandalf says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” (20).

In this case, if the source didn’t have page numbers or if it was not necessary to include the page number, you would not need to include the parenthetical citation.

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.

Do’s and Don’ts of In-text Citations

DO be consistent. One of the most important aspects of citation creation is to make sure you choose a citation style and stick with it throughout your paper. Be sure to check your chosen style’s rules for in-text citations, whether you’re using APA format or different style, before starting to write your paper. Use those rules from the beginning to end.

DON’T assume. It can be all too easy to say to yourself “the reader will know where this came from” when you include information from another source. This is not a good attitude to have about citations, as leaving out in-text references can lead to you being accused of plagiarism and receiving a poor grade on your assignment. Always choose to be super clear with where your research information has come from.

DO your in-text citations early on. One of the best ways to make sure you haven’t left out any in-text citations is to write them immediately after you’ve referenced a work as you are writing your paper. Waiting until the very end can lead to last-minute paper stress. Making them early can help you make the references for your bibliography, as they serve as a list of outside sources you have used in your work.

DON’T overuse. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to include an individual in-text citation after each directly quoted sentence. If an entire paragraph or a group of sentences contains information all from the same source, a single in-text citation at the beginning or end of the paragraph will suffice.

DO double check. It is always a good idea to check your in-text citations after you have completed your paper and before you hand it in to your instructor. This is especially important if you have made in-text citations throughout the whole process of writing your paper, as it is unlikely you will remember that error you made two weeks ago. Give your in-text references one last look before turning in your paper for a grade.

DON’T forget to ask your teacher. If you are unsure of how to get started making your in-text citations for your paper, it is always a good idea to speak with your teacher. They can direct you to their preferred citation style, whether it’s MLA formatting, or a different style. It is likely that the assignment directions they provide contain details on how to make citations the way that they expect.

DO use Cite This For Me for your next writing assignment! Cite This For Me contains a bibliography builder as well as in-text citation formatting. Check out the site, and you will have access to thousands of styles, including a Harvard referencing generator, and many source types.

How do I know when to include an in-text citation?

An in-text citation is a short version of the reference you have made to, in your thesis or paper. The purpose of an in-text citation is to uniquely denote the source of information to the reader at that point in your work.

Whenever you have referred or summarized or quoted from any other source of information in your paper or work, you have to include an in-text citation.

Example In-Text Citation Entries:

Jonas observes in his paper that theoretically, all viruses can be contained in the long run with vaccines (2020).

Theoretically all viruses can be contained in the long run with viruses (Jonas, 2020).