How to Cite Sources in an Essay

By: Henrique Bertulino

21 min



How to Cite Sources in an Essay

Many students struggle with how to properly cite a source in their essays. According to recent studies, teaching students how to perfect this craft can lead to less plagiarism in their academic writing.

There are numerous ways you can cite sources in an essay. Let's dive into how to add citations to an essay, the different citation styles, and when it's appropriate to use each.

What Is a Citation in an Essay?

A citation in an essay is a reference to the source of information you've used in your essay research. You can write citations either as in-text citations or reference list citations, otherwise known as end-of-paper citations. In-text citations are written within the text of your academic presentation or paper, referring the reader to a fuller notation. On the other hand, reference list citations are provided at the end of the presentation or paper and give all the necessary details about the source of information.

What are citations in an essay, and how should they be used? Citations are primarily used to avoid plagiarism by correctly acknowledging external sources and authors of information you've used in your work. However, there are other reasons citations are necessary for academic writing, such as:

  • They help readers get more information about your ideas and find out where they came from
  • Citations show the amount of research you've done
  • Citations help you avoid taking the rap for someone else's bad ideas. The ideas you present may be a refinement of the original ideas presented by the authors in your sources
  • Citing sources strengthens your work since you're lending outside support to your ideas

Using citations in an essay is necessary whenever you directly paraphrase, quote, or summarize the key elements of someone else's idea in your writing.

Thus, it is critical to understand how to properly cite sources in a paper.

How to Put Citations in An Essay

Citing in essays gives your readers the information necessary for them to revisit your sources accurately. Some of this information includes:

  • The title of the work
  • Information about the author
  • The date the copy with the information was published
  • The name and location of the company that published the copy
  • The page numbers of the information you're borrowing

Knowing how to include citations in an essay is important. If you don't know how to do this, you may not be able to gain the attention of your audience by presenting them with facts and figures.

Where do citations go in an essay? Citations are placed in-text or at the end in a reference list.

In-Text Citations For Essay

In-text citations are brief forms of reference that you include in your text's body. These citations give enough information to uniquely identify the source in your reference list. It is difficult to not find an essay with in-text citations since they’re required before you can add a reference list.

You need to understand in-text citations to know how to cite something in a paragraph.

In-text citations typically include:

  • The family name of the author(s)
  • Year of publication

These guidelines are used for all citations, whether it's referencing a video, journal article, or report.

How to Cite Something in An Essay In-Text


In-text citations are necessary whenever you paraphrase or quote a source in your academic writing. It is therefore important to know how to quote a source in an essay.

Quoting means that you've directly used the author's words in your source. You start and close the quotes with opening and closing quotation marks whenever you're quoting text.

Quotes should always be cited and introduced by a signal phrase. You should also indicate the page number you got the quote from in most cases. A good example is:

Evolution happens gradually and "can act only by very short and slow steps" (Darwin, 1859, p. 510).

The example above 👆 is in APA style.

You can use an ellipsis (…) before the direct quotation to signify some text from the original text has been omitted before the quote.


In-text citations are also necessary when you're paraphrasing. Paraphrasing means using your own words to give information from a source. Providing an in-text citation, in this case, helps avoid the notion that you're taking credit for someone else's work or ideas.

If possible, you can include the page number(s) with in-text citations where you're paraphrasing. An example is:

The evolutionary process happens in a series of incremental changes over an extended period (Darwin, 1859, p. 510).

The Different Systems of In-Text Citations

In-text citations can be written in a variety of forms. The most common ones include:

  • Parenthetical citations
  • Note citations

Parenthetical Citations

Parenthetical in-text citations take the general form of (author, source information). The exact details needed within the brackets differ among citation styles.

Generally, the parentheses must be included in the citation when using this form. Parenthetical citations are also known as information-prominent citations. They are used to emphasize the text or information being cited.

Where do you put citations in an essay? Parenthetical citations should immediately follow the information being cited and be included within the sentence's punctuation. Here is an example in APA style 👇:

There is sufficient information on the population of middle-class families in American urban areas (MaryAnn, 2020), which has been used in population migration analysis to determine the urban migration rate in the next 20 years (John, 2021).

Note Citations

Where to put citations in an essay? You put the source reference in a footnote or endnote with in-text note citations. Footnotes (notes at the bottom of the page) are sometimes required. However, endnotes have become the predominant form of providing note citations.

How Each Citation Style Uses the Different In-Text Citation Systems

Different citation styles use different systems for in-text citation as follows:

How to Cite Sources in an Essay MLA

The MLA citation style is used mainly for humanities. It uses the parenthetical in-text citation system in the form of (Author Last Name Page Number).

The reference must be inserted after the last quotation mark if directly quoted but before the period at the end of the sentence.

An example is:

(Snow 41)

There are some general rules MLA citation style uses when dealing with parenthetical citations.

👉 1. If there are two quotations from two different sources, the parenthetical reference associated with each should be placed as close as possible to the quotation without interfering with the flow of the sentence.

👉 2. If a paragraph has several quotations from a single source, one parenthetical citation can be placed at the end of the sentence. The page numbers should be included for each quotation, organized in the order the quotations appear in the paragraph, separated by a comma.


(Beatrice 13, 18).

The quote on page 13 of the source came first in your text's paragraph, before page 18.

👉 3. You should use the general form of (Author Last, "Title Fragment" Page Number) or (Author Last, Title Fragment Page Number) if the author cited appears multiple times on the Work Cited page. You should mirror the title used in the Works Cited page in the parenthetical reference. Thus, if it is underlined on that page, it should also be underlined in the parenthetical citation.

Examples include:

(Beatrice, "Last Ship" 20) or (Beatrice, Last Ship 20)

👉 4. For texts with more than one author, you should use the following format for MLA parenthetical in-text citations.

Two authors:

(Suleiman and Kim 42)

Three authors:

(Marie, Ann, and Brian 36)

More than three authors:

(Joseph, et al. 144)

👉 5. If there's no author, you can use a title fragment instead to connect the use of the source and the citation of the source on the Works Cited Page. This takes the general format of ("Title Fragment" Page Number) or (Title Fragment Page Number)


The APA citation style is used in education, psychology, and social sciences. It uses parenthetical in-text citations in the format (Author Last Name, Year of Publication):

(Brown, 1998).

Narrative Citations

If you opt not to use parenthetical in-text citations in APA style, you can instead include the author and date of the work you wish to cite in the body of your writing. There are two ways you can do this. Essay citations examples:

Example one:

Patrick (2009) found physiological similarities between mammals.

Example two:

In 2009, Patrick found physiological similarities between mammals.

This form of in-text citation is also known as author-prominent citation. That's because narrative citations emphasize the author of the work you've sourced your information from.

Narrative citations introduce variety into your writing and sound more natural in an oral presentation. However, it requires more skill to use.

Page Numbers and Chapters

Page numbers and chapters are not required in APA-style parenthetic citations. However, it is strongly recommended that you use them for the reader to have an easier time locating the information in the source document.

You can add page numbers or chapters after the year of publication. For instance:

(Mathew, 1988, p. 244) or Mathew (1988, chap. 5).

General Rules When Using Parenthetical Citations or Narrative Citations

There are a few rules governing parenthetical citations and narrative citations in APA style. These include:

👉 1. If the work you're citing has one or two authors, separate them by an ampersand in a parenthetical citation or use the word "and" in a narrative citation. All authors must be consistently mentioned in all in-text citations. An example:

Parenthetical citation:

(Smith & Martha, 1996)

Narrative citation:

Smith and Martha (1996)

👉 2. If your source has three or more authors, give only the first author's family name followed by "et al." after fully listing the authors in the first mention of the reference. Example:

First citation:

Smith, Mathew, and Janet (2001)

Subsequent citation:

Smith et al. (2001)

👉 3. If the author is a group, company, or organization, use the full name in the first mention of the reference and then a recognizable abbreviation afterward. Example:

First parenthetical citation:

(Department of Defense, 2019)

Subsequent citation:

(DOD, 2019)

👉 4. If the source text has no author, use the first couple of words of the title in place of the author's last name. The title fragment should be in the same format and punctuation as the title on the References page.


A recent publication of Academia for the Masses (2002) states…

In "Bridging the Wealth Gap" (2019), we can see…

Chicago Style

Chicago B citation style, used in sciences, social sciences, and humanities, uses parenthetical in-text citations in the format (Author Last Name Year of Publication, Page Number). However, Chicago A, used in histories and humanities, uses notes citations.

With Chicago Documentation Style 1, the research sources are indicated in the text with a numerical subscript corresponding to an entry at the end of the paper. These are endnotes. In some cases, footnotes are required and allowed for referencing in-text citations.

When using endnotes for note citations, you must include a bibliography at the end of the essay. The note and bibliographic entry contain almost identical information, albeit in a different format.

The parenthetic citation used in Chicago B shares some rules with the APA format save for a few differences:

👉 1. The name may be shortened to its most basic title when the authors are a corporation or organization. However, abbreviations are not encouraged.

👉 2. Daily newspapers are rarely included in the list of References. Instead, attribution is purely given in a parenthetical citation. The general format used is: (Newspaper Name, Day Month Year of Publication, Section and Page Number).

For example:

(The Weekly Mail, 2 September 2015, B5).

👉 3. Chicago Style does not specify any format when the source text has no author. However, the standard practice is to use the work's title in place of the author. The title should be in the same format as the Reference list entry.


(Brain Development and Growth 2002, 165) or ("Stem Cell Reproduction" 2021, 12)

👉 4. If the source has no publication date, as is the case with electronic sources, write "n.d." in place.


(Statistics on Children Health n.d.)


In ASA citation style, the following rules for parenthetical citation apply:

👉 1. If the author's name is used in the text, you must use parenthetical references to show the year of publication. You put this reference at the end of the sentence.

For example:

…Marcus argues that these results tell a different story (2015).

👉 2. If the author's name is not provided in the text, it should be included with the year of publication in the parenthetical reference.

For example:

...It was argued that the results tell a different story (Marcus 2015).

👉 3. You should include page numbers in the parentheses after the year of publication, separated by a colon, with no spaces.

For example:

…Marcus argues that these results tell a different story (2015:33).

👉 4. In the case where there are multiple authors, the following formats should be used:

Two or three authors:

A recent study confirms this hypothesis (Will and Mary 2013).

The data from recent statistics tell a different story (Marquez, Amani, and Marcus 2021).

More than three authors:

You should use the term et al. with no additional punctuation marks after the first author has been listed in the publication credits. For example:

According to a recent study, the proposed solutions are not accurate (Peter et al. 2001).

👉 5. If multiple sources are cited for the same statement, the author and publication year should be distinguished from other texts using a semi-colon. The cited texts should be arranged by date or author name. This arrangement should be consistent throughout the paper.

For example:

Several studies support this theory (Einstein 1919; Faraday 1922 and Ford 1927).


The Turabian citation style supports two forms of writing in-text citations. These are author/date parenthetical citations or endnotes.

You may use the Chicago Style formats for endnotes and parenthetical references.

Reference List Citations

A reference list contains a list of all the sources you refer to in your writing. Typically, the reference list is provided at the end of the essay. It is included to allow the reader of an essay or piece of academic writing to find the sources for the text.

A reference list also gives credit to the authors you may have consulted for their ideas.

There are different ways you can write reference list citations based on the citation style.

Generally, all styles dictate that the reference list appears at the end of the written essay or paper. Every source you cite in your paper or essay must also appear in the references list. Inversely, each entry in your reference list must be cited in the paper.

Your references should also appear on a new page separate from the rest of the academic writing.


When writing a reference list in APA style, you need to pay close attention to punctuation, italics, indentation, and capitalization.

Other requirements, such as line spacing, vary. It's best to contact your lecturer or check your unit/assignment guide for the exact requirements.

Also, most sources follow a straightforward rule. However, sources from academic journals carry a special weight which subjects them to special rules.

Formatting the Reference List

The page must be labeled "References" in bold and centered at the top of the page. There should be no underlines or quotation marks on the title.

The text should also be double-spaced, just like the rest of the essay.

Basic Rules for Most Sources

  1. You should indent all lines after the first line of each entry by one-and-a-half inches from the left margin.
  2. All authors' names must be inverted. That means the last names should come first.
  3. The authors' first and middle names should be written as initials. For instance, an author named Mary Smith Parker would be referenced as "Parker M. S."
  4. Have the first and middle names of all authors in a particular work, adding up to and including 20 authors, initialed. Separate the initials of each author from the next in the list using a comma. Use an ampersand (&) before the last author's name. If there are more than 20 authors, use an ellipsis after the 19th author's name, then add the final author's name without an ampersand.
  5. The reference list entries should be alphabetized by the last name of the first author for each source.
  6. List the sources in chronological order from the earliest to the latest for multiple sources written by the same author or authors listed in the same order.
  7. For books, chapters, articles, reports, web pages, or other sources, only capitalize the first letter of the first word in the title and subtitle, the first word after a dash or colon in the title, and proper nouns. Note, however, that the titles of academic journals use special rules.
  8. Italicize the title of longer works. These may be edited collections, books, names of newspapers, among others.
  9. For shorter works such as essays in edited collections or chapters in a book, do not italicize, put quotes around the title, or underline.

A few citations in an essay examples include (General APA reference list formatting):

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010). Publication manual of the American Labor Foundation (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Branson, R., & Emily, L. C. (2001). Flight Simulation Instruction and Airline Safety Tutoring. Boston, Massachusetts: International School of Flight.


In MLA8 citation style, the reference list is titled "Works-Cited List" It contains the author's name, source title, publication date, and extra information that may vary depending on the source type.

The general rules for all Works-Cited Lists include:

  1. It must begin on a new page at the end of the document
  2. The list should be ordered alphabetically by the first author's name or title if the author is unknown. The articles "a," "an," and "the" should be ignored when alphabetizing.
  3. All entries must be double-spaced
  4. The second and subsequent lines must be indented half an inch from the margin.
  5. If there are multiple works by the same author, the first reference must contain the full name. However, subsequent references should have the author name replaced by "--- "

Here's an example:

  • Mitchell, Michael B. A Guide to City Travel. 2nd ed, East Bay Publisher, 2019.


With ASA citation style, the reference list is written in a section titled REFERENCES. The following rules apply.

  1. All references should be double spaced and use a hanging indent
  2. All titles must use the title case
  3. Only the first word in hyphenated compound words should be capitalized unless the second word is an adjective or proper noun.
  4. All references should be listed alphabetically by the first author's last name.
  5. Include the first name of all authors instead of initials unless the author used them in the original publication
  6. List all authors. It is unacceptable to use et al. unless a committee authored the work
  7. For repeated editors or authors, include the full name in all references
  8. For sources listed from the same author, arrange them in chronological order from the earliest to the latest
  9. If an author appears in single-authored references and as the first author in a multi-authored source, list the single-authored references first.
  10. If the same author appears as the first author in multiple references, arrange them alphabetically by the second author's last name.
  11. If there are multiple works by the same author from the same year, add a letter to the year, such as (1998a, 1998b, 1998c), then list the references alphabetically by title.

Here's one example:

  • Mark, Ted Martin, ed. 1989. Natural Degradation in the Amazon. Vol. 1, The History of the Amazon. Game Park, CA: Sage.

Chicago Style

The Chicago citation style follows the following rules for writing reference lists:

  1. Write the reference list on a new page at the end of the document. Title it "Reference List" at the top
  2. There must be two blank lines between the first entry and the title
  3. Entries must appear to flush left. The right margin should be left rugged
  4. Each entry should have half-an-inch hanging indents
  5. Each entry should be single-spaced with a blank line between the entries
  6. If there are multiple works by the same author(s), replace the names with a 3-em dash for all entries after the first.
  7. Use letters to separate works from the same author(s) published in the same year.

Here's one example:

  • Martin Luther, Jan. 1994. Paving Equality. New York: Vintage.


Turabian citation style uses the same rules as Chicago Style for reference lists, just like in-text citations.


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How do you cite online sources in an essay?

You should generally follow the same pattern for citing written sources when citing online ones. Therefore, you should provide the name of the author, year, page title, name of the sponsor site (if available), day month year of access, and the URL.

How do you cite a source with no author?

The title of the work or the first word or two of the title in the parenthesis of your in-text citation should be used if your source does not have an author.

What are 3 ways to cite a source in your work?

Citing a source in your essay can be accomplished through a variety of methods, the most popular of which are direct quotation, paraphrasing, and summarizing.

How do you credit a website in an essay?

For website citations, you typically need to include the author's name, the title of the page, the name of the website, the publication date, and the website URL without the protocol "http(s)://."

How do you cite two sources in one sentence APA?

With APA in-text citation, you cite two sources in one parenthesis by ordering the citations alphabetically in the same order they appear in the reference list. This rule also applies to citations shortened to et. al.

How do you cite anonymous sources in APA?

To cite anonymous sources in APA, write "Anonymous" in place of the author's name if the source uses the term. However, cite the source by its title instead if the author's name is missing and not replaced by "Anonymous" in the source.

How do you cite different sources with the same author?

In MLA, you cite different sources with the same author by only providing the author's name in the first entry. Subsequent entries will have three hyphens in place of the name. In APA, if the sources are from the same year, you can add a lowercase letter to the publication year and order them alphabetically.

What does et al. mean in a citation?

Et al. means "and others." It is a Latin phrase used to shorten the list of author names in in-text citations to make it simpler and shorter to repeat references.

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Henrique Bertulino

Head of Customer Success

I'm a medical doctor and brand manager. The process of getting into Med school and studying at it made me learn and apply many strategies to keep my productivity high while spending less time and effort. As a working student, I had to figure out how to study smarter, not harder. During this period, my interest in neurology and psychiatry, as well as my aspiration to help others, intensified. At Studybay, I use my knowledge, skills, and experience to develop helpful solutions for students and make their study paths more productive and fun.

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