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MLA 9th Edition Style Guide: When to Cite

Basics

These categories do not require a citation:

  • your own thoughts (but be careful that you are differentiating between your own thoughts and what you have read)
  • common knowledge (MLA 4.13)
  • passing mentions (MLA 4.14)
  • allusions (MLA 4.15)
  • epigraphs (MLA 4.16)

Everything else requires a citation. Every time you

  • quote,
  • paraphrase or
  • summarize

a source, include an in-text citation.

It is better to have too many citations than too few. If a citation is necessary and not present, it is plagiarism. If in doubt, CITE!

Common Knowledge

Facts that your readers already know or that are widely known and not in question. These includes many (but not all) historical, geographical, and scientific facts. Cite:

  • when there is disagreement about the facts
  • when your reader is likely to want to know more about the information being presented
    • an important example is when presenting statistics; statistics should be cited

(MLA 4.13)

Allusions

Allusions refer to well known quotations or passages from cultural works and do not require a citation. For instance:

  • Looking at my to-do list, I had a "Winter is Coming" moment.
  • With all that I accomplished before 9 am, I felt like the proverbial early bird.

(MLA 4.15)

Passing Mentions

If you casually mention a movie (artwork, graphic novel, song, etc), but do not quote it, paraphrase from it, analyze it, compare it to another work, or otherwise use it as a source for your paper, then it is a passing mention and does not require citation.

Example: 

Some of the other films in the Marvel's phase one were Iron ManThorCaptain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers.

(MLA 4.14)

Epigraphs

An epigraph is a quotation placed at the start of a work, which sets the scene for the work. Give the author's name and the title of the source on a line beneath the quotation. It does not appear on the works-cited-list page. For example:

April is the cruelest month.

-- T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land"

(MLA 4.16)

Consolidating Citations

If several sentences in succession are borrowed from the same source, it is permissible to consolidate the citations IF it is clear where the borrowing begins. (MLA 6.45)

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