Tasked to craft your piece in an MLA writing style, you’ll need to use parenthetical citations, a scary-sounding term for what’s largely a simple way of referencing source documents. What does it really mean?
Put simply, these in-text citations are placeholders intended to tell the reader where a particular piece of information is sourced from. To make the reference clear, the citation is placed at the end of the statement. Directly from an in-text citation, a reader should be able to flip into the list of your various reference sources and know exactly where the information is from. For brevity’s sake, the style uses a standard format for making the citation (surname and page number, like Johnson 85), which means the information is lifted from a work authored by Johnson (which you will list on the paper’s Works Cited section) from page 85.
So when do you use an in-text citation? Pretty much any time that a piece of information appears in your text that you can credit to one of your sources. This includes paraphrased items, direct quotes, anecdotes, statistics and report findings.
Why not just mention the source as part of the sentence? Because it’s distracting. Complex papers, especially those for class, are usually filled with research from a large number of source materials. Can you really imagine mentioning the title, author and page number of a particular source of information every sentence?
Do note that some grammar software may not be familiar with MLA Style (although most of them should be), so they may flag this form of citation as an error. Just realize that it’s not (or add it to the rules, if it’s editable) and you’ll be fine.