What is a Parenthetical Citation? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 The Basics
  • 0:30 Styles Have Different Rules
  • 1:02 MLA
  • 2:48 APA
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

In this lesson we'll explore the definition of parenthetical citations. We will also look at examples of two of the most popular forms of parenthetical notation. Read on to learn more.

The Basics

Parenthetical citations are notes in parentheses that let a reader know what original sources you used in the body of your research paper. These notes make it easier for the reader because they don't have to stop reading to know what is source material. In other words, the parenthetical notes don't disrupt the flow of the paper. This saves the writer from having to create endnotes or footnotes, and it gives the reader immediate access to the sources.

Styles Have Different Rules

In research writing, there are many different style guides that dictate the rules of how source material should be accounted for in the text of the paper. We will be looking at two of the most popular style guides used: MLA, or Modern Language Association, and APA, The American Psychological Association.

We use parenthetical citations to indicate that we have included information from source material that is a direct quote, a summary, or a paraphrase. Let's take a look at these two styles to see how they differ.


When using parenthetical citations in the MLA style, you must include the author and the page number in the parentheses. Take a look a look at some examples.

Here's a quote from a book:

  • The author tells us, ''We all need to find a way to save on our consumption of oil, so carpooling when you can is an excellent idea'' (Willis 25).

Because this example includes a quote, at the end of the sentence you need to include parentheses with the author's last name and the page number where the quote can be found. Notice that the punctuation is placed to the right of the parentheses, making the parenthetical citation a part of the sentence.

Now let's look at a paraphrase:

  • Children can find themselves in trouble if they are given access to cell phones before they are able to understand how dangerous they can be (''No Cell Phones'').

When you paraphrase, or put source information into your own words, you must provide documentation. If there is no author, then you use the first few words of the title in the parenthetical citation. Note: There are no page numbers given because the source is a website.

Sometimes we use ellipses:

  • In New England the heroin epidemic is a large problem...it is something we need to take seriously (Nelson and Smith 21).

Use an ellipsis, or what looks like three periods, to indicate that you have left out part of the quote.

And here's the long quote:

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