What Are Parenthetical Citations? Explained

Here, we’ll explore what are parenthetical citations and how to use them correctly with examples, tips and tricks. 

Whether a student or a professional writer, it can be tough to figure out exactly how to cite works within your paper or essay. From correcting grammar to figuring out the formatting, you must take the time to attribute ideas and quotes to sources correctly. Generally, the accepted format for parenthetical citations is: (Betz, 2010).

In-text citation allows the reader to locate the source of the information if they desire. They enable teachers to check references and ensure correct information in academic settings. In non-academic settings, using parenthetical citations helps the reader trust the writer’s knowledge of the topic.

To figure out exactly how to use parenthetical citations for your paper, you’ll need to know whether your professor or publisher prefers that you use MLA or APA format. The answer should be in your syllabus or your publication guidelines. When you come across questions as you work through your writing, consult the Purdue Online Writing Lab, the internet’s go-to source for all things APA and MLA.

Parenthetical citations are a citation style where the citations are enclosed within parenthesis. For example, “” is closed in parenthesis. Parenthesis can be in the style of dashes, brackets, or commas. Now, look at everything you need to know about parenthetical citations in your paper, from simple formatting to nuanced rules. 

Parenthetical Citations: The Basics

What are parenthetical citations?
Use MLA citations to show your reader where you got your quotes and ideas

When you’re writing a paper that sticks to MLA style, you’ll use MLA citations to show your reader where you got quotes and ideas. You’ll need to include the author’s last name and the page number from where you got the idea or quote. There’s no need to include the year of publication in MLA format (the year is only required in APA format). 

  • In MLA format, a typical parenthetical citation would read: (Betz, 3)
  • In APA format, a specific parenthetical citation would read: (Betz, 2010, p.3). 

When to Use A Parenthetical Citation

You will use parenthetical citations in three instances within an essay. These include:

  • Summaries: When you need to summarize another author’s work, you must state where the summary came from, which requires a citation.
  • Paraphrases: If you paraphrase someone else’s idea, you must add an appropriate citation.
  • Quotes: Any quoted material must be cited following the rules of the citation style for the project

Use parenthetical citations if your project requires either APA or MLA formatting, as both use this form of citation. Chicago-style papers use footnotes instead of parenthetical citations.

How To Use Parenthetical Citations

In a research paper, essay or report, show which resources you used to write the piece. While a Works Cited or Bibliography page is helpful, sometimes the style guide requires an in-text citation. When using a parenthetical citation, add a set of parentheses after the paraphrase or quote at the end of the sentence. Put the author’s last name and the page number or publication date in this parenthesis. This citation will coordinate with one of the entries on your works cited, resources, or bibliography page.

If you’re writing a literary review or another piece of work in which you’re using many works by the same author, you may need to cite the title in your in-text citation instead of the author’s name to save your reader from confusion. There’s no need to cite the author’s name, for example: (“A Day in the Life” 29). 

It can be tough to figure out how to use parenthetical citations when the resource you’re using is not straightforward. For example, how should you to cite a play, television show, or website?

If you don’t know the author but want to cite the work, use a title or a keyword from the title to help your reader link the citation to a part of your works cited page. For example, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows might be shortened to “Hallows” in a parenthetical citation, with the full citation on the works cited page.

There’s no need to make a point to state that the author is unknown. Instead, ensure your in-text citation provides a clear link to a part of your works cited page so your reader can easily find more information if necessary. 

When quoting or referencing a scene in a parenthetical citation, approach it like a page number (Betz, sc. 3). If you’re referencing a line in a poem, write out the word line (Betz, lines 3-4), and if you come across a reference in which you need to cite more than one author, be sure to include both in your in-text citation -for example, (Betz and Berkey 12). You may find our explainer on are citations double spaced helpful.

Why Use Parenthetical Citations?Consequences of plagiarism

Plagiarism can destroy an author’s work and reputation

Academic and business writers use parenthetical citations is to avoid the risk of plagiarism. Plagiarism can quickly destroy an author’s work and reputation, both unethical and illegal. When writers correctly cites all sources, even for paraphrased material, they are not guilty of this honest mistake. For quotes, placing the selection in quotation marks and adding a parenthetical citation will show where the quote came from, and this is vital to protect against plagiarism.

For more, check out our guide to the best plagiarism checkers. These tools will save you time and often handle citations.

Plagiarism and In Text Citations

If you’ve quoted or paraphrased accurately and cited or linked to the original source, it’s not plagiarism. That said, plagiarism has several potential consequences in both academic and professional settings. If you are found guilty of plagiarism in an academic setting, you will likely fail the assignment or even the class. Some schools have this as grounds for expulsion. Plagiarism is a violation of copyright law. As a result, you could face a lawsuit in a professional setting if you are guilty of plagiarism.

Even if you are not sued, a professional or academic who is guilty of plagiarism will suffer a loss of their reputation. Taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own, without proper citation, could ruin your reputation as a writer. Because of these potential consequences, learning to use parenthetical citations properly is vital to your work as an academic or business writer. Read more about the consequences of plagiarism.

Parenthetical Citation Example: MLA Style

The MLA style follows the rules of the Modern Language Association handbook, also known as the MLA handbook. If the paper or report you are writing uses the MLA format for citation, place citations at the end of the sentence after you paraphrase or quote a resource.

The parenthetical citation contains the author’s last name and the page number without a comma separating the two. Instead, it goes before the period at the end of the sentence. If the paper uses the author’s name within the text, the parentheses only have to contain the page number. If no page numbers are available, you will use paragraph numbers and the abbreviation “par.” or “pars.” If you cannot find an author, use the proper punctuation to use the title of the article, journal article, website, or book.

If you’re unsure about using MLA, read our guide to style guides for business writing

MLA Style Citation Example

Sometimes seeing an example of how to cite something helps you do it correctly in your writing. Here is an example of a reference list entry formatted in the MLA style:

Here is how the MLA citation would look in your piece:

  • When it comes to technology, we “need to be comfortable enough with technology tools and services that we can help point our patrons in the right direction, even if we aren’t intimately familiar with how the device works” (King 11).


  • When it comes to technology, King states that we “need to be comfortable enough with technology tools and services that we can help point our patrons in the right direction, even if we aren’t intimately familiar with how the device works” (11).

Note that in these examples, the parentheses come after the quotation mark but before the period. This shows that the citation goes with the quote immediately before it.

Parenthetical Citations in the APA Style

The APA style is another style guide that uses parentheses to show an original source within the text. It follows the rules of the American Psychological Association. However, it uses parenthetical citations slightly differently than the MLA.

With APA format citations, you will use the author’s last name and the date of publication, not the page number. You also will separate the two with a comma. If you name the author within the paragraph, you will list the publication date in parentheses. That said, if you use a direct quotation, you will add the page or paragraph number. If you are using a website, you can use a timestamp. Other acceptable resources include chapter, canto, verse, or line. Again, adding this to the parenthetical reference only is necessary if you are making a direct quote.

APA Style Citation Example

Consider a paper that requires you to quote from this resource:

  • Crystal, K. (2011). The story of English in 100 words. St. Martin’s Press.

In this case, you would cite as follows:

  • “Undeaf” is a word coined by Shakespeare in Richard II (Crystal, 2011).


  • According to Crystal (2011), “undeaf” is a word invented by Shakespeare.

In these citations, the parentheses come before the period or immediately after the author’s name. This follows the APA citation format perfectly.

When in Doubt, Cite It!

Many writers wonder if they should add parenthetical citations or not, and a good rule of thumb is to cite anything you are unsure about. Add a link, footnote or an entry in a reference or bibliography. You are unlikely to be in trouble for citing too many sources, and the risks of plagiarism are just too significant. A good citation tool will take care of all this for you. So do not fall victim to this common academic writing mistake. Instead, ensure you cite all ideas that are not your own. 

Tips and Tricks for Parenthetical Citations

  1. Generally, simple is better. Both MLA and APA formats offer easy ways to cite in-text, and there’s no need to bog your reader down with extra information. Instead, provide the information required in the in-text citation and nothing more. Then, if your reader needs more information, they’ll be able to visit the works quickly cited section of your paper to get what they need. 
  2. In-text citations are only as good as your works cited page. Ensure that your works cited page offers all the information your reader needs to learn more about your sources. Carefully check the requirements for your paper format to ensure you’re following current works cited guidelines.
  3. For more help, check out our round-up of the best citation software! This type of software will automatically format your citations and also help you maintain a copy and paste library that you can use.