Citing Summary from a Source in MLA Format

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11719

If I don't quote a source directly, word-for-word, do I still need to cite the source? Oh, yes! Quotation marks are not used, but there are rules for citing the source. Learn and practice the MLA way!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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How can you tell when a writer is summarizing someone else's ideas? How is that different from directly quoting the author? How do I summarize and cite correctly?

It can be difficult to tell when a writer is summarizing another person's ideas if there are no quotation marks around the material to show it belongs to someone else.

Quotation marks are used only around material that is taken word-for-word from another source and integrated into your own writing. Therefore, the only way a reader can tell that a writer is incorporating a summary from another source is to cite it in the body of the paper. As you learned in the previous of the Related Lessons, found in the right-hand sidebar, it is always critical to provide both an in-text citation and a citation on the Works Cited page at the end of a paper or project when using an outside source.

There are three different ways material may be incorporated into a paper when using MLA format. They are

  • summary from a source,
  • a short direct quotation (four or fewer typed or handwritten lines), and
  • a long direct quotation (more than four typed or handwritten lines).

This lesson will cover how to cite summary from a source in-text, and the next two lessons will cover short and long direct quotations respectively.

What makes summary different from paraphrasing and direct quotations? Discuss your answer with your parent or teacher.

Did you say that summary is only a brief recap of someone's ideas in your own words, while paraphrasing is rewording a writer's ideas in your own words while keeping the same length? Direct quotations are when you include another person's ideas word-for-word in your writing? If so, you are correct! It is important to know the difference between when you are using summary and when you are using quotations, because the formatting for the citations is different.

Since this lesson focuses on how to cite a summary, it is useful to review how to properly summarize another person's ideas in your own words. Read the handout on Summarizing, by Leora Freedman from the University of Toronto. When you are finished reading, write a brief summary of the main points of the handout to practice these skills. Share your work and the handout with your parent or teacher.

Citing summary from a source in the MLA format typically requires two pieces of information from the source: the author's last name and the page number where the summarized material was found in the outside source. The citation is placed at the end of the last sentence of the summary, and the aforementioned information is placed in parentheses before the period that ends the sentence. There is one space between the final word in the sentence and the start of the parenthetical citation. There is no punctuation between the author's last name and the page number. A citation for summary from a source looks like this:

The moon has fascinated people since the dawn of time. Ancient civilizations wrote about the Earth's moon and even included it in their mythologies. The moon still continues to inspire awe even as it becomes more conceivable that the average person may one day be able to visit the Earth's nearest celestial body (Jones 387).

The citation above shows the reader that the information about the moon came from a source written by a person with the last name of Jones, and the page on which this information can be found in the original source is Page 387.

If a source has two authors, then both authors' last names are listed and joined by "and." For example, (Smith and Jones 45). However, if a source has three or more authors, only the first author's name is used and the rest are replaced with the phrase "et al." For example, (Smith et al. 45).

It would always be easy to cite summary from the source if all sources had the same information and page numbers, but there are always exceptions to the rule. This is why it is important to know how to cite a source if it is missing one or both of the two required elements: author's name and page number. Print the Exceptions for MLA In-text Citations, found in Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar, to learn how to create an in-text citation when this material is missing.

You can also find a well-explained list of various types of in-text citations provided by the Purdue OWL under MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics.

Now that you know the difference between summarizing and quoting, move on to the Got It? section to practice citing summary from a source in the MLA format.

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