How to Cite Summaries in MLA Format

When writing a research paper, you have three choices by which to present data from your sources: quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing. While you probably know that it is important to include a citation when you are quoting from a research source, it is equally important to include a citation when paraphrasing or summarizing. If you are writing a paper for an English or humanities class, you need to know how to create a citation in Modern Language Association (MLA) style. Learning how to produce an MLA citation for a summary lets you avoid the appearance of plagiarism.

Identify the author’s thesis and main points. Restate that information briefly and in your own words. The best way to avoid borrowing an author’s words or sentence structure is to read the passages you wish to summarize, close the book and then create a summary from memory.

Introduce the summary by giving the author’s name. When readers see quotation marks, they understand that the information is coming from an outside source. When using a summary, you can let readers know that you are using material from a research source by the way you introduce the material. Give the name of the author as you begin your summary. You may also need to give some context to the information. For example, if you begin a paragraph saying “Literary critic John Randall offers evidence that . . .,” readers understand that the information that follows is from that specific critic.

Write the summary. Your goal is to take a large amount of information from a research source and condense it. Focus on reducing all of the major points of the author's discussion into an easy to read form. Give a summary of research adds valuable information to your paper without overloading the reader with details. Make sure that the summary is factually accurate and does not contain your opinion.

Signal the end of the summary. To let readers know when you have reached the end of the summary, place a parenthetical citation at the conclusion of the material. A parenthetical citation encloses in parentheses the page number on which the summarized information appears.

  • If you need to borrow an author’s distinctive phrase and include it in your summary, you must put that phrase in quotation marks. Also, you need to put the page number on which the phrase appears in parentheses at the end of the sentence.
  • If you borrow an author’s sentences or phrases and intermingle them with your own wording without enclosing them in quotation marks, you have committed plagiarism. The same is true if you replicate an author’s sentence structure and simply use different synonyms.
  • “A Writer’s Reference”; Diana Hacker; 2007
  • “MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers”; Joseph Gibaldi; 2003
About the Author

Shelia Odak has over 10 years writing and editing experience for consumer and trade publications including "Radio/TV Interview Report." She has worked for over nine years in education and holds a Ph.D. from Georgia State University. Odak writes on a range of topics including education, literature and frugal living.

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