How to Use Lead-Ins for In-Text Citations in MLA

Colleges, universities and even some secondary schools rely on the Modern Language Association’s style manual.
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A basic rule of academic writing that should guide all your efforts is if you’ve borrowed something, cite it. In the text of an essay, providing a lead-in -- sometimes call a signal word or signal phrase -- signals to the reader that the information that follows is borrowed. Without this important heads-up, the reader will assume that the forthcoming information is an observation or analysis on your part. There is no right or wrong way to write a lead-in, but you should follow some basic advice from the seventh edition of the "MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers," which provides style rules for papers written in the liberal arts and humanities.

1 Strive for Simplicity

The simplest way to lead into a passage that contains borrowed information is to cite the author’s name at the beginning of a sentence, as in: "Hemingway often lamented how difficult it is to write for a living (156)." The parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence refers to the page number of the source. In this way, a reader who wants more information can turn to the Works Cited page of the paper, find the entry for Hemingway and know where the information was taken from.

2 Strive for a Creative Touch

With practice, you might strive for a less heavy-handed and more creative approach, such as: "Several renowned writers, including Pulitzer Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, have referred to the process of writing as 'painful' and 'an agony' (156)." In this example, the reference to Hemingway and the quotation marks signal to the reader that the information is borrowed. This effective lead-in sets the stage for amplifying sentences to follow.

With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.