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Signal Phrases & In-Text Citations

The In-Text Citation

  • Quoted material is followed by a parenthetical, also known as an in-text citation.
  • The parenthetical gives the page number(s) of the quoted material’s source.
  • The parenthetical sometimes gives the author’s last name, depending on the type of signal phrase you have written.

The Signal Phrase

Definition of a Signal Phrase:A phrase that signals your reader that you are about to include a quote.

There are two types of Signal Phrases:

  1. With an accreditation (the author’s name)
  2. Without an accreditation (the author’s name)

Example of a Signal Phrase with an accreditation:

  • Shelley held a bold view: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (794-95).

Example of a Signal Phrase without an accreditation:

  • Other artists hold a bolder view: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (Shelley 794-95)


The two most common and scholarly signal phrases are “Smith suggests that. . .” and “Smith argues that. . .”

The Problem:

The examples above are both fine signal phrases, but a research paper that contains many in-text citations can become rather tedious to read if every quotation is introduced in the same manner, for all writers tend to develop their own particular writing style habits. In other words, writers find words and phrases that become favorites, and develop a tendency to use them frequently. The signal phrase often proves to be an instance where this repetitiveness occurs.

Detecting the problem through proofreading and editing:

After you have a rough draft of your paper check all your signal phrases. If you discover that your favorite signal phrase verb seems to be “suggests,” then edit your paper by varying the verb. Although this is a simple revision tactic it is very effective, and will help to turn a somewhat tedious prose style into an interesting one.

Alternate signal phrase verbs:

Acknowledges, adds, admits, agrees, argues, asserts, believes, claims, comments, compares, confirms, contends, declares, denies, disputes, emphasizes, endorses, grants, illustrates, implies, insists, notes, observes, points out, reasons, refutes, rejects, reports, responds, suggests, thinks, writes.

Here are two easy rules to follow:

  • If your signal phrase includes the author’s name, then only the page number(s) go inside the parenthetical.
  • If your signal phrase does not include the author’s name, then the pages number(s) and the author’s last name go inside the parenthetical.

Punctuation with Quotations

  • Quoted material is usually preceded by a colon if the quotation is formally introduced and by a comma or no punctuation if the quotation is an integral part of the sentence structure.

Example of a formal introduction:

  • Shelley held a bold view: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (794-95).

Example of a quotation that is an integral part of the sentence structure:

  • Shelley thought poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (794-95).

Another example of a quotation that is an integral part of the sentence structure:

  • “Poets,” according to Shelley, “are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (103-04).

Quoting Indirect Sources:

  • What if you are reading an article about Edmund Burke, written by a writer named Boswell. Perhaps Boswell quotes Samuel Johnson’s remarks about Shakespeare, and you want to quote Johnson. How would you properly compose your parenthetical? Like so:
  • Samuel Johnson admitted that Edmund Burke was an “extraordinary man” (qtd. in Boswell 450).

Making parenthetical and Works Cited page citations work together:

  • At all times, the author named in your parenthetical or signal phrase must correspond to the author named in your Works Cited page citation.
  • For example, if you incorrectly cited Samuel Johnson in the above example, yet you have Boswell listed on your Works Cited page, then your readers will be unable to reference the Johnson quote.

For more about signal phrases, click here

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