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How to cite a dictionary in APA Style

Published on November 6, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on January 17, 2024.

To cite a dictionary definition in APA Style, start with the author of the dictionary (usually an organization), followed by the publication year, the word you’re citing, the dictionary name, the publisher (if not already listed as author), and the URL.

Our free APA Citation Generator can help you create accurate citations for dictionary entries.

Cite a dictionary in APA Style now:

Table of contents, how to cite an online dictionary entry, how to cite a print dictionary.

Online dictionaries tend to be continuously updated, so you usually won’t have a specific publication date. In this case, write “n.d.” (no date) in place of the year and include a retrieval date:

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how to cite dictionary in essay

Citing from a print dictionary differs in that you’ll always be using a specific edition with a publication date, so this information should appear in your citation. Do not list the publisher a second time if it is already listed in the author position.

Print dictionaries still don’t usually list authors, although in some specialist dictionaries an author may be listed. If an author for the individual entry is listed, list them in the author position instead of the publisher, and do include the publisher at the end.

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If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Caulfield, J. (2024, January 17). How to cite a dictionary in APA Style. Scribbr. Retrieved April 2, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/apa-examples/dictionary/

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Citing the Dictionary and Other Online Sources

A citation of any online dictionary or thesaurus should include the following information:

  • headword of the entry cited (in quotes)
  • title of the source (in italics)
  • date the dictionary or thesaurus was published, posted, or revised (Use the copyright date noted at the bottom of this and every page of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.)
  • full URL of the site (up to and including the file name)
  • date you accessed the dictionary (in parentheses)

Here are three ways you might cite the entry for hacker in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, if you accessed it on May 8, 2011.

"hacker." Merriam-Webster.com . 2011. https://www.merriam-webster.com (8 May 2011). MLA Style: "hacker." Merriam-Webster.com . Merriam-Webster, 2011. Web. 8 May 2011. APA Style: hacker. 2011. In Merriam-Webster.com . Retrieved May 8, 2011, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hacker

Citing Other Online Sources

There is no universally accepted standard for citing online sources, but it is generally adequate to indicate the document's Web address, or URL (uniform resource locator), somewhere in the citation, usually following the date on which the electronic document was published, posted, or last revised (if known).

Thus a typical citation of an online source would show the author's name, the title of the document, the title of the complete work (such as the name of a periodical) in italics, the date, and the full URL. A URL is composed of the protocol used (such as http for Web pages; other less common protocols include gopher , ftp , and telnet ), the server's identification, the directory path, and the file's name.

Here are a five sample citations of online sources:

Agmon, Eytan. "Beethoven's Op. 81a and the Psychology of Loss." Music Theory Online 2, 4 (1996). http://boethius.music.ucsb.edu/mto/ issues/mto.96.2.4/mto.2.4.agmon.html Davies, Al. 1997. Mitral Valvular Prolapse Syndrome. Medical Reporter 2, 11 (Feb.). http://www.dash.com/netro/nwx/tmr/tmr0297/valvular0297.html Thursby, Ray. "Hopping into hybrids." Salon.com . Aug. 2000. http://www.salon.com/business/feature/2000/08/15/hybrid/index.html

In many cases it is necessary or desirable to include the date of access as well. Note that the date of access will often be the only date shown, since many online documents do not include dates.

Walker, John. "Resources for Learning French." http://www.fourmilab.ch/francais/1french.html (12 Aug. 2007).

Periodicals published on paper that happen to be accessed online may be cited just like normal periodicals, with no acknowledgment of their online status, if it is clear that the text has not been altered for the online version.

References to mailing lists or newsgroup postings should begin with the author's name, include the subject line (or a made-up descriptive subject line), and provide the name and electronic address of the mailing-list server or newsgroup and the date posted. A personal e-mail message can be called "Personal communication" with no mention of its electronic medium.

Marchand, Jim. "L'humour de Berceo." (1 Oct. 1997). Medieval Texts Discussion List. [email protected] Massey, Neil. "Year 2000 and Sendmail 8.86." (1 Oct. 1997). comp.mail.sendmail

Many mailing-list discussions are archived after messages are posted. Archives are usually maintained on the mailing list's server and may also be available through a Web page. An archived message is cited in its original form unless the message was accessed through a Web server rather than the list server or newsgroup.

McCarty, Willard. "The Fate of Universities." 13 June 1997. Humanist Discussion Group. http://www.iath.virginia.edu/lists_archive/ Humanist/v11/0097.html

Note: Since many online sources are highly subject to change or deletion, any online text likely to be cited — including personal e-mail messages — should always be either downloaded onto a disk or printed out and stored on paper (with a notation of the date accessed) as a permanent record.

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APA Citation Guide (7th edition) : Encyclopedias & Dictionaries

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Authors/Editors

If an encyclopedia or dictionary entry does not indicate a specific author or co-authors, begin the citation with a group author such as Merriam-Webster or American Psychological Association, followed by the year of publication in round brackets.

Capitalize the first letter of the first word of the title of the entry and the title of the encyclopedia or dictionary.

Capitalize the first letter of proper names in titles, such as names of places or people. Example: Canada

Publication Information for Online Encyclopedias and Dictonaries

Include the publisher name for an encyclopedia or dictionary where clearly identified, just as with a book or ebook. If the author and publisher are the same, omit the publisher element.

Some electronic content is assigned a unique number called a Digital Object Identifier (DOI). If a DOI is provided for an encyclopedia or dictionary, include it after the name of the encyclopedia or dictionary of the entry and edition beginning with "https:"

You do not need to put a period after a DOI number.

If you accessed the encyclopedia or dictionary through a website, provide the URL. If the encyclopedia or dictionary provides stable archived versions, link to the latest one without "retrieved from"; no statement of the retrieval date is necessary in this case. A statement of the retrieval date should be provided for any web pages that are dynamic and not archived. When in doubt, provide a retrieval date to help the reader in case the entry you use is updated between the time you read it and the time your reader looks at it.

In-Text Citation - Page Numbers

Page numbers may not be available for an online dictionary or encyclopedia entry. Here are some options if you have no page numbers and you are quoting directly:

Count the paragraphs, and use that number where you'd normally put the page number. Put the word "para." in front of it. Example: (Smith, 2012, para. 3). This example refers to the third paragraph in the entry. 

If the entry has section headings, you can use those. Encyclopedia entries often have section headings. Enter the section heading name, followed by the word "section" and then the number of the paragraph within that section. Example: (Smith, 2012, Climate section, para. 2). This example refers to the second paragraph under the Climate section of the entry.

If there is only one paragraph and no headings, as may be the case for many dictionary entries, skip the page/paragraph/section information and give the author's name and date only. Example: (Smith, 2012)

Note : All citations should be double spaced and have a hanging indent in a Reference List.

A "hanging indent" means that each subsequent line after the first line of your citation should be indented by 0.5 inches.

Author's Last Name, First Initial. Second Initial if Given. (Year of Publication). Title of entry. In Editor's First Initial. Second Initial if given. Last Name (Ed.), Name of encyclopedia or dictionary  ( edition if given and is not first edition, volume number if there is more than one, page range ) . Publisher Name.

Author's Last Name, First Initial. Second Initial if Given. (Year of Publication). Title of entry. In Editor's First Initial. Second Initial if given. Last Name (Ed.), Name of encyclopedia or dictionary ( edition if given and is not first edition ) . https://doi number

Author's Last Name, First Initial. Second Initial if Given. (Year of Publication).Title of entry. In Editor's First Initial. Second Initial if given. Last Name (Ed.), Name of encyclopedia or dictionary ( edition if given and is not first edition ) . Retrieved date from URL

Name of Group Author. (Year of Publication). Title of entry. In Editor's First Initial. Second Initial if given. Last Name (Ed.), Name of encyclopedia or dictionary ( edition if given and is not first edition ) . Retrieved from date URL

Title of entry. (Year article was edited, Month Day). In Wikipedia . URL for archived version of the article

Note : To find and cite the latest archived version, select "view history" in the Wikipedia entry and choose the most recent date.    

Wikipedia may not be considered an acceptable source for a college or university assignment. Be sure to evaluate the content carefully and check your assignment.

Author's Last Name, First Initial. Second Initial if Given. (Year of Publication). Title of entry. In Editor's First Initial. Second Initial if given. Last Name (Ed.), Name of encyclopedia or dictionary (Volume number, pp. first page of entry-last page of entry). Publisher Name often shortened.

Name of Group Author. (Year of Publication). Title of entry. In Editor's First Initial. Second Initial if given. Last Name (Ed.), Name of encyclopedia or dictionary (Volume number if any, pp. first page of entry-last page of entry or p. page number for one page entry). Publisher Name often shortened.

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  • MLA Style Manual

How to Cite a Dictionary Meaning in MLA

Last Updated: September 15, 2021 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 79,925 times.

Citing a dictionary definition is a little different than referencing an authored book, but it’s easy to get the hang of. An MLA citation shows the reader exactly where to find the source you accessed, so you’ll need to provide specific information about the entry. Include an in-text citation in parentheses right after the sentence that referenced the term. On your works cited page, list the term, the dictionary's title, its edition, its date of publication, and the page number. For an online dictionary, include the URL and the date you accessed the site.

Making a Parenthetical Citation

Step 1 Add an in-text citation to the end of the sentence that referenced the term.

  • A basic parenthetical citation would be: (“Onomatopoeia”). Instead of placing the period after sentence, add it after the citation, like this: Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates or suggests the sound it describes (“Onomatopoeia”).

Step 2 Include the definition number for words with multiple entries.

  • For example, your in-text citation would look like this: (“Turn,” def. V. 2a). Note the “V.” stands for verb; use “Adj.” for adjectives and “N.” for nouns.
  • Write the part of speech and definition number as it appears in the dictionary. A dictionary might organize entries with numbers and letters (such as 1a) or with numbers alone (such as 1.2).
  • If the word has multiple entries but only a single part of speech, just include the entry number: (“Wonderful,” def. 2).

Step 3 Put the dictionary’s title in brackets if you’ve included multiple entries.

  • An example would be: (“Emoticon,” [Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary]).
  • Suppose your paper references the definition of “Emoticon” in both Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary . If your in-text citations were just (“Emoticon”) or (“Emoticon,” N.), the reader wouldn’t know which dictionary you were referencing.

Citing a Print Dictionary

Step 1 Begin with the term you’ve defined in quotation marks.

  • If you specified the part of speech and definition number, include them in your works cited entry: “Content,” def. N. 1c. [5] X Research source
  • Since there’s no known author, use the first letter of the term when you alphabetize your works cited page. For instance, you’d list “Content” after an entry authored by “Butler, J.” and before one authored by “Darwin, C.”

Step 2 Add the name of the dictionary in italics.

  • At this point, your entry would look like this: “Content,” def. N. 1c. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary ,

Step 3 Write the edition if you’re citing a subsequent edition.

  • Now your entry would read: “Content,” def. N. 1c. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary , 11th ed.,

Step 4 Include the publication date.

  • Add the date like this: “Content,” def. N. 1c. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary , 11th ed., 2003,

Step 5 Put the page number at the end of the citation.

  • Your finished entry would read: “Content,” def. N. 1c. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary , 11th ed., 2003, p. 269.
  • If your definition happens to appear on 2 pages, write “pp. 269-270.”

Citing an Online Dictionary

Step 1 Start with the term and the name of the online dictionary.

  • The first part works cited entry for an online dictionary looks the same as a citation for printed source: “Content,” def. N. 1.1. Oxford English Dictionary ,

Step 2 Use the copyright date the bottom of the website page.

  • Your entry at this point would read: “Content,” def. N. 1.1. Oxford English Dictionary , 2018,

Step 3 Don’t include “https” when you write the URL.

  • Add the URL like this: “Content,” def. N. 1.1. Oxford English Dictionary , 2018, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/content.

Step 4 Include the date you accessed the website.

  • Your completed entry would read: “Content,” def. N. 1.1. Oxford English Dictionary , 2018, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/content. Accessed 23 September 2018.

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  • Learn more about MLA style at https://style.mla.org . Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

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Cite the WHO in APA

  • ↑ https://style.mla.org/term-with-numbered-definitions/
  • ↑ https://style.mla.org/distinguishing-dictionary-entries/
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_works_cited_page_books.html
  • ↑ https://style.mla.org/when-citing-a-print-dictionary-in-mla-style-do-i-include-a-page-number/
  • ↑ https://www.merriam-webster.com/help/citing-the-dictionary
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_works_cited_electronic_sources.html
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_and_style_guide.html?_ga=2.19623804.558179429.1522454400-1709346682.1522454400

About This Article

Christopher Taylor, PhD

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How to Cite a Dictionary

Last Updated: April 28, 2023 References

This article was co-authored by Michelle Golden, PhD . Michelle Golden is an English teacher in Athens, Georgia. She received her MA in Language Arts Teacher Education in 2008 and received her PhD in English from Georgia State University in 2015. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 143,616 times.

When a specific definition has been used in an essay, you will need to cite the dictionary in your “Works Cited” or “References” page. Each style guide has its own citation standards, and these standards vary depending on whether the dictionary is a print source or an online source.

Sample Citations

how to cite dictionary in essay

Citing a Print Dictionary in MLA Format

Step 1 State which word you defined.

  • “Citation.”

Step 2 Indicate the definition number.

  • "Citation." Def. 1e.

Step 3 Identify the dictionary you used to define the word.

  • "Citation." Def. 1e. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary .

Step 4 Mention the dictionary's edition.

  • "Citation." Def. 1e. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary . 3rd ed., [2] X Research source

Step 5 List the year of publication.

  • "Citation." Def. 1e. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary . 3rd ed., 2003.

Citing an Online Dictionary in MLA Format

Step 1 Identify the cited word.

  • "Citation."

Step 2 Indicate the original source.

  • "Citation." Random House Dictionary .
  • Note: If an online dictionary source is an original dictionary, rather than a third-party one, you can skip ahead to step 2.4, indicating publication source.

Step 3 Identify the location, publisher, and year of original publication.

  • "Citation." Random House Dictionary . New York: Random House, Inc., 2012.

Step 4 Specify the online publication source.

  • "Citation." Random House Dictionary . New York: Random House, Inc., 2012. Dictionary.com .

Step 5 State that the definition came from the Web.

  • "Citation." Random House Dictionary . New York: Random House, Inc., 2012. Dictionary.com . Web.

Step 6 Conclude with the date the definition was accessed.

  • "Citation." Random House Dictionary . New York: Random House, Inc., 2012. Dictionary.com . Web. 5 December 2012.

Citing a Print Dictionary in APA Format

Step 1 State the dictionary entry used.

  • Citation. (2003).

Step 3 Specify the editor's name, if available.

  • Citation. (2003). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

Step 5 List the page numbers, edition, and volume in parentheses.

  • Citation. (2003). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (p. 57, 11th ed., Vol. 1).

Step 6 Finish with the publication location and the publisher.

  • Citation. (2003). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (p. 57, 11th ed., Vol. 1). Springfield, Massachusetts: Encyclopedia Britannica.

Citing an Online Dictionary in APA Format

Step 1 Specify as much of the original publication information as possible.

  • Citation. (2012). Random House Dictionary . New York: Random House, Inc.

Step 2 Indicate the online dictionary source you pulled the definition from.

  • Citation. (2012). Random House Dictionary . New York: Random House, Inc. Dictionary.com .

Step 3 State the date the definition was retrieved.

  • Citation. (2012). Random House Dictionary . New York: Random House, Inc. Dictionary.com . Retrieved 5 December 2012,

Step 4 Conclude with the URL of the definition.

  • Citation. (2012). Random House Dictionary . New York: Random House, Inc. Dictionary.com . Retrieved 5 December 2012, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/citation?s=t

Citing a Print Dictionary in Chicago Style

Step 1 List the name of the dictionary used.

  • Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary ,

Step 2 List the edition of the dictionary used.

  • Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary , 11th ed.,

Step 3 State which word was defined.

  • Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary , 11th ed., s.v. "citation."

Citing an Online Dictionary in Chicago Style

Step 1 State the name of the online dictionary.

  • Dictionary.com,

Step 2 Introduce the word being defined.

  • Dictionary.com , s.v., "citation,"

Step 3 Indicate when the information was accessed.

  • Dictionary.com , s.v., "citation," accessed December 1, 2012,

Step 4 Conclude with the URL.

  • Dictionary.com , s.v., "citation," accessed December 1, 2012, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/citation?s=t .

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  • ↑ http://www.library.cornell.edu/resrch/citmanage/mla
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/06/
  • ↑ http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/18/
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/05/
  • ↑ http://www.merriam-webster.com/help/citing-the-dictionary
  • ↑ http://www.easybib.com/reference/guide/apa/dictionary
  • ↑ https://www.citefast.com/styleguide.php?style=APA&sec=Encyclopedia
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/

About this article

Michelle Golden, PhD

To cite a print dictionary in MLA format, start by writing the word you defined in quotes with a period at the end. Then, if the word has more than one definition, list the definition number and letter, like "Def. 1e." Next, write the name of the dictionary you used in italics with a period at the end. Finally, list the dictionary's edition number, like "3rd ed.," followed by a comma and the year of publication. To learn how to cite an online dictionary and cite a dictionary using APA format, scroll down! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Cite a Dictionary in Harvard Referencing

How to Cite a Dictionary in Harvard Referencing

3-minute read

  • 8th May 2023

If you come across a source from a dictionary and want to use it in your research, make sure you cite it correctly, both in the text and on the reference page. In this post, we’ll show you how to cite a dictionary using basic Harvard referencing , one of the most common university referencing styles.

How to Cite a Dictionary on a Reference Page

As with any citation, you’ll need to provide all the basic source information on your reference page, whether you’re citing a print or an online dictionary:

●  Author’s name

●  Year of publication

●  Title of the dictionary entry

●  Title of the dictionary

●  Edition number

●  Place of publication (for print dictionaries)

●  Publisher (for print dictionaries)

●  URL (for online dictionaries)

Please see below for examples of each format.

Print Version

Author, X. (year). “Title of dictionary entry,” Title of Dictionary , edition number. Place of Publication: Publisher.

Online Version

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Author, X. (year). “Title of dictionary entry,” Title of Dictionary, edition number [Online]. Available at: URL (Access date).

The following are examples of what each one might look like on your reference page.

Smith, E. (2023). “Symposium,” Oxford English Reference Dictionary , 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Online Version:

Smith, E. (2023). “Symposium,” Oxford English Reference Dictionary , 4th ed. [Online]. Available at: https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/symposium?q=symposium (Accessed May 25, 2023).

How to Cite a Dictionary in the Text

You can use a parenthetical or a narrative citation to reference a dictionary entry in the body of your essay. A narrative citation mentions the author’s name in a sentence and immediately follows the name with the year of publication in parentheses.

A parenthetical citation provides the surname of the author and the year of publication in parentheses immediately following the sentence. A narrative citation looks like this:

And a parenthetical citation will look like this:

Be sure to follow the Harvard guidelines for citing multiple authors. For in-text citations, the names of up to two authors are included. For three or more authors, you should shorten the citation using the abbreviation “et al.”:

Expert Academic Proofreading

When conducting research for an essay, cover all your bases and make sure your citations hit the mark. When you send you paper to our expert editors, include your academic reference list and in-text citations so you can rest assured that they meet all the required guidelines.

We’re experienced in an array of referencing styles, so no matter what field you’re studying, we’ll make sure the structure and format of your citations are correct. See for yourself – try out our proofreading services by sending us a free sample of 500 words or less.

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Answered By: Gopal Dutta Last Updated: Sep 23, 2021     Views: 48114

You do not always need to cite and reference a dictionary definition. Whether you need to or not will depend on the type of dictionary and/or how you are using the definition in your work.   Language dictionaries   As you are not using the words, ideas or theory of an author, you do not usually need to cite and reference a language dictionary (for example the Oxford English dictionary). Instead, introduce the definition in your writing.  One way to present this is as follows:   According to the Oxford English Dictionary the definition of [XXXXX] is [XXXXXX]   If however you have a particular need in your work to cite a language dictionary definition, for example, if comparing varying definitions from language dictionaries by different publishers, follow the format as follows.  The example provided is for an online dictionary, therefore 'online' is used in the citation in place of the page number.

Example citation

(Oxford English Dictionary, 2016:online)

If you are going to refer to the Oxford English Dictionary again in your work, introduce the acronym OED in your citation as follows

(Oxford English Dictionary [OED], 2016:online)

Oxford English Dictionary. (2016) reference, v. 3 . Oxford: Oxford University. [Online] [Accessed on 10th February 2017] http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/160845 

Subject dictionaries and encyclopedias   As subject dictionaries and encyclopedias are usually written by a specific author/s or organisation, and contextual definitions are provided, you will need to cite and reference them in the usual way.   

Many subject dictionaries and encyclopedias, are edited books with entries written by different authors. In this instance follow the format for referencing a  Chapter in an edited book  

Example reference 

Muncie, J. (2001) 'Labelling.' In McLaughlin, E. and Muncie, J. (eds.) The SAGE dictionary of criminology . London: SAGE, pp. 159-160.

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics

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MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (9 th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.

Guidelines for referring to the works of others in your text using MLA style are covered throughout the  MLA Handbook  and in chapter 7 of the  MLA Style Manual . Both books provide extensive examples, so it's a good idea to consult them if you want to become even more familiar with MLA guidelines or if you have a particular reference question.

Basic in-text citation rules

In MLA Style, referring to the works of others in your text is done using parenthetical citations . This method involves providing relevant source information in parentheses whenever a sentence uses a quotation or paraphrase. Usually, the simplest way to do this is to put all of the source information in parentheses at the end of the sentence (i.e., just before the period). However, as the examples below will illustrate, there are situations where it makes sense to put the parenthetical elsewhere in the sentence, or even to leave information out.

General Guidelines

  • The source information required in a parenthetical citation depends (1) upon the source medium (e.g. print, web, DVD) and (2) upon the source’s entry on the Works Cited page.
  • Any source information that you provide in-text must correspond to the source information on the Works Cited page. More specifically, whatever signal word or phrase you provide to your readers in the text must be the first thing that appears on the left-hand margin of the corresponding entry on the Works Cited page.

In-text citations: Author-page style

MLA format follows the author-page method of in-text citation. This means that the author's last name and the page number(s) from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken must appear in the text, and a complete reference should appear on your Works Cited page. The author's name may appear either in the sentence itself or in parentheses following the quotation or paraphrase, but the page number(s) should always appear in the parentheses, not in the text of your sentence. For example:

Both citations in the examples above, (263) and (Wordsworth 263), tell readers that the information in the sentence can be located on page 263 of a work by an author named Wordsworth. If readers want more information about this source, they can turn to the Works Cited page, where, under the name of Wordsworth, they would find the following information:

Wordsworth, William. Lyrical Ballads . Oxford UP, 1967.

In-text citations for print sources with known author

For print sources like books, magazines, scholarly journal articles, and newspapers, provide a signal word or phrase (usually the author’s last name) and a page number. If you provide the signal word/phrase in the sentence, you do not need to include it in the parenthetical citation.

These examples must correspond to an entry that begins with Burke, which will be the first thing that appears on the left-hand margin of an entry on the Works Cited page:

Burke, Kenneth. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method . University of California Press, 1966.

In-text citations for print sources by a corporate author

When a source has a corporate author, it is acceptable to use the name of the corporation followed by the page number for the in-text citation. You should also use abbreviations (e.g., nat'l for national) where appropriate, so as to avoid interrupting the flow of reading with overly long parenthetical citations.

In-text citations for sources with non-standard labeling systems

If a source uses a labeling or numbering system other than page numbers, such as a script or poetry, precede the citation with said label. When citing a poem, for instance, the parenthetical would begin with the word “line”, and then the line number or range. For example, the examination of William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” would be cited as such:

The speaker makes an ardent call for the exploration of the connection between the violence of nature and the divinity of creation. “In what distant deeps or skies. / Burnt the fire of thine eyes," they ask in reference to the tiger as they attempt to reconcile their intimidation with their relationship to creationism (lines 5-6).

Longer labels, such as chapters (ch.) and scenes (sc.), should be abbreviated.

In-text citations for print sources with no known author

When a source has no known author, use a shortened title of the work instead of an author name, following these guidelines.

Place the title in quotation marks if it's a short work (such as an article) or italicize it if it's a longer work (e.g. plays, books, television shows, entire Web sites) and provide a page number if it is available.

Titles longer than a standard noun phrase should be shortened into a noun phrase by excluding articles. For example, To the Lighthouse would be shortened to Lighthouse .

If the title cannot be easily shortened into a noun phrase, the title should be cut after the first clause, phrase, or punctuation:

In this example, since the reader does not know the author of the article, an abbreviated title appears in the parenthetical citation, and the full title of the article appears first at the left-hand margin of its respective entry on the Works Cited page. Thus, the writer includes the title in quotation marks as the signal phrase in the parenthetical citation in order to lead the reader directly to the source on the Works Cited page. The Works Cited entry appears as follows:

"The Impact of Global Warming in North America." Global Warming: Early Signs . 1999. www.climatehotmap.org/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2009.

If the title of the work begins with a quotation mark, such as a title that refers to another work, that quote or quoted title can be used as the shortened title. The single quotation marks must be included in the parenthetical, rather than the double quotation.

Parenthetical citations and Works Cited pages, used in conjunction, allow readers to know which sources you consulted in writing your essay, so that they can either verify your interpretation of the sources or use them in their own scholarly work.

Author-page citation for classic and literary works with multiple editions

Page numbers are always required, but additional citation information can help literary scholars, who may have a different edition of a classic work, like Marx and Engels's  The Communist Manifesto . In such cases, give the page number of your edition (making sure the edition is listed in your Works Cited page, of course) followed by a semicolon, and then the appropriate abbreviations for volume (vol.), book (bk.), part (pt.), chapter (ch.), section (sec.), or paragraph (par.). For example:

Author-page citation for works in an anthology, periodical, or collection

When you cite a work that appears inside a larger source (for instance, an article in a periodical or an essay in a collection), cite the author of the  internal source (i.e., the article or essay). For example, to cite Albert Einstein's article "A Brief Outline of the Theory of Relativity," which was published in  Nature  in 1921, you might write something like this:

See also our page on documenting periodicals in the Works Cited .

Citing authors with same last names

Sometimes more information is necessary to identify the source from which a quotation is taken. For instance, if two or more authors have the same last name, provide both authors' first initials (or even the authors' full name if different authors share initials) in your citation. For example:

Citing a work by multiple authors

For a source with two authors, list the authors’ last names in the text or in the parenthetical citation:

Corresponding Works Cited entry:

Best, David, and Sharon Marcus. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations , vol. 108, no. 1, Fall 2009, pp. 1-21. JSTOR, doi:10.1525/rep.2009.108.1.1

For a source with three or more authors, list only the first author’s last name, and replace the additional names with et al.

Franck, Caroline, et al. “Agricultural Subsidies and the American Obesity Epidemic.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine , vol. 45, no. 3, Sept. 2013, pp. 327-333.

Citing multiple works by the same author

If you cite more than one work by an author, include a shortened title for the particular work from which you are quoting to distinguish it from the others. Put short titles of books in italics and short titles of articles in quotation marks.

Citing two articles by the same author :

Citing two books by the same author :

Additionally, if the author's name is not mentioned in the sentence, format your citation with the author's name followed by a comma, followed by a shortened title of the work, and, when appropriate, the page number(s):

Citing multivolume works

If you cite from different volumes of a multivolume work, always include the volume number followed by a colon. Put a space after the colon, then provide the page number(s). (If you only cite from one volume, provide only the page number in parentheses.)

Citing the Bible

In your first parenthetical citation, you want to make clear which Bible you're using (and underline or italicize the title), as each version varies in its translation, followed by book (do not italicize or underline), chapter, and verse. For example:

If future references employ the same edition of the Bible you’re using, list only the book, chapter, and verse in the parenthetical citation:

John of Patmos echoes this passage when describing his vision (Rev. 4.6-8).

Citing indirect sources

Sometimes you may have to use an indirect source. An indirect source is a source cited within another source. For such indirect quotations, use "qtd. in" to indicate the source you actually consulted. For example:

Note that, in most cases, a responsible researcher will attempt to find the original source, rather than citing an indirect source.

Citing transcripts, plays, or screenplays

Sources that take the form of a dialogue involving two or more participants have special guidelines for their quotation and citation. Each line of dialogue should begin with the speaker's name written in all capitals and indented half an inch. A period follows the name (e.g., JAMES.) . After the period, write the dialogue. Each successive line after the first should receive an additional indentation. When another person begins speaking, start a new line with that person's name indented only half an inch. Repeat this pattern each time the speaker changes. You can include stage directions in the quote if they appear in the original source.

Conclude with a parenthetical that explains where to find the excerpt in the source. Usually, the author and title of the source can be given in a signal phrase before quoting the excerpt, so the concluding parenthetical will often just contain location information like page numbers or act/scene indicators.

Here is an example from O'Neill's  The Iceman Cometh.

WILLIE. (Pleadingly) Give me a drink, Rocky. Harry said it was all right. God, I need a drink.

ROCKY. Den grab it. It's right under your nose.

WILLIE. (Avidly) Thanks. (He takes the bottle with both twitching hands and tilts it to his lips and gulps down the whiskey in big swallows.) (1.1)

Citing non-print or sources from the Internet

With more and more scholarly work published on the Internet, you may have to cite sources you found in digital environments. While many sources on the Internet should not be used for scholarly work (reference the OWL's  Evaluating Sources of Information  resource), some Web sources are perfectly acceptable for research. When creating in-text citations for electronic, film, or Internet sources, remember that your citation must reference the source on your Works Cited page.

Sometimes writers are confused with how to craft parenthetical citations for electronic sources because of the absence of page numbers. However, these sorts of entries often do not require a page number in the parenthetical citation. For electronic and Internet sources, follow the following guidelines:

  • Include in the text the first item that appears in the Work Cited entry that corresponds to the citation (e.g. author name, article name, website name, film name).
  • Do not provide paragraph numbers or page numbers based on your Web browser’s print preview function.
  • Unless you must list the Web site name in the signal phrase in order to get the reader to the appropriate entry, do not include URLs in-text. Only provide partial URLs such as when the name of the site includes, for example, a domain name, like  CNN.com  or  Forbes.com,  as opposed to writing out http://www.cnn.com or http://www.forbes.com.

Miscellaneous non-print sources

Two types of non-print sources you may encounter are films and lectures/presentations:

In the two examples above “Herzog” (a film’s director) and “Yates” (a presentor) lead the reader to the first item in each citation’s respective entry on the Works Cited page:

Herzog, Werner, dir. Fitzcarraldo . Perf. Klaus Kinski. Filmverlag der Autoren, 1982.

Yates, Jane. "Invention in Rhetoric and Composition." Gaps Addressed: Future Work in Rhetoric and Composition, CCCC, Palmer House Hilton, 2002. Address.

Electronic sources

Electronic sources may include web pages and online news or magazine articles:

In the first example (an online magazine article), the writer has chosen not to include the author name in-text; however, two entries from the same author appear in the Works Cited. Thus, the writer includes both the author’s last name and the article title in the parenthetical citation in order to lead the reader to the appropriate entry on the Works Cited page (see below).

In the second example (a web page), a parenthetical citation is not necessary because the page does not list an author, and the title of the article, “MLA Formatting and Style Guide,” is used as a signal phrase within the sentence. If the title of the article was not named in the sentence, an abbreviated version would appear in a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence. Both corresponding Works Cited entries are as follows:

Taylor, Rumsey. "Fitzcarraldo." Slant , 13 Jun. 2003, www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/fitzcarraldo/. Accessed 29 Sep. 2009. 

"MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Purdue OWL , 2 Aug. 2016, owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/. Accessed 2 April 2018.

Multiple citations

To cite multiple sources in the same parenthetical reference, separate the citations by a semi-colon:

Time-based media sources

When creating in-text citations for media that has a runtime, such as a movie or podcast, include the range of hours, minutes and seconds you plan to reference. For example: (00:02:15-00:02:35).

When a citation is not needed

Common sense and ethics should determine your need for documenting sources. You do not need to give sources for familiar proverbs, well-known quotations, or common knowledge (For example, it is expected that U.S. citizens know that George Washington was the first President.). Remember that citing sources is a rhetorical task, and, as such, can vary based on your audience. If you’re writing for an expert audience of a scholarly journal, for example, you may need to deal with expectations of what constitutes “common knowledge” that differ from common norms.

Other Sources

The MLA Handbook describes how to cite many different kinds of authors and content creators. However, you may occasionally encounter a source or author category that the handbook does not describe, making the best way to proceed can be unclear.

In these cases, it's typically acceptable to apply the general principles of MLA citation to the new kind of source in a way that's consistent and sensible. A good way to do this is to simply use the standard MLA directions for a type of source that resembles the source you want to cite.

You may also want to investigate whether a third-party organization has provided directions for how to cite this kind of source. For example, Norquest College provides guidelines for citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers⁠ —an author category that does not appear in the MLA Handbook . In cases like this, however, it's a good idea to ask your instructor or supervisor whether using third-party citation guidelines might present problems.

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How to Cite a Dictionary Entry in Harvard Style

Published by Alaxendra Bets at August 27th, 2021 , Revised On August 23, 2023

Many texts include dictionary definitions that are either copy-pasted from a dictionary or rewritten to ignore plagiarism. Whichever method is followed, it’s important to cite and reference that dictionary entry. A dictionary ‘entry’ is just an academic form of referring to a dictionary term. If a writer has defined the term ‘jurisdiction,’ for instance, it will be said that the writer has used the ‘dictionary entry’ for ‘jurisdiction.’

In-Text and Reference List Format with Examples

1.    dictionary entries with author/dictionary publisher name.

In Harvard referencing, dictionary entries are cited in the text using the following general, basic format:

(Surname of the Dictionary’s author, Year Published)

For example, Hologram (Anon, 2014), where ‘hologram’ is the dictionary entry term that was has been in the text.

The reference list entry follows this format:

Author Surname, Author Initial. (Year Published). Title. In: Publication Title in italics. [‘online’ is written if an online dictionary was used] City: Publisher, # of pages. Available at: http://Website URL [Accessed Date Accessed].

For example:

Anon, (2014). In: 1st ed. [online] Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/hologram [Accessed 21 Jun. 2014].

Another example of citing dictionary entries as per Harvard style is:

( HarperCollins 2019, rehabilitate entry)

Note, however, that the word ‘entry’ may or may not be included with the in-text citation. It’s a personal choice of the writer. If it’s to be written, it should be done so consistently throughout the manuscript.

2.    Dictionary Entry with No Author Name

The general Harvard format for in-text citation of a dictionary entry without author name is:

Name of dictionary in italics followed by year accessed and entry title and page # if present, for example:

( World encyclopedia 2014, microeconomics entry)

In such a case, the name of the dictionary itself is considered the name of the author. Another example is:

( Dictionary of education 2015, curriculum entry)

3.    Dictionary Entry with Author Name Only

If only the name of the author is available and not the entry title, the following format for in-text citation is followed:

Name of author followed by year accessed and entry title and page # if present, for example: (Law 2018)

As for the Harvard reference list format, every type of dictionary entry uses the same format as the basic one given above, whether it’s an author-name-only, entry-title-only, or both.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How to cite a dictionary entry in harvard style.

To cite a dictionary entry in Harvard style: Format: Author(s). (Year). Entry title. In Dictionary Title. Publisher. URL (if online). Example: Smith, J. (2023). Algorithm. In Oxford Dictionary. Oxford University Press. URL. Remember to italicize the dictionary title, and provide page URL if accessed online.

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Author Surname, Author Initial. Year Published. Title [online]. City: Publisher.

Since YouTube is not a common source for academic research, its citation rules are somewhat different. Let’s review its citation protocols

Citing Journals may vary slightly in style, depending on the style used by the journal.

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Cite A Dictionary entry in Harvard style

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Use the following template or our Harvard Referencing Generator how to cite a dictionary. For help with other source types, like books, PDFs, or websites, check out our other guides. To have your reference list or bibliography automatically made for you, try our free citation generator .

Reference list

Place this part in your bibliography or reference list at the end of your assignment.

In-text citation

Place this part right after the quote or reference to the source in your assignment.

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Home › Study Tips › How To Cite The Oxford English Dictionary: Using MLA And APA

How To Cite The Oxford English Dictionary: Using MLA And APA

  • Published June 2, 2022

how to cite dictionary in essay

Table of Contents

Writing academic essays and research papers can be more complex than it already is when you don’t know how to cite the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

It becomes even more confusing depending on what type of OED you’re using, online or print. Why? Because you cite them in different ways. You can now rest easy since you’ve come to the right place. Read more if you want to learn how to cite the Oxford English Dictionary. 

And, if you’re looking to get ahead of your competition in education, then browse our summer programs in Oxford for high school students .

MLA or APA? 

The first step to citing any reference is to figure out what style you need to follow: MLA or APA? What’s the difference, you ask?

Good question!

The most significant is that MLA (Modern Language Association) is used for arts and humanities while APA (American Psychology Association) is for social science. Once you determine which style you need to use, you’re on your way to writing an academic essay ! 

How To Cite The Oxford English Dictionary Using MLA 9th Edition

Library database, known author.

If you’re accessing the Oxford English Dictionary via a library database and you know who the author is, this is how you cite it. 

Author’s Last Name, First Name. “Title of Entry.” Title of Encyclopedia or Dictionary , edited by Editor’s First Name Last Name, Edition if given and not first edition, vol. Volume Number if more than one volume, Publisher Name, Date of Publication, pp. First Page-Last Page. Name of Database . https://doi.org/DOI if there is one.

If the word you’re referencing is only found on one page, list it as such—no need to write it as a first page-last page. But if there’s no page number, you can choose to omit it. What if you don’t know who the editors are or what volume it is? You can also leave them out of your citation.  

In-Text Citation: 

(Author’s Last Name, page number)

If the page number is unavailable:

(Author’s Last Name)

Unknown Author

What if you don’t know who the author is? Here’s how to cite your entry.

“Title of Entry.” Title of Encyclopedia or Dictionary , edited by Editor’s First Name Last Name, Edition if given and not first edition, vol. Volume Number, Publisher Name, Date of Publication, pp. First Page-Last Page. Name of Database . https://doi.org/DOI if there is one.

What if you don’t have specific information such as pages volume numbers and editors? You don’t have to include them. 

Since you don’t know the author, you need to input the first one to three words from the entry title. Please remember to enclose the title within quotation marks. Also, don’t forget to capitalise the first letter of each word. Just like this:

(“Diversity”)

Perhaps the easiest way to access the Oxford English Dictionary is through their various websites. If you know the author, here’s how to cite it:

Author’s Last Name, First Name. “Title of Entry.” Title of Encyclopedia or Dictionary , Publication or Update Date, URL. Accessed Day Month Year site was visited.

Did you notice that “Accessed Day Month Year site was visited” is unique to website citations? If you’re wondering, it simply refers to the day you visited the website. Also, don’t forget to abbreviate the month for the publication/update date and the accessed date; it’s necessary to abbreviate the month. 

If you don’t know who the author is, you can cite your entry this way:

“Title of Entry.” Title of Encyclopedia or Dictionary , Publisher if known, Copyright Date or Date Updated, URL. Accessed Day Month Year site was visited.

With the lack of author information, all you have to do is place the first one to three words of the entry title within quotation marks. Remember to capitalise the first letter of each term. Here’s how:

(“Victorian”)

Of course, we can’t forget physical Oxford English Dictionaries! If you intend to use one, here’s how you can cite the material:

Author’s Last Name, First Name. “Title of Entry.” Title of Encyclopedia or Dictionary, edited by Editor’s First Name Last Name, Edition if given and not first edition, vol. Volume Number, Publisher Name, Year of Publication, pp. First Page-Last Page.

In case the author’s name is not provided, just the editors’, cite it this way: 

 “Title of Entry.” Title of Encyclopedia or Dictionary , edited by Editor’s First Name Last Name, Edition if given and not first edition, vol. Volume Number, Publisher Name, Year of Publication, pp. First Page-Last Page.

Since there’s no author information available, you can use the first one to three words of the entry title and enclose it with quotation marks. Capitalise the first letter of each word. Then place the page number after. Take a look at this:

(“Middle Age” 545)

How To Cite Two Authors

How should you cite the material if there are two authors? By listing them how they appear on the page. Not alphabetically! 

First Author’s Last Name, First Author’s First Name, and First Name Last Name of Second Author

Here’s what it will look like:

Will, Thomas, and Melissa Jones

How To Cite More Than Two Authors

If there are more than two authors, what you need to do is to focus on the first author in the list. 

Last Name, First Name, et al. 

In actual practice, it will look like this:

Will, Thomas, et al.

How To Cite The Oxford English Dictionary Using APA 7th Edition

The APA style is more straightforward than the MLA. When citing authors, remember it’s only the last name that’s spelt out. The first name is abbreviated. If the author’s name is Melissa Jones, the citation will look like this:

Jones, M. 

If the author’s middle name is given, for instance, Melissa Smith Jones, here’s how to cite it. 

Jones, M.S. 

When referencing the Oxford English Dictionary you find online, determine if it’s an archived version or not. If not, it means that the dictionary is continuously being updated. 

Online Archived Version: 

Author A. A. (Date). Title of entry. In E. E. Editor (Ed.), Name of dictionary/encyclopedia . URL.

Online Version With Continuous Updates:

Author A. A. (n.d.). Title of entry. In E. E. Editor (Ed.), Name of dictionary/encyclopedia (edition, if not the first). Publisher. URL.

No Authors, But There Are Editors: 

Editor, A., & Editor, B. (Eds.). (Date). Dictionary/Encyclopedia entry. In Name of dictionary/encyclopedia (edition, if not the first). Publisher.

No Authors And No Editors: Use Company As Corporate Author

Corporate Author. (Date). Dictionary/Encyclopedia entry. In Name of dictionary/encyclopedia (edition, if not the first). Publisher.

In-Text Citation

(Author’s last name, date)

Wrapping Up 

There you have it! By now you know how to cite the Oxford English Dictionary using both the MLA and APA styles. You’ll be more confident writing your papers from now on.

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how to cite dictionary in essay

1. Oxford Dictionaries , s.v. “food baby ( n. ),” accessed October 22, 2013, https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/food-baby.

Note: To cite a print dictionary entry in the notes, the entry would follow the same format, but the accessed date and URL would be omitted ( Oxford Dictionaries , s.v. “food baby ( n. ).”)

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Should you use Dictionary Definitions in Essays? (Answered)

Should you use Dictionary Definitions in Essays

Dictionary definitions are commonly used in university papers. It is also very common for teachers to mark you down for using them!

If you’re like me, you use a dictionary website or Wikipedia to find definitions of terms that you don’t understand. It can be very helpful to get your head around an idea.

Even if you use a dictionary or Wikipedia to help yourself understand a term, try not to reference these non-academic sources in your paper.

Below, I outline three reasons students who get top marks don’t use dictionary definitions in essays, and I weave-in some strategies for providing definitions from different sources:

1. Dictionary Definitions are too General. Instead, do this…

Dictionaries are written for the general public. They provide general definitions of ideas, not explanations of ideas from people within your academic field (be it Science, Education, Sociology, Communications, etc.).

Dictionary definitions were written by a group of very smart people (probably linguists) sitting around a room. They were not written by experts on specific terms or concepts.

There’s a good chance the same group of people who wrote the definition of ‘Science’ also wrote the definitions of ‘Scene’ and ‘School’. The chance that they are experts on science, scenes, and schools, however, is very, very low.

It would be much better if you got the definition of ‘Science’ from a scientist, the definition of ‘Scene’ from a media scholar, and the definition of ‘School’ from a professor in Education.

Furthermore, these linguists did not write the definitions of Science, Scene, and School for you to use in your essay.

They wrote them with a more general audience in mind: Children in Grade 3 learning words for the first time, people with English as a second language, or your grandfather doing his crossword puzzle.

To find a clear definition that is accepted in the field in which your degree is situated (Physics? Communications? Economics?) you will need to get that definition from an expert in that same field – not from a general linguist.

Take the term ‘Discourse’. Here’s how a few different people might define this term:

These three definitions of discourse are, technically, all true. But, these definitions exist in different contexts:

  • If you were to write a 5 th Grade essay on the term ‘discourse’, the dictionary definition would probably be great;
  • If you were to write a 100-level undergraduate essay in a Communications course, the definition by Expert 1 would probably work out okay;
  • If you were to write a postgraduate essay in a Sociology course, the definition by Expert 2 would likely be the only one your professor would accept.

By sourcing a definition of a concept in your assigned readings or a textbook on your specific topic, you will get as close as possible to the definition that your teacher probably expects.

It is often a good idea to define terms early in your essay in order to clearly outline the scope of your discussion for your marker. You could, for example, start a sentence or paragraph early in your essay with:

By defining a term not through a dictionary, but in relation to your field of inquiry, you will start to grow your marks and look as if you have an in-depth understanding of your field of inquiry.

2. Dictionary Definitions are not Analytical. Instead, do this…

There are very few words that can be defined in one sentence.

Most words are defined and contested by different scholars. Some see it one way, some see it another. It is very hard to find one, an overarching definition that explains exactly how a word is used by everyone who comes across it.

Above, I provided three different definitions of a term and some examples of how they might be used in an essay.

One way to really show off your critical thinking skills is to provide several different definitions of a term and compare them.

Let’s take the example of the term ‘power’. This term is very much contested in nearly every field of inquiry. To be brief, Karl Marx and Jean-Paul Sartre would likely argue for days about what power is and how it operates in society.

Marx would contest that it is exercised by the powerful to oppress the weak; Sartre would contest that we all have some power in every situation in our lives, no matter how weak we are.

Here’s an outline of how you might want to be analytical in examining definitions at university:

1. Provide Expert definition Number 1.

2. Provide Expert definition Number 2.

3. Compare the two definitions.

Here, you can write one paragraph that goes well beyond just defining a term. By following these three steps, you are showing that:

  • You have an understanding of two definitions of a term;
  • You have an understanding that different people have different definitions;
  • You have been analytical in showing how the two definitions differ.

3. It looks like you didn’t read Academic Sources. Try this instead:

Somewhere between 10% and 50% of all essays I read appear to be Essay-by-Google. That is, it’s clear the student didn’t read any assigned readings, textbooks, or journal articles in writing their essay.

These essays look like the student sat down 5 days before the due date, opened up Google, and started writing away. Teachers can tell because there are a lot of websites and, yes, dictionaries listed in the reference list.

No student is going to get a top mark when it looks like they wrote their essay by google.

If you want to make it look like you actually put effort into your essay, you want to avoid the appearance that you dug up the closes dictionary and copied down the definition.

Instead, always aim to find definitions from academic sources – preferably textbooks. Textbooks provide good, clear, and specific definitions for your area of inquiry.

So next time you want to provide a definition of a term, dig up a textbook, not a dictionary.

Now you know … Here’s how to Grow Your Grades:

Dictionary Definitions in Essays

Dictionary definitions are commonly used in essays right up to postgraduate level studies. You’re not going to fail if you use one, but you’ll never be a top student either.

Here, I have offered three reasons why you shouldn’t use dictionary definitions:

  • Dictionary definitions are too general
  • Dictionary definitions are not Analytical
  • It looks like you didn’t read Academic Sources

Top students never use dictionary definitions. If you want to be a top student, you need to start finding new academic sources for your definitions. Here are two key points that I’ve outlined in this post to help you grow your marks when using definitions:

  • Get definitions of terms from textbooks in your field of study. Check out our post on how to find scholarly articles if you can’t find them!;
  • If you find two definitions, provide both of them;
  • Compare definitions if you find several that disagree. How are they different?

To finish off, I want to give you one more reason not to use dictionary definitions that overrules the rest:

  • Teachers hate Them

Even if you disagree with me and think dictionary definitions are great, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of teachers don’t like dictionary definitions. They will mark you down for using them.

That alone should steer you away from ever using a dictionary definition in your essay ever again.

Chris

Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 5 Top Tips for Succeeding at University
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  1. How to cite a dictionary in APA Style

    Revised on January 17, 2024. To cite a dictionary definition in APA Style, start with the author of the dictionary (usually an organization), followed by the publication year, the word you're citing, the dictionary name, the publisher (if not already listed as author), and the URL. Our free APA Citation Generator can help you create accurate ...

  2. Dictionary entry references

    Dictionary Entry References. This page contains reference examples for dictionary entries, including the following: Entry in an online dictionary. Entry in a print dictionary. 1. Entry in an online dictionary. American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Just-world hypothesis. In APA dictionary of psychology.

  3. Citing the Dictionary and Other Online Sources

    A citation of any online dictionary or thesaurus should include the following information: date the dictionary or thesaurus was published, posted, or revised (Use the copyright date noted at the bottom of this and every page of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.) Here are three ways you might cite the entry for hacker in the Merriam-Webster Online ...

  4. How to Cite a Dictionary in MLA

    Citing a dictionary entry from a website or print book. "Title of Entry.". Title of Dictionary, edition (if applicable), Publisher, date published, page number or URL. *Title note: If the word you are citing includes multiple parts of speech and/or definitions, be sure to include the specific definition you are citing as part of the title.

  5. How to Cite a Dictionary in APA

    Cite the organization as the author and leave out the publisher information. Place "n.d." for "no date" where publication information usually goes. Include a "Retrieved date" since there is no published date and the information may change over time. Online dictionary reference page structure: Organization Name. (n.d.). Dictionary or ...

  6. MLA Citation Guide (9th Edition): Encyclopedias & Dictionaries

    In-Text Citation Example ("Shortened Title of Entry" Page Number) Example: ("Guyana" 283) Note: If a dictionary or encyclopedia entry has no author, the in-text citation should include the first one, two or three words of the title of the entry. The title of the entry should be in quotation marks, with each word starting with a capital letter.

  7. APA Citation Guide (7th edition) : Encyclopedias & Dictionaries

    In-Text Quote. (Author's Last Name, Year, p. page number or section name and paragraph number) Example: (Stonard, 2016, para. 1) Note: When there are no visible page numbers or paragraph numbers, you may cite the section heading and the number of the paragraph in that section to identify where your quote came from.

  8. Setting Up Dictionary Citations for Your Essay

    A dictionary is a reference book, so follow the guidelines for reference books if you're citing the whole dictionary. MLA Style Format. In MLA 8 style, you'll place an in-text citation that matches with an entry in the works cited page. Place the defined word within parentheses as the first element. Example - In-Text Citation

  9. 4 Ways to Cite a Dictionary in APA

    2. Write the last name and first initials of the editors. The last name always goes first in an APA citation. Separate a list of names with commas and place an "&" before the last name. In parentheses after the name, write "ed." to signify that this is the editor of the dictionary.

  10. 3 Ways to Cite a Dictionary Meaning in MLA

    3. Write the edition if you're citing a subsequent edition. Check the back side of the dictionary's title page for the edition number. If you're citing the first edition, don't include the edition number. Use the abbreviation "ed." and write a comma after the period in the abbreviation.

  11. 7 Ways to Cite a Dictionary

    End the line with a period. Follow the format below continuing with the "citation" example: "Citation." Def. 1e. 3. Identify the dictionary you used to define the word. Type the name of the dictionary in italics and follow it with a period. "Citation." Def. 1e.

  12. How to Cite a Dictionary in Harvard Referencing

    How to Cite a Dictionary on a Reference Page. As with any citation, you'll need to provide all the basic source information on your reference page, whether you're citing a print or an online dictionary: Author's name. Year of publication. Title of the dictionary entry. Title of the dictionary.

  13. How do I cite a definition using APA style?

    Merriam-Webster, Inc. To cite a definition within the text, you would place the institution or organizations and the date of publication in parentheses after the relevant phrase and before the punctuation mark. Example: (Merriam-Webster, 2003) Merriam-Webster (2003)

  14. How do I reference a dictionary definition?

    Instead, introduce the definition in your writing. One way to present this is as follows: According to the Oxford English Dictionary the definition of [XXXXX] is [XXXXXX] If however you have a particular need in your work to cite a language dictionary definition, for example, if comparing varying definitions from language dictionaries by ...

  15. Cite a dictionary entry in MLA style

    Cite a dictionary entry in MLA style. Use the following template or our MLA Citation Generator to cite a dictionary entry. For help with other source types, like books, PDFs, or websites, check out our other guides. To have your reference list or bibliography automatically made for you, try our free citation generator.

  16. MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics

    In-text citations: Author-page style. MLA format follows the author-page method of in-text citation. This means that the author's last name and the page number (s) from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken must appear in the text, and a complete reference should appear on your Works Cited page. The author's name may appear either in the ...

  17. How to Cite a Dictionary Entry in Harvard Style

    The general Harvard format for in-text citation of a dictionary entry without author name is: Name of dictionary in italics followed by year accessed and entry title and page # if present, for example: ( World encyclopedia 2014, microeconomics entry) In such a case, the name of the dictionary itself is considered the name of the author.

  18. Do I need to cite a source when defining terms?

    Instead cite somebody if: You rely on a specific piece of work. If you had to look up the definition instead of coming up with it yourself, this almost certainly applies. Keep in mind that coming up with a useful definition of some things is a challenge and deserves credit. On the other hand, as a rule of thumb, you do not need to cite if you ...

  19. Cite A Dictionary entry in Harvard style

    Search. Use the following template or our Harvard Referencing Generator how to cite a dictionary. For help with other source types, like books, PDFs, or websites, check out our other guides. To have your reference list or bibliography automatically made for you, try our free citation generator.

  20. How To Cite The Oxford English Dictionary: Using MLA And APA

    Writing academic essays and research papers can be more complex than it already is when you don't know how to cite the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It becomes even more confusing depending on what type of OED you're using, online or print. Why? Because you cite them in different ways. You can now rest easy since you've come to the ...

  21. How To Cite a Dictionary in Chicago/Turabian

    Website. Create manual citation. If you need to define an important word in your paper, you should provide a citation for the dictionary entry for that term. This guide will show you how to cite an online dictionary entry in notes-bibliography style using the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style.

  22. Should you use Dictionary Definitions in Essays? (Answered)

    These three definitions of discourse are, technically, all true. But, these definitions exist in different contexts: If you were to write a 5 th Grade essay on the term 'discourse', the dictionary definition would probably be great;; If you were to write a 100-level undergraduate essay in a Communications course, the definition by Expert 1 would probably work out okay;