LECTURE 5-1
MLA DOCUMENTATION SYSTEM

Page updated: 03-MAR-2013

By the end of this week, you should be fluent in the following vocabulary terms:

  • MLA
  • APA
  • citations
  • direct quotation
  • paraphrase
  • summary
  • in-text parenthetical notes
  • endnotes
  • works cited page
Documenting Your Sources
One of the topics this course covers is the academic research paper.  So this week we will cover how to document your outside sources that you eventually will be incorporating into your papers.  We document our sources largely out of a scholarly obligation to credit the authors from whom we borrow ideas, facts, and other related research.  I will be covering more of this material in class, but for now, please read through these notes in preparation for discussions we will have later in the semester.  The section below covers citations, in-text parenthetical notes, endnotes, and the works cited page.  These four topics also are covered in the SF Writer.
 
Background
The MLA (Modern Language Association) is a professional organization that, among other things, sets standards for formatting the manuscript document and for documenting the use of outside sources.  The standardization is important so that all writers use the same system and can be assured of consistency.   Without this standardization, writers would be coming up with their own whimsical rules.

Other documentation systems exist for different academic disciplines or professions, like APA (American Psychological Association--for many of the social sciences), AP (Associated Press--for journalists), CMS (Chicago Manual of Style), CBE (Council of Biology Editors--now called Council of Science Editors) and the Turabian Style Guide.

3-Part System
MLA documentation involves 3 parts that I will cover in detail below.  First is the citation, which generates an in-text parenthetical note (p-note), which in turn generates a bibliography (list of sources) called a Works Cited page.  Other documentation systems might call this list of sources merely a bibliography or works consulted, which are broader in scope than a list of works that were just cited.  Informally, we can use these terms interchangeably, but in the MLA system, Works Cited has a specific meaning.
Citations
What are citations?  For the entire semester we will be using the term citations to refer to material that is cited, or referred to, from any outside source.  Any time we use the word "citations", we could be referring to any of three types of citations. 

Direct Quotation:  

A direct quotation is probably the type of citation you are most familiar with.  Any time you use the exact words from an outside source, you have to surround those words with quotation marks and indicate the page number of the original source.  See the in-text parenthetical notes below for the citation format.  You can have two kinds: short and long.  A short quotation is less than 3 lines of text.  It fits right in the middle of your paragraph and uses quotation marks to surround it.  The long version involves a quo that is 4 lines of text or longer.  It is offset by indenting one inch from the left margin and uses no quotation marks.  See below for more information.

Paraphrase:  

Paraphrases attempt to simplify a complex idea from an outside source.  Some of the key terms will be employed in your sentence, but you don't copy the exact sentence(s) of the original source.  Instead, you re-phrase (paraphrase) the ideas in your own words.  Unlike the summary below, a paraphrase might be just as long as the original source, but, again, your goal is to communicate in simpler terms some complex idea to your audience.  You still have to acknowledge your source with an in-text parenthetical note like you would for a direct quotation. 

Summary:  

A summary is very similar to a paraphrase in that the sentence(s) are written in your own words.  The difference, however, is that you are trying to condense the original source.  So, if you were summarizing the ideas in a paragraph of an outside source, you would attempt to shrink the information down to just a couple sentences so that you capture the main or key ideas.

Warning:  If you fail to acknowledge an outside source any time you use either of these three forms of a citation, your essay will be marked as plagiarized and result in an "F" grade.  Part of your work and responsibility as a scholar means that you accept the rules and ethics of writing and documenting your outside sources.  I and the college take very seriously the academic work you do.  When you submit work, your reputation, your ethos as a writer are at stake.  Do not risk a grade on an essay or in the course by either deliberately or accidentally plagiarizing work.  Learn how to document your sources accurately and correctly.

In-text Parenthetical Notes 

The in-text parenthetical note (or p-note for short) is the information you see in the text that tells the reader the source of the citation.  This p-note replaces the old superscript and footnote system you may have learned in high school.  The documentation system we use in this course is a standard system designed by the Modern Language Association (MLA).  It is a standard because all English courses use and recognize it.  As a matter of fact, many disciplines in the humanities recognize the MLA system of documenting outside sources.  Others do exist, however, like the American Psychological Association (APA).  In our SF Writer handbook, notice there is a tab which says APA on it.  Be sure NOT to confuse the APA method for the MLA method.  They are quite different.

What does the parenthetical note look like?  In its most basic form, it contains the last name of an author and the page number of the source.  So if an essay quotes a passage on page 73 of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the parenthetical note will look like this: (Twain 73).  Notice that no punctuation separates the author's name and the page numeral.  Many writers make the mistake of inserting a comma, but it is not necessary.

This parenthetical note must come right after the citation (whether it's a direct quotation, a paraphrase, or a summary).  However, the parenthetical note does not belong inside the quotation marks because the note is not found in the original text.  Moreover, the parenthetical note must be inserted inside the end punctuation for the sentence.  Many writers are tempted to put the note after the end punctuation, but that is incorrect and would be marked wrong.

Below are some other forms the parenthetical note can take.

 (73) In this example, just the page numeral is used.  The reason is that the author's name has been introduced in the text, so the author is obvious.  Also if you are citing only one text in your essay, there is no need to always include the author with the page number because you do not have to worry about confusing your reader.
 (author, "Source" page)
 (author, Source page)

 (Twain, "Adam and Eve" 6)
 (Twain, Huckleberry Finn 73) 

This format is used when you must distinguish between two works by the same author.  Notice that a comma is inserted between the author and the title of the text.  Note also that the title is italicized because it is a novel; the title in italics indicates a short work--in this case an essay.  This case of multiple works by the same author will be rare but possible depending on your research project.
 (qtd. in Tom Sawyer 241) The phrase "qtd. in" means quoted in and is used when you need to quote an author who is quoted inside of another writer's essay.  It's what we call an indirect or embedded quotation or a quote within a quote.  Use these sparingly and, instead, locate the original source and read it instead of relying on someone else's reading of it.
 

(Nguyen, par. 15)

 

 

 (Knowles, scr. 2)

Digital and Online Sources
If you are citing an electronic source such as an MS Word document or a PDF file, you may include page numbers in the parenthetical note. 

However, because printers will not print online documents the same way, we cannot cite page numbers because of the varying font sizes, margin settings, and other user-specific settings that will produce produce inconsistent pagination results for each user.  Consequently, it is necessary to use paragraph references in the parenthetical note by using the "par." abbreviation.  The downside is that you may have to count several paragraphs just to direct the reader to the passage that you are citing.

Newspapers sometimes display content on specific screens that the user can click through. These are similar to pages but not equivalent to printed pages.  If you are citing such an online source, you may reference the screen you are viewing by using the abbreviation "scr." and giving the screen.

When you need to use a direct quotation that exceeds 4 typewritten lines, then you need to use a block quotation.  Block quotations are usually introduced with a colon and follow a few rules listed below.
  1. Indent only the left margin an extra inch.  Therefore, the block quotation would start 2 inches in from the left edge of the paper instead of the typical 1 inch.
  2. Do not indent the right margin.  Leave it at 1 inch just like the rest of the text.
  3. Do not change the spacing.  Do not add any extra spacing between the paragraphs above or below the block quotation.
  4. Do not change the size of the font.  Keep the font consistent throughout the document.
  5. The quotation marks are eliminated because the block indentation is the visual signal to the reader that she is reading a direct quotation.
  6. The parenthetical citation is placed outside the period or end punctuation at the end of the block quotation.  This is an exception to how in-text parenthetical citations are used.
  7. Always make some commentary on the quotation that is being used.  Never leave the block quotation hanging, just to begin another paragraph with no regard for what you just bothered to quote.

Endnotes

Endnotes are used to add commentary or notations that do not belong in the text of the essay because this information is tangential and would disrupt the flow of ideas.  They are a 2-part system that includes a superscript number sequence beginning with the numeral 1 and an Endnotes pages.  The superscript looks like this1, and the Endnotes page goes between the end of the essay text and the Works Cited page.  The superscripted numbers are listed on this Endnotes page and have the notations next to them.  Use these sparingly, but do use them to make clarifications that don't belong in your text.

 

Works Cited Page

The Works Cited page is the last page of your essay.  It essentially is a bibliographic list of all the sources that you cited, either through a paraphrase, summary, or direct quotation.  We will cover this in class, but there is no substitute for studying the example in the SF Writer and knowing the basic format of it.  Below are some rules that you need to memorize about Works Cited pages.

  1. All works are alphabetized by author's last name.  If a work does not have an author (like a newspaper editorial), then alphabetize by the next piece of information: the title.
  2. You must convert any bibliographical information you find from your sources to the correct MLA format.  This particularly means following capitalization rules for titles and determining, based on the type of periodical you have, whether you need to indicate volume and issue numbers.  Though indexes frequently give that information, you do not always need it.
  3. For every source you have, look up in the SF Writer the type of source you have.  That is crucial to figuring out the right format it needs to be in.
  4. Each source entry must start on a new line.  Type to the right margin and let the word processor wrap the text.  Since MLA requires hanging paragraphs where the second and subsequent lines are indented 1/2 inch, use the ruler on your word processor to adjust the second line.  If you have downloaded the essay template, I've included a Works Cited page at the end that is set up for you already.  Just insert your cursor in the blank line after the title and start typing.

Bibliographic Software Tools

If you are interested and want to invest the money, you can purchase bibliographic software that will format these sources for you quite easily.  A couple commercial products that I can recommend include EndNote and BiblioCite.  You can do a search on these in any search engine and find out more information about bibliographic software tools in general.  Also if you go to a software clearinghouse such as www.cnet.com and do a search for "bibliographic", you find some freeware bibliographic tools that you might want to investigate.  Though I'm not endorsing it, the tool I have used for the last 13 years is EndNote by Niles and Associates.  You will find that once you learn how to use a bibliographic tool, it will take a lot of the frustration out of all of the nit-picky rules about where all the punctuation goes and how to format all this bizarre bibliographic information.  Finding some sort of tool like these is really a good investment given the number of papers you will most certainly have to write throughout your college career.  And if you think graduate school is in your future, you can't go wrong with an investment like this. 

(This link will give you a comprehensive comparison of different bibliographic software, more than you ever wanted to or cared to know about.)