Mechanics of Writing About Readings

A great deal of our writing in this course refers to outside sources. The conventions below have been around for many years and are pretty much universal.


Do not assume that every possible reader has access to our assignment sheet. Very early in the first paragraph, name the piece and its author. Give the reader some idea what you intend to do with the piece: Are you writing a critique? A refutation? A general appreciation? What?

Author Names

The first reference includes the author’s first and last names; you might also decide to include some mention of the author’s credentials or person:

After that first mention, refer to the person by last name. In the United States, we do not usually include honorifics (professor, doctor, Mr., Ms.) with these subsequent items:

It is never appropriate to refer to the author by first name or nickname in these later references. Do not write this way:

Save the first-name references for your children and your spouse. Likewise, no matter how affectionate you feel toward your subject, do not use nicknames. Even if you and former President George W. Bush hang out together for movies and cards (and I assume you do not), it is disrespectful to write like this:

Titles of Writings

In the text and on MLA Works Cited page

Something we do not do

Even if the book designer put the title in all capitals, we do not ever use it that way:

Bibliographic pages

Punctuating Quotations

Indirect quotations preserve the thoughts but not the wording of the original author. Do not put quotation marks around indirect quotes.

Direct quotations are the exact words of the original source. Put quotation marks around direct quotes:

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Revised 8/20/19 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: