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?
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:
- According to former President George W. Bush, America is engaged in a war against terrorism.
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:
- Bush went on to discuss the achievements of his presidency.
- In the United States, it is not considered disrespectful to refer to a public person by his/her last name only.
- If the person has a hyphenated last name, both names are included in these subsequent references. If you are writing about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, his last name is Abdul-Jabbar, not just Jabbar.
It is never appropriate to refer to the author by first name or nickname in these later references. Do not write this way:
- George outlined his response to the September 11 attack.
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:
- Dubya has taken up portrait painting since leaving office.
Titles of Writings
In the text and on MLA Works Cited page
- No matter what the book designer did on the cover, we capitalize the first letter of the first word, first letter of the last word, and first letter of all the important words in the middle: Reading and Writing in the Academic Community.
- Book-length and “container” titles are italicized.
(Note #1: In the old typewriter days, we used to underline instead. That is still acceptable, but italics are preferred.)
(Note #2: Some publications are abandoning italics, but you should still use them for the papers you write.)
- The New York Times
- The Longman Reader
- Pieces that are not book-length get quotation marks around their titles. Follow the same capitalization rules that you use for books.
- We read “Fighting That Old Devil Rumor” by Sandra Salmons.
- NOTE: The quotation marks around the title of a shorter piece of writing are doing something different from the quotation marks around your report of a source’s words. You do not have to introduce a short title with a comma, unless there is some other good reason for that comma. Do not write like this: Robert Frost’s most famous poem is, “Stopping By Woods.”
- Do not use more than one indicator of a title. Do not write: The class read “Ulysses”. (This is an example of “If I try everything I can think of, one of them must be right.”)
Something we do not do
Even if the book designer put the title in all capitals, we do not ever use it that way:
- GOOD REASONS with CONTEMPORARY ARGUMENTS
- Realize that MLA and APA are not the same thing! Most grammar handbooks have sections for APA, MLA and Chicago formats. Make sure you land in the right one when you open the book.
- One of the chief differences is the way they handle their bibliographic pages, and capitalization is a major issue.
- Look at the way the grammar handbook sets up that last page. Do not assume you can simply invent a format. (You are almost certain to guess wrong.)
Indirect quotations preserve the thoughts but not the wording of the original author. Do not put quotation marks around indirect quotes.
- In his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King said that the country has failed in its promise of equality for Black people.
Direct quotations are the exact words of the original source. Put quotation marks around direct quotes:
- King said, “The life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”
- Do not edit, change, or misspell anything in a direct quotation without letting the reader know what you have done:
- According to King, “This [promissory note] was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
- The square brackets are around words which were added to clarify the quotation; without them, we would not know what “this” referred to.
- When you introduce the quotation with a “speaking verb,” you usually use a comma:
- King said, “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note.”
- If you do not use a “speaking verb,” you usually do not use a comma:
- King also claimed that his people “refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”
- Long direct quotations (more than four lines in MLA; more than 40 words in APA) are set off as a separate paragraph, one-half inch from the left margin. Do not put quotation marks around this style of quotation.
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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 12/6/21 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.