Research Paper Basics

MLA Citation Introduction

The State of Ohio requires that all high schools include MLA citation in their curricula, and most of my students roll their eyes and moan, "I've already learned all that," but the number of students who can actually do an MLA paper is quite small—perhaps four or five in a classroom. This is why we are going to review all of the material pertaining to MLA citation format.

Quickie Overview

At least five major styles of documentation can be found in American universities, but the major ones are MLA and APA. MLA is the most common in humanities courses (English, philosophy, religious studies, and art history, for example), while APA is most common in sciences and in business. All five (and there are others) share several characteristics:

MLA Style

MLA is always asking the question, "Where did I find it?" All bibliographic information goes on a separate Works Cited page at the end of your paper, and the in-text reference has only the author's name and page number.

One author explains that these programs record every key entered into the computer in hidden directories that can later be accessed or uploaded by supervisors; the programs can even scan for keywords tailored to individual companies (Lane 128-29).
Legal scholar Jay Kesan points out that the law holds employers liable for employees' actions such as violations of copyright laws, the distribution of offensive or graphic sexual material, and illegal disclosure of confidential information (312).

If you do not know the author of your source, do not invent something like "NA" or "Author unknown." Simply begin with the next item on the Works Cited page entry.

The Web site of a vendor for Spector Pro, a popular keystroke logging program, explains that the software can be installed to operate in "Stealth" mode so that it "does not show up as an icon, does not appear in the Windows system tray, . . . [and] cannot be uninstalled without the Spector Pro password which YOU specify" ("Automatically").

NOTE: Almost all sites which give useful content will credit an author; the ones which do not are often shallow brochures or simply the home pages for more complete sites. Two points to take away from this:

  1. If you don't think the piece has a stated author, look again—the author's name may be at the bottom or some other place, and
  2. if you are citing a page which has no author, ask yourself why you are doing it.

APA Style

APA asks two questions: How recent is this article and is it accessible to the general public? (Thus, APA has no way to cite a personal letter you received or a ballet performance you attended. NOTE: If you want to include this sort of source in an APA paper, don't just throw in an MLA citation!)

Like many of the apes studied, gorillas Koko and Michael have been observed signing to one another (Patterson & Linden, 1981).
In an influential article, Terrace, Petitto, Sanders, and Bever (1979) argued that the apes in language experiments were not using language spontaneously.
Nim's series of sixteen signs is a case in point: "give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you" (Terrace et al., 1979, p. 895).

(APA will specify page numbers, particularly for direct quotations, if the reference would be difficult to dig out of the source.)

Moving Forward

The remainder of this course will focus on MLA citations; if you need help writing an APA paper for another course, I will certainly help you, and the Writing Center staff can help too. You can get major help with citations from NoodleTools Express.

Taking Notes

To streamline your research process and save time and agony, you will find it MUCH easier to include all your citation material in your notes as you read! Here is what you will need. (You may find it useful to print out a form to fill in for each source.)

  1. Name of the person who wrote the thing you're looking at.
    • Spell it correctly!!!
    • An author is not the same as an editor. Learn the difference.
    • If your piece has more than one author, list them, in the order they are listed on the piece itself.
  2. The name of the piece you are looking at.
  3. If your piece is part of a larger something (a website, newspaper, of anthology, for example), the name of the larger something.
  4. The date your piece was written.
  5. If your piece is a web page, the actual web address. Get the article address, not just the container (, for example) address.
  6. Who published the piece.

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Revised 1/7/20 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: