Research Paper Basics
First Look at Citation
1. Some quick and dirty rules
- Nearly everything you write in college from now on will use outside sources. (Very little of your writing will be your own unsupported opinion and feelings unless you take a course in writing short stories or writing poems.)
- The general rule is “If you didn’t think this up yourself, tell us where you got it.”
- There are three major citation formats (and a host of less well-known ones), and they are similar enough to be confusing (MLA, APA, and Chicago). You need to keep your wits about you.
- It’s always OK to ask your instructor which format your course is using.
- This course is using MLA.
- A rule for all formats: The citation format must be pure. What I mean is that you cannot have pieces and parts from more than one citation format all mixed together. (You cannot have APA in-text citations, a Works Cited page with MLA citations, but numbered according to the IEEE format.)
- Unfortunately, the organizations behind these formats keep revising things, so you need a very recent resource as your guide.
2. How they work—both APA and MLA
- In the body of the paper, very brief notations in parentheses to show both where you got the thing you are referring to and where to look on the last page of your paper for more complete information.
- It’s almost always the last name of the author(s) plus something else. If you have one of those rare items that doesn’t have an author listed, it’s the title of the piece.
- On a separate last page, in alphabetic order, very complete bibliographic information about the item you are citing (author, title, date published, who published it).
- Organizations and committees have come up with the correct format for these things. You don’t get to invent. Neither do I.
- A Writer’s Reference has extremely complete guidance for all three formats—but be certain you are in the right section. The three are not interchangeable.
3. Some myths to forget
I see these problems really often in papers.
- No, it is not OK to use APA in-text citation format with an MLA Works Cited page.
- No, a bare website address is not enough for a Works Cited page entry.
- No, a bare website address is not appropriate for an in-text citation either.
- If your piece appears in an anthology, the editor is not the author. (In the example below, Audre Lorde wrote the piece, not Samuel Cohen.)
- If your source does not have a listed author (very rare, by the way), you do not invent something like “Anonymous” or “N.A.”
- In general, if you invent a citation format, you will always be wrong. Don’t make stuff up.
- MLA Works Cited entries are not in order of appearance. They are simply alphabetized. (These are not the credits at the end of a movie.)
4. Here is what MLA looks like
This is in the body of the paper:
…end of a sentence where you referred to her ideas (Lourde 244).
This is the item for the Works Cited page:
Lourde, Audre. “The Fourth of July.” 1982. 50 Essays: A Portable Anthology, edited by Samuel Cohen, 6th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2020, pp. 242-45.
4. A bit of help for you
Noodletools is a fill-in-the-blanks website that will generate great MLA and APA bibliographic information. Follow this link for complete instructions:
Link to Noodletools instructions
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