Research Paper Basics

Names in the body of your paper

When you refer to persons in print, especially authors, there are several conventions you should observe. Generally, they are the same as newspaper usage: full name at the first reference and last name thereafter. You would be surprised, however, at the number of times my students refer to the esteemed American poet Robert Frost as Robert or even Bob. Frost and I never were pals. I assume my students were not pals with him either. (He died January 29, 1963.) Chummy references to authors are out of place in academic writing. That is why I have summarized information below from Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achtert, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (New York: MLA, 1988) 46-47.

First and Subsequent Uses of Names

In general, the first time you use a person's name in the text of your paper, state it fully and accurately, exactly as it appears in your source.

Arthur George Rust, Jr.
Victoria M. Sackville-West

If you wish to include a fuller title to give the weight of authority to your source, you may do so in the first reference: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Venerable John Henry Newman.

In subsequent uses of the name, use the person's last name only (Sackville-West, King, Newman)—unless, of course you refer to two or more persons with the same last name—or give the most common form of the person's name (Michelangelo for Michelangelo Buonarroti; Surrey for Henry Howard, earl of Surrey). In some languages (e.g., Chinese, Hungarian, Japanese, and Vietnamese), surnames precede given names; consult reference works for guidance with these names.

Do not change Arthur George Rust, Jr. to Arthur George Rust or drop the hyphen in Victoria M. Sackville-West. Don't drop the "Sackville" either. Both parts of a hyphenated last name are necessary.


In formal writing it is NEVER appropriate to use intimate, informal language to refer to a source author, no matter how much the writing affected your emotions.

If you are analyzing Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods,"

Do not write:
Robert was obviously considering his future and all the responsibilities he would have to fulfill.
Bob was obviously considering his future and all the responsibilities he would have to fulfill.
Do write:
Frost is obviously considering his future and all the responsibilities he would have to fulfill.

If you are considering Sylvia Plath's tragic suicide,

Do not write:
Though Sylvia was depressed, some question whether the suicide was intentional.
Do write:
Though Plath was depressed, some question whether the suicide was intentional.

If you want to raise a point of disagreement with the Venerable John Henry Newman, Cardinal Deacon of the Holy Roman Church,

Do not write:
There are some things that Johnny and I just weren't clicking on.
Do write:
Some of Newman's points raise important questions.

The writing world of the Ohio high school kid is very intimate and informal—the boys and girls cannot imagine calling anyone "sir" or "Dr. Jones" and they think of literary authors as their lunch-table buddies. But your writing is not on the level of high school boys and girls any more when you are in college. Make the shift—academic writing preserves a certain level of formality.

Titles of Persons

In general, do not use formal titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms., Dr., Professor, Reverend) in referring to men or women, living or dead (Churchill, not Mr. Churchill; Einstein, not Professor Einstein; Hess, not Dame Hess; Montagu, not Lady Montagu). A few women in history are traditionally known by their titles as married women (e.g., Mrs. Humphry Ward, Mme de Staël). Otherwise, treat women's names the same as men's. (Note that this is American usage; British usage is different.)

First use Thereafter
Emily Dickinson Dickinson (not Miss Dickinson or Emily)
Harriet Beecher Stowe Stowe (not Mrs. Stowe or Harriet or Beecher Stowe)
Margaret Mead Mead (not Ms. Mead, Margaret or Maggie)

Names of Authors and Fictional Characters

It is common and acceptable to use simplified names of famous authors (Vergil for Publius Vergilius Maro, Dante for Dante Alighieri). Treat pseudonyms like ordinary names.

Refer to fictional characters in the same way that the work of fiction does. You need not always use their full names, and you may retain titles (Mme Defarge, Dr. Jekyll).

More information:

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Revised 1/2/18 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: