Research Paper Basics

Who/What is an author?

Almost everything you read was written by someone (or more than one someone), even if that person isn't mentioned very clearly. To say it simply, the author is the person or persons who actually wrote the piece.

Here's a link to a CNN article. Who is the actual author (writer) of the piece? It's not:

If you guessed that the writer of this article was David Frum (building on the evidence that his name is just after the article title and they call him a "CNN Contributor"), you got it right. Further evidence is that the editor includes a note about what else Frum has written, and the article ends with a disclaimer: "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum."

You might feel that I'm insulting your intelligence, but an incredible number of students look at a piece such as this one and come to the conclusion that it was anonymous—or that it was written by a web address.

In simple terms, an author is a writer of a book, article, or report. An author is not:

Why you need to know this stuff

In the body of an MLA research paper (and an APA paper too, for that matter), you refer to your source material by the name of the author. If you cite the article above and claim that it was written by, you are wrong.

On the Works Cited page (References page for an APA paper), the author name is the first item of each entry. If you don't know what an author is, you can't do that part of the citation.

If you are writing about the current economic situation, you might cite this article from CNN this way in your text:

One author claims that "While we're looking for a new deal, at least quit deluding ourselves that the old deal is still operable. It's not" (Frum).

Your Works Cited page entry for this article would look like this:

Frum, David. "Out of Jobs, Out of Benefits, Out of Luck." CNN - Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos, 30 Dec. 2013, index.html?hpt=op_t1. Accessed 2 Jan. 2018.

Example #1: a simple book

Here's a link to Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

If your paper cites material from the main body of the book, your Works Cited page entry will look like this:

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

Your in-text citation would look something like this:

"A grim specter has crept upon us almost unnoticed" (Carson 3).

or like this:

Carson believes that we have been poisoning ourselves (3).

If your paper cites material from the Introduction or the Afterword, you will need to do a bit more digging to get the right Works Cited format.

Example #2: an essay in an anthology

Here's a link to 75 Arguments, edited by Alan Ainsworth. It's an anthology, and you want to cite one of the essays it contains, "I Have a Dream" by Martin Luther King, Jr.

If your paper needs to cite this essay by King, here's how your Works Cited entry would look:

King, Martin Luther, Jr. "I Have a Dream." 1963. 75 Arguments, edited by Alan Ainsworth, McGraw, 2008, pp. 414-18.

Your in-text citation would look something like this:

"The life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination" (King 414).

or like this:

King also claimed that his people "refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt" (415).

Associated Press, AOL, Reuters, and other wire services

These are not authors. They are in the category of publishers. If you have an article without a byline (author's name), and it's listed as an Associated Press item, do not list the Associated Press as an author! (And for goodness sake, PLEASE DON'T list the author as "Press, Associated." Mr. Press did not author anything! As far as I know, there is no prolific news author named Dr. Associated Press—who goes home to his wife, Mrs. Press and all the little Press children.)

Here is the official word from the MLA:

News agencies distribute stories from a vast pool of journalists. The name of an agency is not a meaningful indicator of authorship. Moreover, local news editors may change stories that they receive from agencies, further muddying the authorship. If an article is credited only to a news agency, treat the article as anonymous and begin the entry with the article's title.

When the Asian carp article mentioned below originally appeared, it was listed as an Associated Press article; the web page has been revised to say "Wire Services." Mr. Services (husband of his beautiful wife Hermione Services and father to all the dear little Services children) is not the author either. PLEASE DON'T list the author as "Services, Wire."

Contributed by

Some websites will include a comment such as "Contributed by Hermione Granger" or "Contributed by Daily Prophet Writer Harry Potter." Do not file these under "C." ("Contributed by" is not part of the author's name.) Hermione Granger is the author of the first. Harry Potter is the author of the second. File the first one under "G" and the second under "P."

No author?

Many websites are anonymous, and so are many articles in newspapers. Don't get desperate and creative. You don't need to put in anything like "no author" or "n.a." (by the way, this is the same rule for APA and Chicago style). Just begin the Works Cited entry with the next item (usually the title of the article or book). When you cite the item in the body of your paper, put the title of the article in the parentheses.

An Associated Press article (which did not mention an author) appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal; here's the Works Cited entry:

"Asian Carp Might Be in Lake Erie." Akron Beacon Journal/, 14 July 2012, Accessed 2 Jan. 2018.


The in-text citation will look like this:

The situation is unsettling, though "Scientists are uncertain about whether carp DNA signals the presence of actual fish" ("Asian Carp").

Corporate authorship

These are increasingly rare. Here is advice from another website for handling corporate authors:

You may encounter sources created by corporate authors, such as institutions, government agencies and other kinds of organizations. In this case, follow the same convention as for one author but use the name of the organization in place of the author name. When citing corporate authors, do not include "The" before the name of any organization.

And to repeat what I said above, wire services such as AOL, Yahoo!, Associated Press, Reuters, etc., are not authors. Neither are "Wire Services," "Press, Associated," or "Services, Wire."

A last warning

Though you might be tempted to believe otherwise, the author of this page is not The author is not Ashland University either.

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.

Revised 1/3/22 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: