I made this up for my students while teaching a college writing class at Binghamton University. It’s still relevant today provided that there have been no earth-shattering MLA changes since 2010.
Using Sources in Your Papers
- This is when you use your own words to communicate someone else’s ideas that you found in a small quote.
- You need an in-text citation after you do this, otherwise you’ll be accused of plagiarism and your academic life will be over.
- This is when you take a large group of ideas and summarize the general push of an ENTIRE article or book, perhaps a position of a particular person rather than a specific quote.
- You also need an in-text citation after you do this otherwise you’ll be accused of plagiarism and will be forever haunted in your dreams by the green aliens from Toy Story, which is not as pleasant as it sounds.
- This is when you write someone else’s words into your essay exactly how those words appear in the source.
- By now, if you don’t understand the need for in-text citations, you should be denied all student privileges, like abstaining from Sodexho meat or keeping a goldfish in your dorm room.
The Ins and Outs of In-Text Citation Bliss
- If you are citing from a work with a known author, like Mark Twain, then you must put his last name in parentheses with a page number and the period OUTSIDE the citation. Don’t put it on the inside; nobody likes that. It’ll look something like this, but not bolded: (Twain 70).
- If you are citing from a work without a known author, which is usually the case with staff writers and associated press articles, then you need to truncate the article title in the parentheses. “Truncate” is a snobby word for “shorten”. Use it to appear smarter than you really are, it works for me. It’ll look something like this, with quotes: (“Why Big Words Make You Seem Smarter” 70).
- Sometimes, you might want to list the author’s name first and then introduce your quote or paraphrase, which looks like this: “Rachel Malikow, in her brilliant hand-out, says the following…” In a case like this, you would just put the page number in parentheses after your quote or paraphrase. This is acceptable. If you are going to use sources with no page numbers, like websites, then I would like you to use parenthetical citations only because that makes the most sense. Think about it, you agree, don’t you?
- Picture this: you’re reading happily along and then see a quote in a source that you want to use, but your source is actually quoting ANOTHER source. You become terrified and vomit everywhere. But all you need to do is this (qtd. in Malikow 70). Now take some Pepto-Bismol and feel better.
- Because many of you insist upon using websites despite the fact that few are actually scholarly, you might as well know how to avoid plagiarism and keep your goldfish rights. There are three basic rules:
- Refer to the source using the first words that appear on your works cited page whether that’s the author name, the article name, or the website name.
- You don’t need page numbers here because there aren’t any. Why? Because there are no pages. Scrolling down a lot does not mean you’ve entered page 2. We don’t play like that.
- You do not need to include the URL in the in-text citation. Nobody likes that.
The Ten Commandments of Citation
(In this section we have switched to Roman Numerals for effect)
I. THOU SHALT NOT HAVE ORPHANED DIRECT QUOTES.
Don’t begin or end paragraphs with direct quotes, always sandwich them between your own words to ensure proper discussion of those quotes. This makes everyone happy, as do sandwiches.
II. THOU SHALT NOT TELL FALSEHOODS ON THY WORKS CITED PAGE
If you put sources in your works cited page, then that means you are using those sources in your paper. I should be able to rip your works cited page off the rest of your paper and compare it side-by-side with your essay and see all the pretty little parenthetical citations that match the works listed in the works cited page. If you list a source on your works cited page but don’t use it in your paper, then you might as well draw pictures of bunny rabbits on your works cited page, because those are just as relevant.
III. THOU SHALT NOT PUT A PERIOD WITHIN THE PARENTHESES OF A CITATION
Just don’t do it.
IV. THOU SHALT CITE WORKS BY MULTIPLE AUTHORS CORRECTLY
If you have 2-3 authors, use both names in the parenthetical citation, like (Malikow, Einstein, and Smith 34).
If you have more than 3 authors, use the first author’s name and then say “et al”, which is Latin for “we’re less important because our names don’t come first on the article”. It looks like this (Malikow et al. 34).
V. THOU SHALT NOT PUT A COMMA BETWEEN THE AUTHOR’S NAME AND THE PAGE NUMBER.
Just don’t do it. It is statistically proven that students who do this receive one less birthday gift a year for each misplaced comma through the course of their lifetime.
VI. THOU SHALT ALWAYS CITE STATISTICS
If there is not a little parenthesis with someone’s name and potentially a number after your statistic, I will assume you made it up, which is frowned upon by the administration.
VII. THOU SHALT NOT COUNT THY WORKS CITED PAGE IN THE PAGE REQUIREMENT OF THY PAPER
Basically, your short papers are 3-4 pages and the works cited page is #5. Your long paper is 8-10 pages and the works cited page is #10 or #11.
VIII. THOU SHALT FORMAT THY WORKS CITED PAGE CORRECTLY
- Center “Works Cited” at the top of the page.
- Alphabetize your sources.
- Indent the second (and subsequent lines) of the citation.
- Maintain double spacing.
IX. THOU SHALT CONSULT THY MLA MANUAL
You paid $45.15 for a used version of How to Write Anything or $60.20 for a new version. Use it.
X. THOU SHALT FOLLOW ALL OF THESE COMMANDMENTS THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE A LONG AND HAPPY ACADEMIC LIFE.
Yes, you shall.