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When you write a research paper in any discipline, you often use and build on other people's research. Whether you are writing a report, or adding your own insights and opinions to existing research, it's important to give credit to your sources. If you incorporate or refer to other people's works or ideas in your paper, you must give credit to those authors using an in-text citation and a Works Cited page at the end of the paper.

You need to cite:

  1. Direct quotes, both entire sentences and phrases
  2. Paraphrases (rephrased or summarized material)
  3. Words specific or unique to the author's research, theories, or ideas
  4. Use of an author's argument or line of thinking
  5. Historical, statistical, or scientific facts
  6. Articles or studies you refer to within your text

You do not need to document:

  1. Proverbs, axioms, and sayings ("A stitch in time saves nine.")
  2. Well-known quotations ("The personal is political.")
  3. Common knowledge (Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, or oxygen has an atomic number of 8, or "The Starry Night" was painted by Vincent Van Gogh.) 1

Sometimes it's difficult to be sure what counts as common knowledge, especially when writing in an academic discipline that's new to you. Perhaps you aren't familiar with Van Gogh or an atomic number. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if a knowledgeable reader would be familiar with the information. You may need to consult with a knowledgeable person within the discipline, like a teacher or professional. If you aren't sure if something counts as common knowledge and are not able to talk with someone in the field, find an appropriate source and cite it to be safe. 1

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Citing a Direct Quote

Writers often use direct quotes in instances where they want a source's exact words to be conveyed.

Example:

"In speaking about the current situation of Black women writers, it is important to remember that the existence of a feminist movement was an essential precondition to the growth of feminist literature, criticism, and women's studies, which focused at the beginning almost entirely upon investigations of literature" (Smith 170).

An interested reader would go to "Smith" in your Works Cited list and find the bibliographic information for an article in an edited anthology (the Smith citation can be found at the bottom of the webpage).

NOTE: There is no comma between the author's last name and the page number unless you are citing an electronic source with an abbreviation such as (Smith, par. 3). Here, the citation would refer to the third paragraph of an electronic source. Also, the parentheses always come after the final quotation mark, but before the punctuation at the end of the sentence. 1

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Citing Attribution

Sometimes you may want to want to discuss a source or something mentioned by the source, but not use any direct quotes.  Sources used this way still need to be cited. To do this, incorporate the author's name into your use of the quotation or information you are using and put only the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence.

Example:

Barbara Smith reminds us in her well-known article, "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism," that when "speaking about the current situation of Black women writers, it is important to remember that the existence of a feminist movement was an essential precondition to the growth of feminist literature, criticism, and women's studies, which focused at the beginning almost entirely upon investigations of literature" (170).

Basic Citation Examples for Print Documents:

1. Book

                Author's Last Name, First Name. Book Title. Place of Publication:

                    Publisher, Date.

2. Journal Article

               Author's Last Name, First Name. "Article Title: Subtitle." Periodical Title

                    volume (year): inclusive page numbers.

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How to Cite Electronic Documents:

Citing electronic sources can be difficult: they may be print documents that are stored on the internet (for example, an article from a print journal that can also be found online), or they may be purely electronic documents. Because online sources can be changed and updated frequently, it is important that you include as much citation information as you can. That way if the document is moved, you can find it again using the other information cited. For any electronic document, your citation must include three basic areas of information: print publication information, electronic publication information, and access information. 1

Basic Citation Examples for Electronic Documents:

   1. Document from Print Source Published Electronically

              Author's Last Name, First Name. "Title of Document." Title of Journal or

                   Book . Print publication information. Title of Site . Date of electronic

                  publication or latest update. Name of organization or institution. Date of

                  access <http://websiteaddresshere>.

   2. Online Database, Project, or CD-ROM 

              Author's Last Name, First Name. "Title of Document." Title of Journal or

                   Book . Print publication information. Title of Project or Database .

                  Publication medium. Name of Vendor, Sponsoring Institution,

                  Organization, or Editor. Date of eletronic publication, copyright, or date

                  last updated. Date of access <http://websiteaddresshere>.

   3.  Professional or Personal Website

              Creator's Last Name, First Name. Title of the Site . Discription of the page.

                  Institution or organization associated with the site. Date of electronic

                  publication, copyright, or date last updated. Date of access <http://

                  websiteaddresshere>.

Because there are so many different kinds of sources, it is impossible for this course to list them all. If your Works Cited page uses sources different from the examples above, it's best to consult Chapter 5 in the "MLA Handbook for Writers or Research Papers." The MLA handbook is the definitive source for MLA citation for a many different print and non-print sources. 1

Additional MLA resourses can be found at
How do I document sources from the Web in my works-cited list?
MLA Formatting and Style Guide
Owl Resources
How to Cite an Interview in MLA Format

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Works Cited

Smith, Barbara. "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism." The New Feminist Criticism:

        Essays on Women, Literature and Theory. Ed. Elaine Showalter. New York:

       Pantheon Books, 1985. 168-185.

Sources

MLA Citation

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Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . factcouraud. (2007, May 22). MLA Format. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.usu.edu/English/introduction-to-writing-academic-prose/mla-format.html. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License