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MLA Documentation Guide

Table of Contents

Introduction

MLA documentation is simple and straightforward. This brief Guide to MLA Documentation provides you with the basic information you need to correctly acknowledge all of the sources you use in your English essays. A correctly documented paper identifies and acknowledges the ideas and information in your paper that have come from primary and secondary sources.

MLA is an abbreviation of Modern Languages Association, and the Association has developed a style of documenting sources that is used for Language courses and many Humanities courses. The documentation style uses parenthetical citations and a Works Cited page. Footnotes or endnotes are not used to acknowledge sources in MLA documentation style.

This Guide to MLA Documentation contains examples of the most commonly used sources and how to cite them. It also contains a sample paragraph with quotations and a sample Works Cited page. By following these examples, you will cite your essays correctly.

This Guide to MLA Documentation also contains important information about evaluating sources, in particular online sources such as websites.

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Formatting your essay

Please adhere to the following format:

  • Use standard size paper (8½ x 11 inches)
  • Word-process or type the essay using a standard 12 point font
  • Double-space every line of the essay, including all quotations and the Works Cited page
  • Indent each paragraph; do not leave an extra space between paragraphs
  • Leave adequate margins for tutor comment (at least one inch)

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Titles and title pages

All of your essays must have a title that reflects the content and main idea of the essay. The essay topic is not the title; the title of the poem, novel, play or other piece of literature you are writing about is also not the title of your essay.

MLA documentation style does not require a title page; however, you do need to include the following information on the first page of your assignment:

Your name
The tutor’s or professor’s name
The course name and number
The date you submit the essay

Place this information on the top left of the page. This should be double-spaced. Double-space again and centre the title of the essay on the page.

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Citing sources in your essay

Every time that you use a quotation from a source, or summarize or paraphrase an idea or a passage from a research or a primary source, you must acknowledge that source. This acknowledgement is called a citation. You will include an abbreviated citation in parentheses ( ) in the body of your essay, which is called a parenthetical citation or an in-text citation, and you will include a full citation in your Works Cited.

Each parenthetical citation must provide as much information as necessary for the reader to determine the author, the source and the location of the original quotation. The parenthetical citation will correlate with a citation in the Works Cited page that includes the full publication information.

Whenever you quote, you must introduce your quotations, and you must ensure that the quote does not result in grammar errors in your sentence. If you need to make any changes to the quote, the change must be identified using square bracket [ ]. If you omit words from the quote, you must indicate the omission with three periods, also known as an ellipsis. Leave a space on either side of the ellipsis but do not space between the periods.

Parenthetical citations – Primary sources

When you are writing essays about literature, you are required to quote from the literature to support and develop your arguments. Whether you are quoting fiction, poetry or plays, the author and the title must be clear from your citation or your introduction of the quote.

Quoting prose

Long and short prose quotes are acknowledged and cited as shown in the following examples:

Frankenstein’s creature comes to life “on a dreary night of November” (Shelley 57).

When Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein succeeds in bringing his creature to life, he realizes that his ambitions were reckless:

I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. (57)

Quoting poetry

Poetry is cited using the line numbers. Short poetry quotes will indicate line breaks using a slash with a space on each side ( / ) and long poetry quotes will be indented and follow the exact format of the original poem, for example:

In Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” the imagery and alliteration of the simile “as holy and enchanted / As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted / By woman wailing for her demon lover!” (14-16) evokes the sound of her plaintive cry, and the underlying threat of the setting.

OR

T.S. Eliot animates the London fog in the third stanza of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep. (15-22)

Quoting drama

Drama is cited using the act, scene and line numbers if the play is written in verse, and the page numbers if the play is a prose play. Act, scene and line numbers are presented in Arabic numbers, for example, Act 1, Scene 2, lines 1 through 10 should be written as 1.2.1-10.

Plays written in verse are cited as you would cite poetry (see Quoting poetry above), for example:

Iago’s deception of Othello is dependent upon the Moor’s honest and trusting nature: “The Moor is of a free and open nature / That thinks men honest that but seem to be so; / And will as tenderly be led by th’ nose / As asses are” (1.3.390-93).

Othello’s trusting nature allows him to mistakenly trust Iago:

This fellow’s of exceeding honesty,
And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit
Of human dealings. If I do prove her haggard,
Though that her jesses were my dear heartstrings,
I’d whistle her off and let her down wind
To prey at fortune. (3.3. 257-62)

Plays written in prose are cited using the page number, in the same way you would cite any prose literature (see Quoting prose above).

Dialogue between characters should be quoted as follows:

Much is revealed about the relationship between Torvald and Nora Helmer in the opening lines of A Doll House:

HELMER. (From the study.) Is that my little lark twittering out there?
NORA. (Busy opening some packages.) Yes, it is.
HELMER. Is that my squirrel rummaging around?
NORA. Just now. (Putting the macaroon bag in her pocket and wiping
her mouth.)
Do come in, Torvald, and see what I’ve bought.
HELMER. Can’t be disturbed…. (601)

Parenthetical citations – Secondary sources

Short quotations

Any quotation that is 4 lines or less is considered a short quotation and should be incorporated into your sentence. The final punctuation comes after the citation, for example:

Moers argues that “Frankenstein’s exploration of the forbidden boundaries of human science does not cause the prolongation and extension of his own life, but the creation of a new one” (95).

OR

Critics agree that Mary Shelley has “absorbed into Frankenstein the ideas about education, society, and morality held by her father and her mother” ( Moers 94).

Long quotations

Quotations that are longer than 4 lines are indented 10 spaces and do not require quotation marks. The final punctuation comes before the citation, for example:

Moers summarizes the many varied responses to and interpretations of Frankenstein:

Mary Shelley’s novel, and her title character became a byword for the dangers of scientific knowledge. But the work has also been read as an existential fable; as a commentary on the cleavage between reason and feeling, in both philosophical thought and educational theory; as a parable of the excesses of idealism and genius; as a dramatization of the divided self; [and] as an attack on the stultifying force of social convention, including race prejudice. (97-98)

Paraphrasing and summarizing

There are instances when you may not be directly quoting from a source, but are still required to acknowledge the source of the information. The following is a paraphrase of the second short quote from Moers, cited above:

Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, incorporates ideas about education advocated by her parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin ( Moers 94).

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The Works Cited

Each type of source follows a slightly different format for citation. The following entries describe the general format for common sources, followed by an example.

Books

Author. Title. Place of Publication: Publisher, date of publication. Medium of publication.

Book with one author

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Penguin, 1999. Print.

Berger, Yves. Immobile dans le courant du fleuve. Paris: Grasset, 1997. Print.

(Note: with French titles only the first word is capitalized.)

Book with more than one author

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989. Print.

(Note: authors should appear in the order that they are presented on the title page; only the first author’s name is reversed.)

Chapter of a book

Author of Chapter. “Chapter Title.” Book Title. Editor of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, date of publication. Page numbers of chapter. Medium of publication.

Zhuwarara, Rino. “Heart of Darkness Revisited.” Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. Ed. Gene M. Moore. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 219-42. Print.

Introduction to a book

Author of Introduction. Title. Title of Complete Work. By Author of Complete Work. Place of Publication: Publisher, date of publication. Page numbers of introduction. Medium of publication.

Joseph, M.K. Introduction. Frankenstein. By Mary Shelley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969. v-xiii. Print.

Anthology or edited book

Name of Editor(s), ed. Title. Place of Publication: Publisher, date of publication. Medium of publication.

Stott, Jon C., Raymond E. Jones, Rick Bowers, eds. The Harbrace Anthology of Poetry. 3rd ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 2002. Print.

A work in an anthology

Author of work. “Title of Work.” Title of Anthology. Ed. of Anthology. Publisher: Place of Publication, date of publication. Page numbers.

Coleridge, Samuel T. “Kubla Khan.” The Harbrace Anthology of Poetry. 3rd ed. Ed. Jon C. Stott, Raymond E. Jones, and Rick Bowers. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 2002. 114-15.

Athabasca University study guide

Author. Title. Athabasca: Athabasca University, Date of Publication. Medium of publication.

Nothof, Anne. English 307: Women in Literature Study Guide. Athabasca: Athabasca University, 2001. Print.

Journal article

Author. “Article Title.” Journal Title Volume #.Issue # (Date of publication): Page numbers. Medium of publication.

Davidson, Arnold E. “Cages and Escapes in Margaret Laurence’s A Bird in the House.University of Windsor Review 16.1 (1981): 92-101. Print.

Newspaper article

Author. “Title of Article.” Newspaper Title Date: Page number. Medium of publication.

Ball, Candice G. “The Indigenous Funny Bone.” Calgary Herald 28 Jan. 2006: F1. Print.

Film or DVD

Title of Film. Director. Distributor, date. Medium consulted.

Smoke. Dir. Wayne Wang. Alliance Video, 1996. Film.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Per. Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter. 1994. Sony Pictures, 1998. DVD.

(Note: If you are citing a DVD include the original release date and the DVD release date. You may also include other information in a film or DVD citation if it is deemed important – for example the names of the producer, writer, or performers.)

Interview

Name of person interviewed. Type of interview. Date.

Overbye, K. Personal Interview. 21 Feb. 2006.

Website

Author if available. “Title of work.” Title of overall website. Date of publication. Medium of publication. Date accessed.

Nothof, Anne. “Sharon Pollock.” Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia. 24 Mar. 2006. Web. 4 May 2006.

Grey, Terry A. Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet. 3 June 2005. Web. 2 Feb. 2006.

(Note: website addresses (URLs) are not required. Also note, a website citation includes two dates: the date the website was accessed and the date the website was posted or last updated. It is important to include both dates since websites are often updated and the information changed. You can usually find this information at the bottom of the webpage.)

Online article

Author. “Title of Article.” Journal Title Volume #.Issue # (Date of publication): Page numbers. Medium of publication. Date accessed.

Whitlock, Gillian. “White Diasporas: Joan (and Ana) Make History.” Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada 12 (1994): n. pag. Web. 3 Mar. 2004.

(Note: If a Web publication does not contain page numbers use n. pag. in place of page numbers.)

Article from a library database

Author. “Title of Article.” Journal Title Volume #.Issue # (Date of publication): Page numbers. Name of database. Medium of Publication. Date accessed.

Vanita, Ruth. ‘“Proper’ Men and ‘Fallen’ Women: The ‘Unprotectedness’ of Wives in Othello.” Studies in English Literature 34.2 (1994): 341-56. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Feb. 2006.

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Sample Paragraph

The principal limitation in Conrad’s critique of imperialism is his unquestioning (or unwitting) acceptance of European ideologies about Africa, for example, his acceptance and perpetuation of the myth of Africa as the Dark Continent to which Europeans must bring ‘light.’ Marlow commends the British Empire when he notes the “vast amount of red – good to see at any time, because one knows that real work is done in there” (Conrad 14) on the map in the Company office. Conrad also adheres to the disturbing view that Africa causes “madness” and you will recall Marlow’s own brushes with madness and savagery throughout the narrative. Objections to Conrad’s novella recognize

  1. The fact that in Heart of Darkness Conrad sets out to question the nature of man in a specific historical context characterized by imperialism.
  2. That what starts off as a subversion of the ideals of imperialistic discourse is in turn subverted by an artistic process which becomes too dependent on stereotypes of the time, especially when Marlow starts sailing up the Congo River.
  3. That these stereotypes are part of a long-standing tradition which has been harmful to blacks for centuries. (Zhuwarara 221)

Like much else in this novella, Conrad’s representations of Africans are ambiguous. First presented as vital and wild, they are also presented – in what is meant to be a sympathetic description by Marlow - as depraved and dying. Despite these seemingly different descriptions, they share the basis of disparaging stereotype: the African as savage. As Marlow travels deeper into the heart of Africa, Africans are merely dehumanized glimpses of “eyes,” “arms,” “limbs,” but always threatening. Much debate has resulted from these portrayals. Chinua Achebe has called Conrad “a thoroughgoing racist” (744), who uses Africa as a backdrop for his allegory of man’s descent into evil. In a more tempered response, Rino Zhuwarara asserts “while critical of imperialism, [Heart of Darkness] reinforces unpalatable stereotypes about Africa. The moral revulsion of both Marlow and his author, Conrad, at the sordid nature of imperialism is not strong enough to transcend racial boundaries” (Zhuwarara 239).

(Note: the entire paragraph including the indented long quotation should be double-spaced.)

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Sample Works Cited

The Works Cited should be a separate page, and it should include all of the sources quoted, paraphrased or summarized in your essay. If you have consulted sources that you have not cited in your essay, you should rename your page Works Consulted, and include every source you have cited and consulted.

The Works Cited page is double spaced, and entries are indented 5 spaces on the second and subsequent lines.

All entries are alphabetical by author’s or editor’s name. Do not distinguish between primary and secondary sources, or by types of sources. The format of the citation indicates the type of source.

All of the sources used in this Guide to MLA Documentation are included in the following Works Cited.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa: Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Compact 4 th ed. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 1995. 739-44. Print.

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989. Print.

Ball, Candice G. “The Indigenous Funny Bone.” Calgary Herald 28 Jan. 2006: F1. Print.

Berger, Yves. Immobile dans le courant du fleuve. Paris: Grasset, 1997. Print.

Coleridge, Samuel T. “Kubla Khan.” The Harbrace Anthology of Poetry. 3rd ed. Ed. Jon C. Stott, Raymond E. Jones, and Rick Bowers. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 2002. 114-15. Print.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Penguin, 1999. Print.

Davidson, Arnold E. “Cages and Escapes in Margaret Laurence’s A Bird in the House.University of Windsor Review 16.1 (1981): 92-101. Print.

Eliot, T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The Harbrace Anthology of Poetry. 3rd ed. Ed. Jon C. Stott, Raymond E. Jones, and Rick Bowers. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 2002. 267-71. Print.

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6 th ed. New York: MLA Association, 2003. Print.

Grey, Terry A. Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet. 3 June 2005. Web. 2 Feb. 2006.

Ibsen, Henrik. “A Doll House.” The Harcourt Brace Anthology of Drama. 3 rd ed. Ed. W. B. Worthen. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 2000. 598-624. Print.

Joseph, M.K. Introduction. Frankenstein. By Mary Shelley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969. v-xiii. Print.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Per. Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter. 1994. Sony Pictures, 1998. DVD.

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed. New York: MLA Association, 2009. Print.

Moers, Ellen. Literary Women. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Print.

Nothof, Anne. “Sharon Pollock.” Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia. 24 Mar. 2006. Web. 4 May 2006.

Nothof, Anne. English 307: Women in Literature Study Guide. Athabasca: Athabasca University, 2001. Print.

Overbye, K. Personal Interview. 21 Feb. 2006.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969. Print.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. New York: Penguin (Signet Classic), 1986. Print.

Smoke. Dir. Wayne Wang. Alliance Video, 1996. Film.

Stott, Jon C., Raymond E. Jones, Rick Bowers, eds. The Harbrace Anthology of Poetry. 3rd ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 2002. Print.

Vanita, Ruth. ‘“Proper’ Men and ‘Fallen’ Women: The ‘Unprotectedness’ of Wives in Othello.” Studies in English Literature 34.2 (1994): 341-56. Academic Search Premier.Web. 2 Feb. 2006.

Whitlock, Gillian. “White Diasporas: Joan (and Ana) Make History.” Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada 12 (1994): n. pag. Web. 3 Mar. 2004.

Zhuwarara, Rino. “Heart of Darkness Revisited.” Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. Ed. Gene M. Moore. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 219-42. Print.

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Choosing and Evaluating Sources

When you are selecting sources to use in your research papers, you want to ensure that these sources are credible and reliable. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers recommends evaluating sources based on their “authority, accuracy and currency” (Gibaldi 41).

The authority of a source can be determined if it has a visible author’s name, if it has a reputable publisher, or if it has been peer reviewed. The accuracy of a source can be determined by how well the facts and information contained in the source are cited. Reliable sources will provide all the bibliographic information required for you to verify the credibility of its sources. The date of publication will indicate the currency of a source, and you will be able to determine if the information is up to date for your research topic.

It is particularly important to evaluate your sources carefully when you are doing research on the internet. If websites do not have a visible author’s name or a clear institutional or business affiliation, you may want to consider the authority and accuracy of that website.

If you have difficulty determining the suitability of a source, your tutor will be able to assist you.

You can find very useful additional information about research and how to use the Athabasca University library at the Athabasca University Library, Help Centre.

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Plagiarism

All of the following information on plagiarism is quoted directly from the Athabasca University Calendar:

Academic Honesty: Recognising Plagiarism

In order to avoid representing the ideas, facts or phrasing of others as your own, you must learn to recognize plagiarism. It is common for novice researchers to commit plagiarism without even knowing it. The result can be very serious if you plagiarise, whether intentionally or not. You will jeopardize your learning, risk failing and even expulsion. Moreover, you will undermine the mutual trust upon which educational institutions rest.

Here are three examples of plagiarism:

  1. If you fail to indicate that material is quoted by enclosing the material in quotation marks.
  2. If you do not acknowledge the source of a direct quotation within the text of the paper, in footnotes, on the Works Cited or Reference page, or if you do not identify the correct source of a quotation.
  3. If you included paraphrased or summarized information (that is not generally accepted as "common knowledge") and do not acknowledge its source.

Academic Honesty: What is Original Work?

Students and researchers are often understandably confused about academic honesty because they realise that if they give credit for every single idea that is not original, then their papers would simply be a list of citations. For example, in a paper if I refer to Intellectual Honesty, I am using a generally accepted expression, (common knowledge) and I would probably use wording that many others have used when writing about the subject. I do not have to cite the very first person who ever used this expression. How do I distinguish between occasions when I must attribute ideas to others and occasions when I do not?

One situation is easy because there are no exceptions – when the exact words of another are used, you must identify the author and indicate the words that you are quoting. (http://www.athabascau.ca/studserv/inthonesty.htm)

The following are specific examples of plagiarism, for which the penalties can be very severe:

  • Submitting or presenting work as if it were your own when it isn't.
  • Obtaining then submitting a term paper from a repository.
  • Submitting material for credit that has already been given credit in another course (or the same course at a previous time), without the approval of the professor.
  • Submitting information or material in a course that you know to be false.
  • Submitting co-authored work without the knowledge and agreement of all authors, as well as the approval of the professor. (http://www.athabascau.ca/studserv/inthonesty.htm)

You can find additional information about Plagiarism and Intellectual Honesty in the Athabasca University Calendar at http://www.athabascau.ca/studserv/inthonesty.htm.

© Dr. Veronica Thompson
Ph.D. Assistant Professor
Centre for Language and Literature

Updated September 10 2014 by Student & Academic Services

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