HOW TO DOCUMENT SOURCES
After you find the sources that you need for your research paper, you need to
know how to use them correctly. Assume that you are writing about Joyce Carol Oates's story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" and you've found a helpful article by Stephen Slimp. If you would like to use information or ideas from this article by Stephen Slimp, you would have to give him credit as the author of this
material. If you don't give credit to an author for his/her material, then you commit
plagiarism, the stealing of another's words, information, or ideas by passing them
off as your own. Plagiarism is a serious offense which will subject you to disciplinary measures by your instructor and the college.
For most English classes, the preferred method of documenting sources is the MLA (Modern Language Association) style. This style will be discussed below.
Citing a Source in Your Paper
In the MLA style, the basic method of citing (or giving credit to) a source that you
use in your paper is to put in parentheses the author's last name and the page
number on which you found the borrowed information. So, if you use information
from page 179 of an article by Stephen Slimp, you would write (Slimp 179) to give
credit to this author. This parenthetical reference should be placed directly after
the borrowed material. In addition, you should make clear how much of the
information before the parenthetical reference is borrowed. You can do this by
introducing borrowed material:
One critic has noted that the theme of "Where Are You Going, Where Have
You Been?" is "the spiritual condition of late twentieth-century American
culture" (Slimp 179).
Stephen Slimp has noted that the theme of "Where Are You Going, Where
Have You Been?" is "the spiritual condition of late twentieth-century American
In the first example, the critic (or author) was not named, so the author's last name
must appear in parentheses to give proper credit. In the second example, the
author's name was provided when introducing the material, so only the page number
is necessary in parentheses.
There are three ways to use a source in your paper: direct quotation, paraphrase,
A. Direct Quotation
If you want to preserve the exact words from your source, you can use a direct quotation. Use a direct quotation when the author's words are particularly
appropriate or well-phrased. Avoid overusing direct quotations, as this detracts
from your own originality and causes you to rely too much on others' words. You
should especially avoid overusing long quotations--large chunks of quotations tend
to look as if they are "filling up space" so a student can obtain the needed number of pages. Below is an example of a direct quotation, using the MLA style of
Slimp contends that, "what Connie experiences physically leads her to an increasing awareness of the horrors of human existence and a resulting growth of her spiritual
Note that the parenthetical reference comes after the quotation marks and the period goes after the parentheses. Do not put a period (or other punctuation mark) between the quote and the parentheses. Remember: PUT THE PERIOD ONLY AT THE END.
Direct quotations of more than four typed lines should be set off from the rest of
your paper by beginning a new line, indenting ten spaces from the left margin, and typing the quotation double-spaced, without adding quotation marks. The parenthe-
tical reference follows the last line of the quotation. NOTE: In this case, the period comes before the parentheses:
One critic has noted that:
One of the most arresting features of Joyce Carol Oates's short story "Where
Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is the way in which the story's
powerful theme about the spiritual condition of lat e-twentieth century
American culture is conveyed with an almost palpable intensity. One can
visualize the squalid hamburger joint, hear the blaring of Ellie's radio and the
touch of Arnold's finger on the screen door. (Slimp179)
Choose one sentence from the above excerpt by Stephen Slimp. In the text box
below, quote this sentence directly, using MLA style documentation for short
quotations described above. Introduce the quotation, give proper credit, and
punctuate correctly. Do NOT hit "Enter" after typing in your answer.
You can also put another author's material into your own words, as long as you don't change the intended meaning. Even if you put material in your own words, you still
need to give credit to the author for the ideas. A paraphrase is usually about the same length as the orginal material borrowed. Below is a paraphrase of the first two sentences from the Slimp article:
Slimp notes that one of the most notable aspects of Joyce Carol Oates's short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is the tangible energy with which Oates relays the story's cogent theme about the spiritual state of late-twentieth- century American culture. The reader can picture the tacky hamburger joint, hear Ellie's loud radio and even Arnold's finger touching Connie's door (179).
Below is the third sentence of the Slimp article. In the text box below, paraphrase
this sentence, being careful not to change its meaning. Introduce the paraphrase and use MLA documentation to give proper credit:
"Most amazing, the reader experiences, even with multiple readings, a tightening of the stomach and quickening of the pulse as it slowly becomes clear exactly what Arnold is up to" (179).
Summarizing borrowed material can be useful for getting across another author's
main ideas without having to duplicate or paraphrase every word. Summaries are usually quite a bit shorter than the original material. Like paraphrases, summaries do not require quotation marks but need to be given proper credit. Below is a summary of the first two sentences from the Slimp article. Compare this one-sentence summary with the original sentences:
Stephen Slimp contends that because Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" presents its theme about America's spiritual condition so forcefully, the reader experiences a sensory engagement with the story (179)
Summarize in one sentence the main ideas in the third and fourth sentencesof Slimp's article, provided below. Introduce the summary and use correct MLA documentation.
Most amazing, the reader experiences, even with multiple readings,
a tightening of the stomach and quickening of the pulse as it slowly
becomes clear exactly what Arnold is up to. Just as the sheer
physicality of the narrative helps the reader confront the cultural
wasteland that Oates believes our society has become, what Connie
experiences physically leads her to an increasing awareness of the
horrors of human existence and a resulting growth in her spiritual
nature. (Slimp 179)
Recognizing and Avoiding Plagiarism
Even if you know that you should use MLA documentation, you can still plagiarize unintentionally if you do not document correctly. The exercise below will help you to recognize and avoid plagiarism:
Assume that the excerpts below are from student papers. Each student has borrowed material from Stephen Slimp's article, but only ONE of the students has used MLA documentation correctly. The other versions are plagiarized.
Compare these excerpts to the original material and identify the student version that is NOT plagiarized:
One of the most arresting features of Joyce Carol Oates's short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is the way in which the story's powerful theme about the spiritual condition of late-twentieth-century American culture is conveyed with an almost palpable intensity.
Original material from page 179 of Stephen Slimp's article
One of the most arresting features of Joyce Carol Oates's short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is the way in which the story's powerful theme about the spiritual condition of late-twentieth-century American culture is conveyed with an almost palpable intensity
Student Version A
A critic has noted that Joyce Carol Oates's short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" has an arresting feature--the intense manner in which the story's profound theme about the spiritual state of late-twentieth-century American culture is relayed.
Student Version B
Joyce Carol Oates's short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" has a cogent theme about the spiritual state of late-twentieth-century America. This theme is conveyed with an almost tangible energy. The presentation of this theme is one of the story's most compelling features (Slimp 179).
Student Version C
Stephen Slimp notes that one of the most striking features of Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is the forceful presentation of its theme about the spiritual state of late-twentieth-century American culture (179).
Corporate Authors or More Than One Author
If a source was authored by a group or organization, put the name of this group in the parentheses: (Environmental Protection Agency 10).
If a source has two or three authors, put these authors' names in parentheses:
(Smith and Brown 10)
(Smith, Brown, and Jones 10)
If a source has more than three authors, use the first author's last name and then "et al." (and others):
(Smith et al. 10)
Assume that you are borrowing material from a book written by Janice Adams, Brian Porter, and James Evans. This material appeared on page 25. What would appear in the parenthetical reference? Type parentheses and the material that should appear within them below:
Citing Electronic Sources
When citing an online source, follow the same guidelines for print sources. Use the author's name or corporate author's name in parentheses and a page number, if provided. (Often a Web site does not provide page numbers.) If you don't see an author's name, look for the name of the Web site editor. Example: You find a Web site with many different pages written by different authors. If you cite information written by John Smith and the Web site itself is edited by Mary Jones, you should use
(Smith) in parentheses, as Smith is the actual author of the material you are borrowing. If the online material you find has no clear author, you might want to reconsider using it in your paper since you can't evaluate its reliability.
Quoting From Works of Literature
If your research paper is on a work of literature, such as a short story, poem, or play, then you need to credit the author of the work when you quote from it. (Once you make clear whose work of literature you are discussing, you need not put the author's name in parentheses). You also need to identify page numbers (stories), line numbers (poetry), or acts and scenes (plays) so that the reader knows which portion of the work is being quoted:
In "A Rose for Emily," Faulkner uses the character of Emily Grierson to represent a fading and perversely stubborn South. Emily is first associated with images of decay in the personification of her house, a peeling Victorian "eyesore" which "lifted its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and gasoline pumps" (26).
NOTE: The "26" refers to page 26 of the student's literature book, where the story was located.
In "Richard Cory," Robinson establishes an implied metaphor between Richard Cory and royalty, noting that "He was a gentleman from sole to crown, / Clean favored, and imperially slim" (3-4).
NOTE: Lines of poetry are separated by / marks. The numbers in parentheses represent lines 3 and 4.
Hamlet seems resolute when he declares, "The play's the thing / Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King" (2.2.640-641).
NOTE: Lines in plays are also divided by / marks.
NOTE: The first "2" represents Act Two, while the second "2" represents
Scene Two. 640-641 represent the line numbers.
When quoting dialogue between two characters, set off this conversation from the rest of the text. Use each character's name in all capital letters and indent the names ten spaces from the left margin:
HAMLET. I will receive it, sir, with all diligence of spirit.
Put your bonnet to his right use; 'tis for the head.
OSRIC. I thank your lordship, it is very hot. (5.2.93-96)
NOTE: When quoting dialogue, put the end punctuation before the parentheses.
If your play had only two acts, not divided into scenes, such as Death of a Salesman, you should indicate the act and use a page number to help the reader locate a passage:
When Linda suggests protectively that it is the car's fault, Willy corrects her by saying, "No, it's me, it's me" (1, 1161).
Punctuate and document the following literary quotations correctly, following the guidelines above. Assume that the author has already been identified:
From page 117: In the story "Young Goodman Brown," Faith is described as
From lines 3-4: In the poem "Death Be Not Proud," Donne addresses death defiantly:
From Act Three, Scene One, lines 84-85: Hamlet explains one possible reason for his hesitation: