If your college instructor wants you to cite every fact or opinion you find in an outside source, how do you make room for your own opinion?
- Paraphrase. You can introduce studies that agree with you (Smith 123; Jones and Chin 123) and those that disagree with you (Mohan and Corbett 200) without interrupting your own argument. (Note how efficiently I did that — the parenthetical citations are designed to preserve the flow of ideas in the sentences that refer to outside ideas.)
- Quote Selectively. If you must use the original author’s language, work a few words from the outside source into a sentence you wrote yourself. (If you can’t supply at least as many words of your own analysis of and rebuttal to the quoted passage, then you are probably padding.)
- Avoid Summary. If you must quote several lines of another author’s language, don’t interrupt the flow of your own argument in order to summarize the material you have just quoted. (Generally speaking, summarizing someone else’s ideas is one of the easiest ways to churn out words; while students often turn to summary when they want to boost their word count, paragraphs that merely summarize are not as intellectually engaging, and therefore not worth as many points, as paragraphs that analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. See “Writing that Demonstrates Thinking Ability.”)
If you’ve already found good academic sources (including peer-reviewed journals) for your college research paper, you’ve got a good thesis and you’ve begun drafting your college research paper, this document will help you make your paper sound like a coherent argument, rather than a bunch of paragraphs strung together from other sources.
Note: laboriously rewriting source material so that it doesn’t use any of the original words is pointless effort; even if you completely rewrite the original, you still need to cite the original author (except, of course, when the information is common knowledge).
Avoid long quotes. If your 10-page paper offers 6 or 8 long chunks taken from other sources, stitched together with sentences like, “This quote shows the idea that…”, then you are not demonstrating the ability to write at the college level. Borrow shorter passages, even single words; integrate those passages into your own original argument.
Use quotes to launch discussion, not silence it. There’s nothing actually wrong with ending a paragraph, section, or paper with a quotation. But if you have a habit of asking a bunch of random questions, poking around the issue, and then “proving” your point by finishing up with a quotation, as if there is nothing more to say about the topic now that you’ve presented your quote, then you’re not demonstrating the ability to engage critically with a complex problem that might have numerous plausible solutions. You may instead be trying to discourage your reader from questioning your claims.
Include quotes from sources that disagree with your thesis. Rather than silencing an alternate or opposing claim, aim to show your reader how a careful consideration of all the evidence — both for and against — leads a reasonable skeptic to agree with your perspective.
Avoid encapsulated, serial summaries of your outside sources. Your high school teachers may have rewarded you for writing good summaries. But a college paper requires you to think on a much more advanced level than a string of paragraphs, each of which summarizes a separate outside source.
Avoid a rigid, simplistic organizational structure focused only on summarizing or reflecting on the sources you have found.
MLA Parenthetical Citations
The MLA-style in-text citation involves just the author’s last name, a space (not a comma), and then the page number (or line number, for verse).
|One engineer who figures prominently in all accounts of the 1986 Challenger accident says NASA was “absolutely relentless and Machiavellian” about following procedures to the letter (Vaughan 221).|
See the following pages for how to format a college paper in MLA style and how to write an MLA style Works Cited list. Any college writing handbook will have multiple examples, but the main point is that you should leave the details out of the body of your paper — save them for the Works Cited list.
Integrate Quotations from Outside Sources
Don’t interrupt the flow of your own argument to give the author’s full name or the source’s full title. Spend fewer words introducing your sources, and devote more words to expressing and developing your own ideas in ways that use shorter quotations, or even just a few words, from your outside sources.
Avoid clunky, high-schoolish documentation like the following:
|In the book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, by Fredrich A. Kittler, it talks about writing and gender, and says on page 186, “an omnipresent metaphor equated women with the white sheet of nature or virginity onto which a very male stylus could inscribe the glory of its authorship.” As you can see from this quote, all this would change when women started working as professional typists.|
|The passages “it talks about” and “As you can see from this quote” are very weak attempts to engage with the ideas presented by Kittler. In addition, “In the book… it talks” is ungrammatical (“the book” and “it” are redundant subjects) and nonsensical (books don’t talk).
|In the mid 1880s, “an omnipresent metaphor equated women with the white sheet of nature or virginity onto which a very male stylus could inscribe the glory of its authorship” (Kittler 186), but all this would change when women started working as professional typists.|
|This revision is marginally better, but only because it uses fewer words — it’s still not integrating the outside quote into the author’s own argument.|
Don’t expend words writing about quotes and sources. If you use words like “in the book My Big Boring Academic Study, by Professor H. Pompous Windbag III, it says it says” or “the following quote by a government study shows that…” you are wasting words that would be better spent developing your ideas.
Using about the same space as the original, see how MLA style helps an author devote more words to developing the idea more fully. We shall continue to revise the above example:
|Before the invention of the typewriter, “an omnipresent metaphor” among professional writers concerned “a very male stylus” writing upon the passive, feminized “white sheet of nature or virginity” (Kittler 186). By contrast, the word “typewriter” referred to the machine as well as the female typist who used it (183).|
|This revision is perhaps a bit hard to follow, when taken out of context. But if you put a bit of introduction into the space you saved by cutting back on wasted words, the thought is clearer.|
|To Kittler, the concept of the pen as a masculine symbol imposing form and order upon feminized, virginal paper was “an omnipresent metaphor” (186) in the days before the typewriter. But businesses were soon clamoring for the services of typists, who were mostly female. In fact, “typewriter” meant both the machine and the woman who used it (183).|
|The above revision mentions Kittler’s name in the body, and cites two different places in Kittler’s text (identified by page number alone). This is a perfectly acceptable variation of the standard author-page parenthetical citation.|
While MLA Style generally expects authors to save details for the Works Cited pages, there’s nothing wrong with introducing the work more fully — if you have a good reason to do so. (See “Quotations: Integrating them in MLA Style.”)
|Dennis G. Jerz
Finding Good Sources
A reference librarian is specially trained to help patrons find the best sources. An Internet search engine, on the other hand, will show you plenty of sources that will waste your time.Dennis G. Jerz
Integrating Quotations in MLA Style
The MLA-style in-text citation is a highly compressed format, designed to avoid interrupting the flow of ideas. A proper MLA inline citation uses just the author’s last name and the page number (or line number), separated by a space (nota comma).Dennis G. Jerz
Academic Journals: Using Them Properly
“Crazy Joe’s Shakespeare Website” probably won’t have the authoritative information your English professor is looking for. If you want up-to-date, accurate articles, look in an academic journal.David Nies and Dennis G. Jerz
Using MS-Word to Format a Paper in MLA Style
This step-by-step set of directions will help you use MS-Word to format an English paper properly.Dennis G. Jerz
MLA Style Bibliography Builder
Updated to handle web sources (Jan 2001). Choose a form, fill it out, and push the button… you will get an individual MLA “Works Cited” entry, which you may then copy and paste into your word processor.
01 Nov 200 — Dennis G. Jerz
01 Dec 2002 — major revisions
03 Oct 2007 — redistributed some content to a new handout on integrating quotations
04 Nov 2011 — reorganization and updates