|Citation and quotation
Why do we cite or quote sources?
One purpose of citations when you write essays, seminar papers, or a thesis is to leave a trail of clues for your readers. When you document papers correctly, you provide others with a way to find the sources you have used. Another purpose of citation is to promote ethical responsibility and academic consistency within a discipline. If you do not cite and document your sources carefully, you run the risk of plagiarism. See our handout on plagiarism. Citing a source means giving a reference to it without actually reproducing its content; quoting means reproducing its content as a special part of your own text.
What needs to be cited?
When you write a paper in the humanities, you often use and build on work other people have researched and compiled. Whether you are writing an expository report or offering your own insight and judgment, it's important to give credit where credit is due. If you refer to or incorporate other people's work in your essay or paper, you must give credit to those authors by using parenthetical citation and adding a Works Cited list. In addition to historical information, or facts and statistics, you must also acknowledge other people's ideas and theories.
You need to document:
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).
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 is to ask yourself whether the kind of reader you are writing for is likely to be familiar with the information. You may, in fact, need to consult with such a reader. If you aren't sure whether something counts as common knowledge, document it to be safe.
How to Use Parenthetical Citation
MLA documentation normally gives just the author's last name and page number in parentheses, within the text of your paper, following the quoted text or the paraphrase (Gibaldi 238). (—Like that!)
When you use an author's ideas, when you quote material you have read, or when you paraphrase that material, indicate the source in parentheses at the end of your sentence. A reader will look at the author's last name and then refer to the Works Cited list at the end of your paper to obtain bibliographic information (that is, the information needed to find the source in the library or online).
Citing a Direct Quote
Writers often include relevant source material word for word in their own papers.
"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).
A reader will then go to "Smith" in your Works Cited list and find the bibliographic information.
Another use of source material is to attribute it to the author within the text of your paper. Incorporate the author's name into your text, and put only the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence.
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).
You can also paraphrase material by summarizing in your own words or using it to talk about your own material.
The feminist movement had to occur before the establishment of feminist literature and criticism, as well as women's studies (see Smith 170).
Feminist literature and criticism, and women's studies as well, originally centered on literature (see Smith 170).
Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Fifth edition. New York: MLA, 2000.
Smith, Barbara. Toward a Black Feminist Criticism. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1985.