The Observed Life: Gossip, Secrecy, and the Circulation of Social Knowledge

Picky Citation Questions: Guest Post

This is a guest post by Nancy Foasberg.

I promised a compilation of the answers to the MLA questions, with citations to the handbook, so here they are.  I’ve boiled down the questions and paraphrased them heavily, so they don’t resemble the questions you asked very closely, but I tried to catch the general idea that elicited the answer. Let me know if I didn’t answer any of them thoroughly, or if I missed your point.

All citations are to the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook, and I do recommend that you consult it to see the text of these rules.

Paraphrasing and Common Knowledge

Does common knowledge need to be cited? (Romina) The rule is that common knowledge does not need to be cited, but of course, it can often be difficult to figure out what is and isn’t common knowledge.  The question to ask yourself is whether you believe that your readers will already know it. The guideline in the MLA Handbook is simple: When in doubt, cite! (2.6)

Do paraphrases need to be cited? How? How often? (Jackie, Darwin) Paraphrases do require citations. They are cited exactly like quotations.  Just like quotations, you don’t need to cite them in every single sentence but can wait until you are finished paraphrasing. You don’t want to put more citations than necessary because readers consider that annoying. Just make sure that it’s clear to your reader which ideas are yours and which come from your source. (6.3)

Is there a format for indirect citations, that is, works that are quoted in other works? (Shifa, Jane, Cristina) If at all possible, you should try to cite the original source for any work that you use.  The first author should have provided enough information for you to track it down, so this usually won’t be too difficult!  There are some cases, however, in which the original source simply is not available. In those cases, you can cite the source as quoted in another source, and it looks like this: (qtd. in Jones 358)  (6.4.7)

What do I do if I don’t remember where I found an idea? (Batya) That’s a frustrating situation. It is, of course, impossible to cite something if you don’t have the correct information about what it is. In these cases, you really need to hunt the source down again, and it can be a real pain, but it happens to everyone. As much as possible, I recommend keeping meticulous track of your sources, so that this doesn’t happen to you very often.

In-Text Citation

Are there any times the author’s last name isn’t needed in a citation? (Katrina) If you use the author’s name when you are introducing the quotation, then you don’t need to include it in the citation.  For instance, you might write: Carroll describes the Caterpillar as having a “languid, sleepy voice” (55). Or, you could write: The Caterpillar addresses Alice in a “languid, sleepy voice” (Carroll 55). However, if you are dealing with only one primary work throughout your entire paper, then it should be clear from the context that all the citations to the primary source come from that work.  In that case, you wouldn’t need to use the author’s name each time you cite—the first time should be sufficient. (6.3)

What about films?  (Lisa) Section 5.7.3 explains how to cite a film in your Works Cited page.  This is one place where you can see that citation is an art rather than a science—you cite slightly differently depending on what you want to emphasize. As for the in-text citations, since there are no page numbers, you have to cite the film as a whole, even if you’re only citing a particular line. If, in your Works Cited page, you’re citing the film as being by a particular individual, you’d use that person in your in-text citation; otherwise, use the title. The important thing is for it to be keyed to whatever starts the entry in your Works Cited page.

How can I cite an article without page numbers? (Yevgeniya) There was another question about quoting from an article online that has no page numbers. If there’s a version available that does have page numbers, such as a PDF, I’d recommend using that; otherwise, you should use whatever markers are included in the text. If none are included, then you need to cite the work as a whole. (6.4.2)

Is there a good way to quote a secondary source quoting a primary source?(Yocheved)  In a word, I recommend against it; it’s very awkward to quote a source which is quoting another.  You’re better off quoting them (and citing) them separately. Let’s say I was working with an article in which the author, Gould, writes on page 155:

Indeed, he won’t marry her until “the bridal skirt can be prepared” (54).

If you were thinking of quoting a sentence like this, there is probably a smoother way to work this information into your text. It’s probably best to write a similar sentence of your own and quote Barrie directly. If you really wanted to bring Gould into it, you could write something like the following:

“Gov” refuses to marry “Polly” until “the bridal skirt can be prepared” (54).  Gould underlines this moment in order to show how Crichton reinforces conventional gender norms.

Then you’d go on to paraphrase or quote Gould’s ideas and cite the page when you’d done so.

How can I quote something that happens more than once, on several different pages? Is it okay to make a list? (Coral) In addition to the list, I’d recommend providing a couple of specific instances as examples, but there are also guidelines for citing multiple works in the same citation which I think you could also use for multiple citations from the same work (6.4.9).  Note, however, that the guidelines say that if these citations get too long, they can confuse the reader, and it is sometimes better to put them in a note—possibly the best solution for your problem.

Is it okay to use only one quotation from a source? (Romina) You should use quotations when you need them; you’re under no obligation to cite all your sources equally. Just make sure the quotations you use are doing real work in your argument.

How are citations punctuated? (Frances) Quotations come at the end of quoted material; the citation and any further punctuation are yours.  See 3.7.7 for more.

In-Text Citation (Illustrations, film dialogue, stage directions)

What if I want to include illustrations? (Romina, Erica) The guidelines for this are at 4.5 in the MLA Handbook.  You need to label your illustrations as indicated there (with the word “Fig.”) and the handbook recommends that you put it as close as possible to where it occurs in the text.  Then, include the citation in your Works Cited page, using the guidelines in 5.7.6.

How should stage directions be formatted? (Tom) In MLA, you can quote stage directions the same way you’d quote any other text.  If you’re quoting four lines or more, or if you need multiple lines in your quotation, set it off from the rest of the text like any other long quotation; otherwise, you can just incorporate the stage directions into your sentences.  (3.7.4.)

How can footnotes be cited? (Shifa) I’m assuming the footnote is part of the text, and not a quotation from another source (if a quotation is from another source, you should cite the source from which it originated). 5.5.10 discusses using editor’s notes in the text and can set you on the right track, though it doesn’t address in-text citations directly.

Do other plays require line numbers in citations the way Shakespeare does? (Jane) The idea behind these precise citations is to clarify where you are in the text for works with many editions (and Shakespeare’s plays are a good example). There may be zillions of editions, but if you quote the act, scene and line, people should be able to figure out which line you mean. You’d also do this for other very well-known works, such as the Bible, where you’d cite chapter and verse. Relatedly, you also cite lines for poems. Since the Hellman play is not as widely studied, has fewer editions, and is in prose, name and page should be sufficient, although I suppose you could add the act if you thought your readers would need that to find your quotation (6.4.8).

Works Cited

If only a few pages from an article are cited in a paper, is it still necessary to include the entire page range on the works cited page?  (Alex) The numbers of the pages actually used are indicated in the in-text citations. In the Works Cited page, you don’t need to indicate how much of the text you are using; your goal is to provide your reader with information about the article. List the inclusive pages of the article.

How should the works cited page be formatted? (Lisa) You may want to consult 5.3.2 and 5.3.3, where there are pictures.  Indentations should be hanging. There are guidelines for alphabetization, for those odd cases when you aren’t sure.

What’s the best way to check for errors in the works cited page? (Eleni) It’s hard to do. I’ d recommend checking only a few at a time and trying to use test whether you can access the works you have cited, using only the information you provided.  Prof. Walkden had a better idea: let your research partner check them. It’s easier to see mistakes in other people’s citations than in your own.

How are print and online articles distinguished in the works cited? (Frances) Mostly, you need the same information for each one.  In fact, the handbook describes the requirements by referring back to the requirements for a print article!  If you found an article on the open web, you can use exactly the same rules you would use to cite it in print, only substituting “web” for “print” at the end of the citation, and including the date of access.  If it’s in an online database, it asks that you include the name of the database, presumably because different databases may format things differently. (5.6.3-5.6.4)

Citation Methods

How should multiple sources by the same author be cited? (Saadya) If you do this, include the author’s name and a shortened version of the title in your in-text citation (or the whole title, if it is very short). For the works cited page, you substitute a line for the author’s name in the citation of the second work, to show that the author is the same.  (5.3.4, 6.4.6)

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