When to Document

Writers traditionally provide references for material they quote, paraphrase, or summarize from outside sources. Such documentation is important for two reasons, which can help you decide whether to cite a source.

1. Use a reference note to give credit where credit is due. This is partly a matter of common courtesy. If someone has spent time and effort on an important study and you use that information, a reference note is your way of saying thanks, and of letting readers know about your source's contribution. Beyond considerations of courtesy, however, come considerations of honesty. It's dishonest to take credit for another person's original words or ideas. To do so would be an act of plagiarism. Don't be guilty, even unintentionally, of plagiarism. Always provide an appropriate reference note citing those whose original words and ideas appear in your own writings.

2. Use a reference note to allow readers a first-hand look at materials you've used to develop and support your ideas. A doubtful or skeptical reader may question your statistics or your mention of an important scientific study. A reference citation allows your reader to check up on you, to find the same book or article you used. Sceptical readers can make sure, for instance, that the study was conducted responsibly and that you've presented the results fairly and accurately. Even sympathetic readers may want to access your sources. If they have a genuine interest in your subject, they'll want to learn more. By following up on your sources, they can gain access to your information trail.

What to Document

Keeping the above purposes of documentation in mind will help you decide whether you need a reference note or not. The following guidelines will also help you decide what to document.

1. Use a reference note to identify the source of all material that has been directly quoted. Good writers keep direct quotations to a minimum. Include as few direct quotations from outside sources as possible, and keep them as short as possible. As a general rule, quote directly only when the exact wording of your source is vital to understanding the point under discussion or when your source has said something especially eloquent or memorable. Otherwise, paraphrase the ideas, or in the case of a long passage, summarize the relevant points.

When you use a direct quotation, as when you paraphrase or summarize, introduce it with a running acknowledgment, as in the following example:

This view is clarified by Fritjof Capra, who points out that "once it is seen to be a form of energy, mass is no longer required to be indestructible, but can be translated into other forms of energy" (187).

Here, the writer was especially interested in Capra's use of "translated" and so decided to quote the passage exactly.

2. Use a reference note to identify the source of material that has been paraphrased or summarized. Even though you're not quoting directly but are changing your source's wording and stating the ideas in your own language, you should document your source. You should also document your brief summary of the main points of someone else's longer discussion.

Again, as with direct quotation, introduce summarized or paraphrased material with a running acknowledgment.

Jung believes that one of religion's major functions is to present humanity with a source of allegiance that transcends any individual social or political system. Belief systems that do not reach beyond their immediate socio-political contexts, he refers to as mere creeds (29-31).

According to Erich Fromm, it is through the act of giving that we experience our fullest strength and potency (19).

The first example summarizes the relevant points of a two-page discussion in a few sentences. The second rephrases the main idea from a brief passage and blends it smoothly into the writer's own style. Both examples, however, acknowledge the sources of their concepts.

3. Use a reference note to direct your reader to important background information. If a full appreciation of the point you're making depends on familiarity with another person's work, use a note to direct your readers to that material. Let them see the intellectual foundation on which your essay is built.

One persuasive argument supporting this view of Satan has been offered by C. S. Lewis (203).

Here, the writer wants readers to know there is authoritative support for the writer's viewpoint. While the writer doesn't have time to go into this support, the note tells readers where to find it.

4. Do not use a reference note to document information that is common knowledge, even though you may have found that information in a specific source. That is, if a piece of information is generally known and acknowledged to be true, you don't need to provide documentation, even though the information is new to you:

When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England.

You may have uncovered this information in your research, and you may be able to point out the exact source, but why bother? The information is common knowledge to anyone interested in the period and can be found in any good encyclopedia or British history book. There's no need to document it, anymore than there would be to document the fact that George Washington was the first president of the United States.

How to Document

Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted form of documentation. Different fields of study, different institutions, and even different instructors have their own preferences. The form presented here is that of the Modern Language Association (MLA). It's widely used in universities and professional publications throughout the United States and Canada, and most professors will accept it readily. If you're uncertain, simply ask your instructor if MLA format is acceptable. MLA has decided to encourage in-text (sometimes called parenthetical) documentation, as in the previous examples. This is much more convenient than the old systems of footnoting or endnoting. This new system does require you to make a bibliography (MLA calls it a Works Cited), but that can be done quickly.

Another frequently used documentation style is that of the American Psychological Association (APA). An excellent source of information on both APA and MLA formats, as well as documentation of electronic sources is the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL).

Using In-Text Citations

When you refer to a source, your note should be placed in parentheses at the end of the material you're documenting. Inside the parentheses, place the page number(s) you're referring to and the author's last name, unless you mentioned the name in your running acknowledgment. If more than one work by an author was used, include a shortened title of the work you're citing. For example, if you had used more than one book by Erich Fromm, your note would read as follows:

According to Erich Fromm, it is through the act of giving that we experience our fullest strength and potency (Loving 19).

If you had not mentioned Fromm's name in the running acknowledgment, the entry would look like this:

One psychologist believes that through the act of giving we experience our fullest strength and potency (Fromm, Loving 19).

As you can see, this isn't difficult. Do remember, though, that the parenthetical note shouldn't repeat information from your running acknowledgment.

Making a Works Cited

A Works Cited page gives full publication information for the works cited in your parenthetical notes. A reader who wants to follow up on your references to Erich Fromm, for instance, would find an entry like this:

Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. New York: Harper & Row, 1956.

This lets the reader see everything necessary to locate the book. Of course, a full Works Cited would usually include more than one entry. Some entries might refer to books, others to magazines or professional journals. These entries are arranged in alphabetical order by the author's last name, and multiline entries are set with hanging indents of one half inch. The sample Works Cited below illustrates the basic form to follow:

Works Cited
Capra, Fritjof.  The Tao of Physics.  New York: Bantam Books, 1976.

Fromm, Erich.  The Art of Loving.  New York: Harper & Row, 1956.

_________.  The Sane Society.  New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1955.

Hackett, George.  "The Longest Jump."  Newsweek 15 Aug. 1983: 48.

Jung, C. G.  The Undiscovered Self.  Boston: Little Brown, 1957.

Lewis, C. S.  "Satan."  Milton: Modern Essays in Criticism.  Ed. Arthur E. 

	Barker.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965. 196-204.

"Log Cabin Literary Center." 19 Mar. 1997. <http://www.spaceland.org/lclc/>

	(21 Apr. 1997).

Sledd, James.  "In Defense of the Students' Right."  College English 

	(Nov. 1983): 667-75.

"Steel Bargaining: The Last Chance."  Business Week 17 Jan. 1983: 


Ten Templates

The following examples illustrate some common Works Cited entries. To use them, find the entry that matches your source, then select that entry and copy it to the appropriate place in your own Works Cited. Next, substitute the relevant information in your own source for that in the template entry, being careful to leave the punctuation, capitalization, and spacing unchanged.

The following examples are presented as unbroken lines of text. Due to limitations in the Windows Clipboard, it isn't possible to transfer text exactly as you'll want it in your final Works Cited. Within your word processor, you'll need to 1) make sure italics are correct and 2) set hanging indents for entries that run more than one line.

1. A book with a single author:

 Fromm, Erich.  The Art of Loving.  New York: Harper & Row, 1956.

2. An edition other than the first:

Williams, Joseph. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity & Grace.  2nd ed.  Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman, 1985.

3. A selection in an anthology:

Lewis, C. S.  "Satan."  Milton: Modern Essays in Criticism.  Ed. Arthur E. Barker.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965. 196-204.

4. A WWW page (Note: The first date is the page date, if given. The second is the access date):

"Log Cabin Literary Center." 19 Mar. 1997. <http://www.spaceland.org/lclc/> (21 Apr. 1997).

5. A newspaper article:

"When Good Dogs Go Bad." Plainview Herald 1 Aug. 1993: 1B.

6. An article in a magazine:

Hackett, George.  "The Longest Jump."  Newsweek 15 Aug. 1983: 48.

7. An article in a journal paginated by volume:

Harris, James R.  "Rhetoric of Science."  College English  53 (1991):  282-307.

8. An article in a journal paginated by issue:

Matthews, William.  "Miss Bishop."  The Gettysburg Review  5:1 (1992):  71-72.

9. A personal interview:

Nutley, Delbert.  Personal Interview. 1 Apr. 1993.

10. An article in a dictionary or encyclopedia:

"Goblin."  The Oxford English Dictionary.  1971 ed.  


5.1 Read the following three passages and the publication information for each one. Imagine that you are using the passages as sources in an essay. Show briefly how you would incorporate them into your own writing with a running acknowledgment and parenthetical documentation.

a. Quote all or part of this one:

"Students of chaos theory, which is grounded in mathematics, believe that their emerging discipline is revealing patterns of order deeply embedded in the chaos that seethes all around."

This comes from page 142 of an essay called "Chaos: The Ultimate Asymmetry" by Arthur Fisher. It was published in the anthology, Best Science Writing: Readings and Insights, published by Oryx Press in 1991 in Phoenix. The anthology was edited by Robert Gannon. The essay is on pages 138-157.

b. Paraphrase this one:

"Portable PCs present a double-edged sword: Powerful and capable, they can substitute for a desktop in certain situations but disappoint the general business user in terms of security, expansion, and display technology."

This comes from an article called "The Perfect System" by Winn L. Rosch. It was published in July 1993 in PC Magazine. The quoted passage is on page 124. The article is on pages 123-145.

c. Summarize this one:

"Try different tones: chatty, authoritative, ironic. Try different ways of organizing: starting with the conclusion, building up to it last. Persuade with reasoning, with anecdote. Hide the weak arguments, admit them openly. Try to write it in half the length. Try different formats on the page such as lists or pictures or diagrams."

This comes from page 123 of Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. The book was published in New York in 1981 by Oxford University Press and was written by Peter Elbow.

5.2 Make a Works Cited page that gives complete publication information for each passage you worked with in Activity 5.1.