It might be
hard sometimes, but it does
not have to
be. There are a few rules that you need to know, and they will help make
citing your sources easy and fun.
Check our other handouts for details on the
citing your sources. As for the
Why do I need to cite sources?
you write an essay that uses outside sources (e.g., a research paper or a
literary analysis), you need to acknowledge those sources properly. This is
very important for several reasons. First, you have an ethical
responsibility to give credit to sources. Also, if you fail to do so, you
have committed plagiarism, a very serious academic offense which can result
in expulsion for students or a loss of credibility for professionals. In
addition, you should acknowledge your sources for the benefit of your
reader, who might want to look up an interesting source or who might simply
be curious to know where you got your information.
What should I cite?
should cite all information that comes from outside sources, whether you
quote it directly, paraphrase it (put it entirely in your own words), or
summarize it. You should not only cite statistics or facts; also cite ideas,
arguments, and other thought processes. In a research paper, for example,
you will cite everything that you gained from sources, but you will not cite
your own comments, ideas, experiences, etc. It is not necessary to cite
"common knowledge"--the type of basic, factual information that appears in
multiple sources (such as undisputed historical facts.)
How do I know what format to use when citing
different formats exist. Nobody memorizes all the details of any one format;
instead, scholars learn to look up the details in handbooks. The MLA format
is always used in our English department, and many of NOVA's professors
across the disciplines will approve of MLA for your papers in their classes.
However, do not assume that MLA format is always appropriate. For example,
your psychology professor might prefer the APA (American Psychological
Association) style, while your history professor might prefer Turabian. Be
sure to ask your professor for guidance. And remember: the OWL has lots of
What are the Basics
of MLA formatting?
are using MLA format, you should acknowledge your sources by using
parenthetical citations and by including a Works Cited page at the end of
your paper. The parenthetical citations usually include the author's last
name and the page number(s) of the quotation or the information. (If the
source does not have an author's name, the citation should include a key
word from the title.) The purpose of the citation is to provide a link for
the reader back to the Works Cited page. For example, let's say that I am
intrigued by a quotation in your paper. The citation will give me a name and
page number, so that I can then turn back to your Works Cited page, look for
a listing by that name, and see all of the bibliographic information for
that source. Now I can find that source easily, turn immediately to the
proper page, and start reading.
How do I write a works cited page?
Basically, the Works Cited page is an alphabetical listing of all the
sources that are cited in your paper. (The entries are alphabetized
according to the first word that appears--usually the author's last name,
but sometimes a title.) MLA gives a rigid format for how you should arrange
each entry. The entries are different for all different types of sources,
including books, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, television shows, and
interviews. Refer to the MLA WORKS CITED PAGE handout here on the OWL, and
follow the instructions exactly; this handout will show you what information
to include, what order to put it in, and how to punctuate it.