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The Writing Center

Documentation

 
 

In the course of your writings, you will often be called upon to research or otherwise incorporate someone else's thoughts or ideas into your own work either directly or indirectly. On such occasions, it is important that you accurately and properly document your sources.

There are many different methods of documenting sources, but the ones you will most frequently be called upon to use in your academic work are MLA and APA. Properly citing is not difficult. It is simply a matter of looking up the format for a particular source and then plugging in the right information in the correct order, with the appropriate punctuation.

When you use research in your writing, you need to document it in two ways: internally and externally. Internally means that you give a parenthetical reference to the source in the body of the essay. External citations are compiled in either a works cited or a reference page on which you provide comprehensive publication information for your sources. For more help with research see Evaluating Sources.

As you learn and practice integrating quotes in your work, keep in mind the following guidelines:

  1. Never allow a quote to replace your own ideas.
  2. Always use quotes to support, enhance, and explain your own ideas.
  3. Never assume a quote is self-explanatory.
  4. Always set up your quote, introducing the author and work in the set-up whenever possible.
  5. Always make an explicit connection between the quote and your ideas. Make it clear to your reader why the quote is important enough to be included in your essay.
  6. The reader should never have to make these connections on his own.
  7. Never use quotes as fillers.
  8. Always quote accurately. When you are editing your essay, double-check the quote to ensure it has been copied EXACTLY. 

For example:

Two weeks ago, when I first walked into my composition class, my whole being was filled with dread. The words "six thousand graded words" reverberated like a death sentence in my ears. I've always hated writing. And if the poor grades I've historically received on my papers are an indicator, I'm not very good at it either. I'm always desperately trying to reach a minimum word count, using quotes as filler, and wondering if my modifiers are dangling. I don't know why I worry, though. It's not as if I know how to undangle them. The point is all the rules scare me and worrying about them keeps me from focusing on what it is I have to say. It turns out though that writing is a process and that there is a difference between the essay and good academic writing. It also turns out that the way I've been approaching writing, by its very nature sets me up to fail. I'm learning now that I need to concentrate first on what I have to say and second on how I say it. In his book, The Essay, Paul Heilker writes that the essay "does not try to prove a point. It does not try to persuade the reader" (89). This idea completely contradicts what I've always been taught about writing. Every writing teacher I've ever had has told me that I need to have a thesis before I start a paper, yet it isn't until afterI've written a paper that I seem to have any sense of what I'm really trying to say. Scott Russell Sanders explains that the essay is "a record of the individual mind at work and play," and that essays are "experiments in making sense of things" (qtd. in Heilker 89). I'm finding that essaying gives me the freedom to play with words and ideas without worrying about form. Indeed, I'm finding that this concept of essaying may cause me to reevaluate my whole notion of writing.

Work Cited

Heilker, Paul. The Essay. Urbana: NCTE, 1996.