MLA Citation and Plagiarism
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Citation and Plagiarism
We all know what the “P”
word means, but do we know how to protect ourselves from doing it?
Plagiarism is a form of robbery; it is the stealing of someone else’s words,
ideas, or data without proper documentation.*
Althought there are many different styles for documentation described in
the Bedford Handbook, English students will use the MLA format. Correct
use of the MLA format requires knowledge of two parts:
• In-text citations:
Documenting the pages from which the writer takes information.
• Works Cited page:
Documenting the publishing information of the sources from which the writer
takes information (known in other fields as a bibliography).
You must cite a text if you
• directly quote
a portion of the source (this includes words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs,
data, graphs, and images).
• summarize part
of the source (this includes concepts, arguments, data, graphs, and images).
MLA direct in-text
citations appear in two forms, both of which require you to provide the
page numbers where the information is located:
• In-text quotes—-Quotes
that are three or less typewritten lines long are placed within quotation
marks. You are required to place the source’s page number in parenthesis
within the punctuation of the sentence in which the quotation appears.
Directly quoting from a text is
easy compared to summarizing. To avoid plagiarism when summarizing a source
or introducing a source (where some summary may occur), a good guide to
follow is the three word rule. DO NOT USE THREE OR MORE WORDS OF
SUBSTANCE IN YOUR SUMMARY THAT ARE ALSO IN YOUR SOURCE (subjects, predicates,
and adjectives are the easiest to avoid). Summarize the source without
the page in front of you, putting the idea or ideas that the author is
attempting to communicate in your own words. Summaries require you
to place the page number(s) of the text being summarized in parenthesis
within the summary sentence’s punctuation. No matter how many sentences
make up your summary, clearly define its beginning and end: a lead-in at
the beginning and a page number at the end.
• Block quotes—-Quotes
that are four or more typewritten lines long must be indented one inch
from the left-hand margin and reproduced as close to the way they appear
in the original text as possible. Page numbers are placed within
parenthesis that are outside of the block quote’s punctuation
The most important technique
to remember when integrating a quote into your essay is the idea of making
“quote sandwiches.” A quote must always have a few things on either
side of it in order for it to work in your paper. It should always
start with a “lead-in”—an introduction to the author and title of the source
(so that the reader may know where these words are coming from).
The lead-in may also give a brief introduction as to why this text is important
to the topic at hand or why this source should be viewed as authoritative
on the subject. On the other side of the quote must always be the
page number and a “reading” of the quote. Do not expect the reader
to get out of the quote what you are getting out of it. You need
to explain how this quote is directly related to your argument and moves
your argument along. What comes after the quote is the most important
thing you have to say about that quote for that particular paper.
Here is a sample of text from
Madeline Levine’s essay “Media and the Adolescent”:
Evil has its attractions—from fire-breathing dragons and evil step-mothers
to serial killers; people at all ages are interested in the darker aspects
of humanity. This is because we all carry within ourselves thoughts
and fantasies that are cruel and violent. It is naïve and dangerous
to deny the duality of human nature. But it is the socializing agents
of society—family, school, religious institutions, and mass media—that
are charged with the responsibility of helping children and adolescents
understand and control their aggressive impulses. (359)
Which of the following examples
of student summaries are plagiarizing from Levine’s essay? Why or
Levine argues that evil is attractive to people of all ages
because it is a basic part of human nature; people who believe otherwise
are just being naïve. Levine also feels, however, that it is
the socializing institutions of society, including the mass media, that
need to encourage adolescents to control their aggressive impulses (359).
In her essay Levine argues that, even though humanity has a
tendency towards evil, it is the duty of the entertainment industry not
to encourage anti-social behavior in adolescents (359).
Although both examples are clearly
defined by a brief lead-in on one side and a page number on the other,
Student 1, uses more than three words of substance (“evil,” “attractive,”
“nature,” “naïve,” “socializing,” “institutions,” and “aggressive
impulses”). Student 2 chooses his or her words very carefully, using
only key terms that would be unavoidable in for his or her essay (such
as “adolescents” and “evil”).
Remember: summaries are
a good technique to use when you want to quickly share large amounts of
complex information without taking up too much space in your paper for
a lengthy quotation. Summaries can also be used to communicate information
that needs to be translated into prose: data from graphs, statistical listings,
or images. It is, however, a very difficult technique to use well,
due to the double danger of either committing plagiarism (not putting the
source into your own words) or choosing unclear or incorrect words to summarize
the text (words that might share denotative but not connotative meanings
with the original phrase). While summarizing is very useful, direct
quotes are the best way to go in most situations. They show a mastery
of the given text and an ability to choose the best quote for your particular
The following paragraphs show
how all three of these methods can interrelate within the idea of the quote
sandwich. Please note that this is not an example of how many quotes
you are expected to use per paragraph—this is an example of the correct
punctuation and format of quotations that may appear on a page (NB that the indention
of the block quote appears odd because of the html. MLA block quotes are
ALWAYS one inch from the left hand margin. Do not also indent block
Madeline Levine’s “Media and the Adolescent”
is missing a word in its title. Although Levine’s title and thesis
clearly state that this is a discussion about the “role of media and their
effects on adolescents,” her true focus is really on male teenagers (357).
Providing very little information on female adolescents, this essay would
be better entitled “Media and the Male Adolescent.”
Levine’s attempt at including teenage girls
in her study is rather poor. She does discuss My So-Called Life on
two separate occasions while suggesting that the show’s portrayal of its
central character as a virgin is the sort of encouragement adolescents
need (360). However, the remainder of the essay focuses primarily
on adolescent males. As Levine notices, the male viewers do not receive
the sort of educational experience they need from most forms of media entertainment:
Although Levine does admit that not all of the “social ills” of American
youths are caused by the media, she views the representation of male role
models as a link in the chain of adolescent male violence (357).
Levine charges her parental readers to do something about this phenomenon:
“At the very least, we must work to ensure that our teenage boys understand
that such attitudes and behavior are reprehensible” (364). Whether
or not Levine is truly concerned about female adolescents remains a mystery.
Boys desperately need a wider range of male models, some of
whom incorporate the more traditional female values of cooperation and
sensitivity. It would be of great benefit for adolescent boys to
see male characters who are attractive without being violent. Unfortunately
male characters who are presented as gentle are frequently also portrayed
as defective or crazy as in Edward Scissorhands or Don Juan Demarco. (363)
Works Cited Page
A works cited page provides
an alphabetized list of all the texts an essay uses in its argument.
It should be the last page of your paper and have a centered title of “Work
Cited” or “Works Cited” depending on how many texts you are citing (if
only one text, the former; if two or more, the latter). See the Bedford
Handbook Online for a specific example of the “Works Cited”
page format. Below I have included the most basic formats for citing
sources. Note that all of the main titles are either italicized
or underlined and that the first line of each entry is lined up
with the left-hand margin. Every following line of the entry must
be indented half an inch (I emphasize that here because I can't necessarily
show that in the webpage below....see the online handbook above for people who
can actually generate a webpage that looks correct.) The
under the heading “Work in an Anthology”:
For all other formats and
questions, please consult The
Bedford Handbook Online, and its listing of MLA formats.
Basic Book Format
Author’s name. Title.
Location of publication: Publisher, Year published.
Woods, Jim. The Women’s
Workplace: American Employment and Gender in the Next Millennium.
New York: Penguin, 2000.
Work in an Anthology
Author’s name. “Title
of Essay.” Title of Anthology. Editor(s). Edition.
Location of publication: Publisher, Year published.
Levine, Madeline. “Media
and the Adolescent.” The Blair Reader. Ed. Laurie G.
Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. 3rd ed. Upper
Prentice Hall, 1999. 357-365.
as much information they give you
Author’s name. “Article’s
title.” Journal title Volume.issue (Month Year): Page
Little, Sarah. “The Benefits
of Single Sex Schooling on Women’s Psychological Development.” Psychology
Quarterly 34.2 (Spring
(includes LexisNexis and Expanded Academic)
Author’s name. “Article’s
title.” Journal title Vol.issue (Month Year): Page numbers.
Date of access. <shortened web address>
Fort, Jennifer. “The Politics
of Dance: Gender in the Performance Arts.” Performative
Discourse 13.1 (Jan 1998): 36+. 14 April
Carla. “Giving Women
a Sporting Chance: Title IX and Women’s Collegiate Athletics.”
and Athletics 4 (1999): 29-38. 13
April 2000 <http://web7.infotrac.galegroup.com>•
sites (includes personal
or professional sites)
Author's name (if known).
of Site. Name of Editors. Date of publication or
most recent update. Name of Sponsers. Date of access. <shortened
Arts: Magic and the Unknown in Postmodern Culture. September
13, 2003. University of Delaware. September
15, 2003 <http://www.english.udel.edu/kharbot/engl110f03.html>
Also check out the Bedford's
Paper to get an idea of what the overall paper should look like.
aware that you do not need to cite common knowledge: material that
you find again and again as you do your research or your readings.
Diana Hacker in her Rules for Writers (New York: St. Martin’s P,
1988) spells out the policy:
As a rule, when you have seen
certain facts repeatedly in your reading, you don’t need to cite them.
On the other hand, when they have appeared in only one or two sources or
when they are controversial, you should cite them. If a topic is
new to you and you are not sure what is considered common knowledge or
what facts are a matter of controversy, ask someone with expertise.
When in doubt, cite the source. (388-89)
Always protect yourself.
If you are not certain about whether or not the information you’re using
is common knowledge, cite it!