Using and Citing Sources (MLA)

I was pleased to be back in the classroom today visiting an ESL class to talk about using and citing sources in MLA style. I am especially enthusiastic about the fact that the References tool in recent versions of Microsoft Word and sites such as EasyBib free students from some of the mechanical labor of citing, so they are free to focus on more important issues of voice, style, and academic honesty. My handout is at, and if it is useful to you, please feel free to use it in your own teaching and learning.

Tracy Mendham – Center for Academic Excellence Franklin Pierce University – April 14, 2011 – Online version of this document at

Using and Citing Sources in your Writing

What is citing and why should students do it?
As you move forward in college, you will be asked to use sources in the essays you write, and to document those sources. Using sources means supporting your ideas with the use of a source–something another person has said or written–and documenting sources means giving credit to that source using a system recognized by your academic discipline. The system you will learn first is called MLA style documentation, which was designed by the Modern Language Association.

Reasons to document:

  1. To show that the material is not your own
  2. To give credit to the original author and show respect for their work
  3. To allow a reader to find a source you have used

(Citing sources is another word for documenting sources.)

Important: In US academic culture, your readers will assume anything you write consists of your own, original thoughts and words unless you specifically indicate otherwise by citing your sources. To fail to cite will mislead your reader and is considered academic dishonesty (that is, plagiarism or cheating).

What is the process for citing sources in your writing?
Whenever you quote, paraphrase, or summarize a source, you must take three main steps:

  1. Indicate where the cited material begins and ends (using quotation marks and/or a signal phrase)
  2. Put an in-text (or parenthetical) citation after the material you have cited which gives the author’s last name and if appropriate, the page number
  3. Whenever you cite a source, provide a corresponding entry in a Works Cited page at the end of your paper. Follow the MLA style to organize the information properly for each entry.

An in-text citation includes the author’s last name (unless it has already been made clear in the sentence) and the page number where you found the words, ideas, or facts. If you have an online source that does not provide page numbers, just leave that part out. If the author is unknown, you can give the title of the work instead of the author’s last name.
What are some examples of correct in-text citations in sentences?
Granny D, also known Doris Haddock, describes walking across the country through harsh conditions (Haddock 4).
As Doris Haddock says, “One can consider things more creatively at such a distance. And old age is no shame in the desert” (4).
On a blog called HackCollege one student writer explains how to communicate correctly with a professor during a crisis: “Make sure that when you are communicating your needs, you completely understand what will be required of you (and of your professors!) when he/she makes an accommodation for your situation. Ask questions if you’re unsure” (Breedlove).
What does a correct Works Cited list look like?

Works Cited

Haddock, Doris, with Dennis Burke. Granny D: You’re Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell. New York: Villard Books, 2003.

Eric, Breedlove. “Guest Post: Communicating Your Crisis.” HackCollege – Student-Powered Lifehacking. 5 Apr. 2011. Web. 14 Apr. 2011.

Where can students find out more information about citing sources correctly?
The Purdue OWL MLA Formatting and Style Guide webpage at
Researching writing guide books such as A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker
Go to and search for a MLA style tutorial:


~ by Tracy on 2011/04/14.

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