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Waltonen, inspired by Westgate, 1 updated July 2018

Essay Format: The Conventions of Academic Writing (MLA)


Basic MLA Paper Format: All out-of-class work must be typed and must follow this format—
or you’ll lose at least 1/3rd of a letter grade.
(Note that MLA formatting has recently updated to the 8th edition—please use this updated
version.)
HOW THE ESSAY LOOKS
1. Double-space your entire essay uniformly.
2. Use a 1-inch margin all around, not the default 1.25.
3. Use a 12-pt or so standard font (such as Times New Roman—like this). Your font should be
one size and one color (and one font, of course) throughout. (Cutting and pasting often
screws this up). PS--Giant fonts will not make your paper reach the page limit.
4. Put your name, my name, the class, and the date in the upper left hand corner of the first
page. I would also like the word count. This should not be a running header. Double space
uniformly, as noted above. This information should start one inch from the top.
5. Number your pages—this should be in the running header, with your last name. Running
headers are within the 1” margin, not below it.
6. You may print double-sided. (This is an exception to MLA rules.)
7. Only justify the left margin—the right margin should have a jagged edge.
Incorrect: The X-Files combines a modernist hero, who believes “the truth is out there,” despite
the mechanisms veiling it from him, with a postcolonial fear of the alien and what happens when
Correct: The X-Files combines a modernist hero, who believes “the truth is out there,” despite
the mechanisms veiling it from him, with a postcolonial fear of the alien and what happens when
8. No double double spacing between paragraphs. Indent the first line—be uniform in amount.
9. Use one space between sentences. Do not put extra spaces between your words or around
punctuation marks. If I mark EF9, you have either an extra space between sentences, an extra
space before a piece of punctuation like a comma or an open parenthesis, or a missing space
between words.
 In other words , donot do this(Waltonen 1) .
MISC
10. Write out numbers that only take one or two words to say (fifteen, one million). Do not write
out all other numbers, or numbers with %, $, etc., or when giving a page number in a
parenthetical.
 I have 187 problems with season eight of Doctor Who; however, I only love it 10% less
than season one.
11. Only two types of words are capitalized: those that begin a sentence and proper nouns.
12. Avoid using “you” or “your” in academic writing; it’s considered too informal—too much
like slang. Write in either the first person (“I” or “we”) or the third person (“one” or “they”),
unless you have a very good reason to use second person.
PUNCTUATION
Waltonen, inspired by Westgate, 2 updated July 2018

13. Semicolons are sometimes used in place of periods between two closely related independent
clauses; you do not have to use them; it’s a stylistic choice. Do not use semicolons to
separate an independent clause from a dependent clause; that’s what commas are for, like the
one I just used.
Correct: sentence; sentence. Incorrect: sentence; fragment.
I slept; I also had nightmares. I slept; although I should have been studying.
14. Hyphens are not dashes. A hyphen makes a compound word: step-father. A dash works as a
conjunction—you create one by using two hyphens. Do not add extra spaces before/after a
hyphen—if you add spaces around a dash (or not), be consistent through the document.
USING AND CITING SOURCES
15. Punctuate correctly with quotes and citations.
a. When punctuating a quotation without a parenthetical reference, put the punctuation
inside the closing quotation mark.1
 The letter from the eight clergymen is reduced to paltry writing and dubious reasoning
when compared to King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
b. When punctuating a quotation with a parenthetical reference, put the closing quotation
mark before the parenthesis and the punctuation (usually a period) after the parenthesis.
c. Please note the long quote exception for punctuation (a long quote is something over four
lines—look up how to do it).
d. We use commas after a signal word like “argues” but not when the quote is integrated
without a signal phrase. (See A8 and B8 on The Punctuation Sheet.)
e. We do NOT use a comma or period at the end of the quote before the parenthetical--
EVER. See the correct punctuation in the example below. “Quote.” (citation)
f. Be correct with your punctuation inside the parenthetical as well. There are no commas
between author and page number in MLA.
 As he argues, “King’s frequent use of allusion implies that he and his readers share a
common heritage” (Anderson 691).
g. When quoting a passage that includes a quote, use single quotes (‘‘) inside the double
quotes.2
 Mia Klein Anderson’s “The Other Beauty of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from
Birmingham Jail’” examines the music of King’s prose.
h. Occasionally, you must alter a quote to have it make sense in your paper. This may
include fixing grammar that was faulty in the original, altering verb tense to have your
sentence stay grammatical with the quote, or providing necessary information for a
complete understanding of the quote. (If you want to leave a mistake in your essay, put
“sic” in brackets after the mistake.) Quotes should never be altered in a way that disrupts
the original meaning of the quotation. Brackets are used to show that you’ve altered the
quote. See below for an example: the sentence used to start with “He’s so self-centered.”

1
Brits put it outside.
2
Be consistent in the font and style of your apostrophes and quotation marks—use curly OR straight throughout.
Waltonen, inspired by Westgate, 3 updated July 2018

i. Ellipses are used when condensing a long quote—they can remove any number of
words.3
 As Marge once complained, “[Homer’s] so self-centered. He forgets birthdays,
anniversaries, holidays—both religious and secular—he chews with his mouth open, [. .
.] I guess that’s it. Oh no, wait. He kicks me in his sleep and his toenails are too long—
and yellow” (“War of the Simpsons”).
16. When discussing literature or non-fiction, you should generally summarize in present tense.
Use past tense for flashbacks.
 As David Sedaris argues, “Sometimes the sins you haven’t committed are all you have
left to hold onto.”
17. Format titles correctly.
a. Don’t underline, italicize, bold, enlarge, or put your own title into quotation marks.
b. When referring to short works use quotation marks, but italicize the titles of longer
works. Think about it this way: an article, not publishable on its own, will go into
quotation marks. The website, journal, or newspaper where the article is published will be
underlined or italicized.
 King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is an example of not only great persuasion but also
of great beauty. His tone resembles that of the wise Prospero in The Tempest.
Underline/Italicize Put in Quotation Marks
Book Chapter or Essay
Album Song
Journal Article
TV show An episode of the TV show
Film Film scene
Play Play act
Main blog page/main website page One blog post/one subpage
c. Title your paper with a fresh, interesting title relevant to the subject of your essay. Center
the title, but do not put extra spaces above or below it.
d. Do not put titles (yours or other people’s) into all caps (even if the internet does);
however, capitalize the first letter of key words, even if your source did not. Do not put a
period at the end of your title.
e. When citing, do not list the title twice in the same entry on the works cited/reference
page.
18. Should you use another person’s words or ideas, you must cite him/her as a source. Failure to
use citation style properly will lower your paper’s grade—from 1/3-1 letter.4 Cite whenever
you refer to another work—not just when you quote. Always give page numbers when
referencing a print (or PDF with page numbers) source. Note there are special rules for citing
Shakespeare and The Bible—look them up.

3
In MLA, you may put either an episode title or the director’s last name in the parenthetical. You must be consistent
throughout the document and on the works cited, though.
4
A failure of citation that leads to plagiarism will mean a zero on the paper.
Waltonen, inspired by Westgate, 4 updated July 2018

If I point you to this rule, it usually means you’re only citing when you quote, which is not
enough.
19. Set up your source fully (giving the full author name, the title of the piece, who this person
is, etc.) the first time you use it.5 Do this in the sentence, not the parenthetical citation.
 David Levy, author of Love and Sex with Robots, explains that John Bowlby, a
developmental psychologist, first developed the theory of maternal deprivation and later
our now widely accepted attachment theories of attachment in 1970s and 1980s (Levy
30).6
20. When referring to another author in your writing after the initial set up, refer to him/her by
his/her last name.
 Levy uses attachment theory to argue that we will be able to grow romantically attached
to our technology as adults if we are surrounded by it as children (Levy 30).
21. Quotes should never stand alone—that is, they should be integrated into your writing. In
other words, a quotation should never be used as a complete sentence by itself. “Like if I
used a quote here, like this, it would be wrong.” (The following example assumes Grote and
his work have been introduced previously in the essay.)7
 Thus, when Grote maintains that “[topical] allusions have almost disappeared” or that
sitcoms don’t reference their own episodes (95), he wasn’t envisioning the postmodern
satire that is The Simpsons.
22. Contextualize the quote/paraphrase/summary—we should know how the original author was
using the words/ideas & how you’re applying them to your work. See 21—I’m arguing
against him. When you use a quote, you want to comment on it, so the reader understands
how it relates to your argument. Do you not, however, just paraphrase the quote—trust your
reader to be able to read what you can read. Repetition of an idea in your own words is not
commentary or analysis.
23. Do not take the original author’s words/ideas out of context.
24. Be clear about whose ideas are whose—I should never wonder. In other words, tell me when
you start using a source, and use a citation when you stop. See 21—the part after the citation
is my comment on him. Note that the citation comes after I’m done summarizing him—not
just when I’m done quoting him. (See rule 18.)
If I mark this one, it usually means that I don’t know when you start using your source OR
that you just put the citation at the end of a quote, instead of acknowledging that you
summarized or paraphrased your source after the quote ended.
25. Do not use a paraphrase that is too close to the original. You may either quote or
paraphrase/summarize, but you may not mix and match. Only quotes go into quotation
marks.

5
If the first time you mention someone’s name is in a citation, do not use the full name—only last names go into
parenthetical citations. Of course, you shouldn’t have this problem—because you should set up your source.
6
This sheet does not give instructions on exactly how to cite; however, please note that MLA in-text citations
NEVER use the year of publication.
7
Essays should also stand alone—they shouldn’t sound like answers to questions. I should be able to read your
essay and understand it without the prompt.
Waltonen, inspired by Westgate, 5 updated July 2018

26. Understand what type of source you’re using & cite it correctly—e.g., don’t mistake a single-
author book’s chapter with a chapter in an edited collection; etc. Don’t say “n.p.” “n.pag.” or
“n.d.” for a source that does indeed have a publisher, pages, and/or dates, respectively.
27. When quoting, you sometimes run across words the author has italicized, or you may need to
italicize for emphasis—you must specify which is the case. In the case of author’s italics, the
phrase is “original emphasis.”
 I laughed when I heard him say, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”
(Clinton qtd. in Time, emphasis mine).
28. Make sure your sources are reliable, valid, and allowed by the paper prompt/instructor.
29. Put all your cited sources on the Works Cited page, including your primary8 source.9 The
listings on these pages are the end-text citations.
30. Make sure all the sources on the Works Cited page are actually cited in the essay.
31. If there is no personal author, your source likely has a corporate/entity author. Put that
organization/school/government agency, etc. in the author position in the in-text and
end citations. (If your source has no identifiable author, why would you use it?) Exception:
dictionaries (OED) and encyclopedias (Wikipedia, WebMD) do not have listings in the
author position.
 America is not in the top five countries for life expectancy (World Health Organization).
32. If you have multiple authors for a source, look up how to cite them properly.
33. If you have multiple works by the same author, look up how to cite them properly.
34. Use hanging/reverse indentation on your Works Cited page. Do not hit enter and then tab to
do this—I’ve shown you how to do it correctly in the video. Double space.
Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts. Pandora,

1994.

35. Alphabetize the works on the Works Cited page. Do not number the sources.
36. If using a source that uses its own sources, be clear about whether you’re doing an indirect
quotation, summary, or paraphrase. See 27 for an example of indirect quotation.
37. Make sure your in-text and end-text citations match exactly. E.g., if you say (CDC), then you
should list CDC as the author in the end-text citation, not Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention.
38. Avoid relying too heavily on one secondary source—this usually means you don’t have
original ideas and/or that you didn’t do enough research.

8
Primary sources are speeches, novels, data, the first study, etc. Secondary sources are writings about those sources
(the newspaper article about the speech, the essay about the novel, the science article about the study or the data,
etc.).
9
Title it Work Cited if there’s only one work.
Waltonen, inspired by Westgate, 6 updated July 2018

39. If your essay is classified as a research essay or a literature review and you cite all of the
sources you find, then you probably didn’t do enough research. Intensive research for a
project always involves finding way more than you can or should actually use.
40. Do not cite from cheat sites (cliffnotes, sparknotes, etc.) or from other undergraduates whose
work has not been evaluated (in fact, don’t use these at all—they’re cheat sites). Some
teachers require that all students post their essays as blogs—so that information is up there
whether the basic information is correct or not. Do not trust it. On the other hand, student
essays in publications like Prized Writing have been judged worthy of your consideration.

Exercise: Find the errors in these sentences.10


In her article Karma quotes “ [though] Starfleet has made a commitment not to interfere with
other cultures or with history, the characters in Star Trek routinely find themselves in situations
where they must disturb both [of their main directives], (Waltonen 1)” One on- line source lists
several paradoxes-such as the grandfather paradox—inherent in time travel(“Time Travel.”)

10 Spell/grammar check didn’t find any; however, there are twelve.

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