Questions on Citation


Question: (From an N.C. State undergraduate): How do you cite sources from the Internet in a bibliography?

Answer: There is no broad-based agreement on standard citation form for this "exceedingly complex, fluid, and rapidly expanding field of source material" (Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed., p. 634. I love this phrase. It drips with excuses.).

In general, however, a writer is always well-advised to keep citation simple, consistent, and sufficiently complete that the original source is retrievable. The principle of retrievability is important. Ask yourself this: If you wanted to retrieve a cited Internet source, what kind of information would you need? Most people would answer this way: I'd need the URL! Ah. That's the clue.

There are Internet sources that discuss Internet citation. The most comprehensive of these is Janice R. Walker's site at the University of South Florida. The citation style she recommends is endorsed by the Alliance for Computers and Writing, and is the style preferred by the Modern Language Association.

Here, with what seem to me to be some sensible editorial emendations, is the basic format:

Author's Last Name, Author's First Name.
"Title of Document." Title of Complete Work [if applicable].
Version or file number [if applicable].
Document date or date of last revision [if different from date of access].
Access protocol and address, access path, or directories.
(Date of access).

This format generates the following bibliographic citation to Janice Walker's page:

Walker, Janice R. "MLA-Style Citations of Electronic Sources." Aug. 1996.
http://www.cas.usf.edu/english/walker/mla.html. (25 Feb. 1996).


Question: I am writing an English paper in which I am using parenthetical documentation. I have two consecutive sentences where I am quoting stuff off of the same page of a short story. Do I need to cite the author's name and page number after each sentence, or do I put it just at the end of the second sentence?

Answer: Scholarly documentation exists as a help to the reader. If your two quotations are clearly from the same source, only one citation is necessary. In general, a standard might be: Use only one citation if your two quotations are in the same paragraph.


Question: I'm in "Works Cited" using MLA. The book I'm citing is one of a series of volumes produced by Time-Life with each volume covering one decade of this century. The title page shows This Fabulous Century by the editors of Time-Life. A later page identifies Jerry Korn as the editor of all T-L books and Ezra Bowen as the editor of the series along with a list of technical talent--all in small type as if to minimize the role of each individual.

My citation is:

Time-Life. This Fabulous Century. New York: Time-Life, 1970.

If the above looks very bad, I can bend it to:

Bowen, Ezra. This Fabulous Century. New York: Time-Life, 1970.

Or even:

Time-Life, Eds. This. . . .

I believe it was the intention of Time-Life not to credit this book to an editor. The DH Hill index does not credit this book.

In your opinion, what constitutes a good citation?

Answer: In my opinion, a good citation organizes its elements to ensure easy retrievability of the base source. I doubt that the citation styles you are considering satisfy this commonsense criterion. For one thing, you have not pointed the reader to the appropriate volume, which, of course, is crucial. It is, I suspect, the volume you should be citing; not the series.

I recommend following The Chicago Manual of Style 15.143. The usual method is to cite the volume title first. You do this if the individual volumes are shelved in a library by subject. This might generate:

The 1960s: What Were We Thinking? Vol. 6 of This Fabulous Century. New York: Time-Life, 1970.

Adding the series editor would generate:

The 1960s: What Were We Thinking? Vol. 6 of This Fabulous Century, edited by Ezra Bowen. New York: Time-Life, 1970.

An alternative form is to cite the series title first. You might choose to do this if the series is ordinarily shelved in a library all in one place. This would generate:

This Fabulous Century. Vol. 6, The 1960s: What Were We Thinking? New York: Time-Life, 1970.

Adding the series editor would generate:

This Fabulous Century, edited by Ezra Bowen. Vol. 6, The 1960s: What Were We Thinking? New York: Time-Life, 1970.


Question (From a Technician reporter): When you are taking a definition out of the dictionary, is it necessary to cite the source and put the definition in quotation marks?

Answer: Yes, if you're quoting directly, you have to give your source and indicate what you're quoting. The citation requirement is why this format is generally considered poor form in news writing.


Question (From an N.C. State undergraduate): In the body of a research paper, how should I handle a reference to a quote in a motion picture? E.g.: "A dream to some, a nightmare to others!" said Merlin in Excalibur. Should the parenthetical reference contain the name of the character, the character's actor, the producer, the scriptwriter, or the name of the movie? Is a date necessary? What should I do? It's not in MLA (my edition, anyway).

Answer: According to the Chicago Manual of Style:

The many varieties of visual (and audiovisual) materials now available render futile any attempt at universal rulemaking. The nature of the material, its use to the researcher listing it, and the facts necessary to find (retrieve) it should govern the substance of any bibliographic citation to it.

This explains the cowardice of the MLA in not addressing this issue.

Fortunately, the Chicago Manual is of heartier stock. It gives five examples of citation forms for various visual materials. As far as I can tell, the model for citing Excalibur is one of the following:

Wolff, L. (producer). Rock-a-bye Baby. New York: Time-Life Films, 1971.

China: An End to Isolation? 16mm, 25 min. 1970. Distributed by ACI Films, New York.

The second of these formats is clearly superior as a source for the parenthetical reference, which, in my opinion, need not include anything but film title and date. Try to work the character's name into the run of text.

Many writers forget that reference apparatus actually has a use. Make a commonsense decision, and follow Chicago's rhetorical advice. Remember what use you made of it, and give enough information to help your reader retrieve it.


Question (From an N.C. State undergraduate): I am writing a paper for one of my classes in which I am using some quotes from the following newspaper article: "NAFTA: Free trade bought and undersold," by: Paul Blustein, Washington Post, Monday, Sept. 30, 1996; Page A01. E.g.: "NAFTA's effect on the U.S. economy was relatively modest . . ." (Fill in the blanks here!!)

What do I put in the parenthetical citation? Do I need the author's name, the newspaper name, or both?

Answer: According to the Chicago Manual of Style, "In the author-date system, citations to items in daily newspapers are made in running text and are usually not listed individually in the reference list."

I recommend following this style, which will involve incorporating the bibliographic information into the text. If for some reason this is impractical, you can put the author's last name and the date of the article into parentheses and add a bibliographic reference, which will read:

Blustein, Paul. "NAFTA: Free trade bought and undersold." Washington Post 30 Sept. 1996 (edition, if available).

If you know what style you are supposed to be following, you can follow the link from the Online Writing Lab homepage to guidelines for citation in MLA or APA style.


Question From an N.C. State graduate student): If quoted material within a sentence is a complete sentence, should the first word be capitalized?

If a man says "You're really a great person,"

-or-

If a man says "you're really a great person,"

Answer: Capitalize the first letter of the quote. Syntactic dependency runs in two directions. In the example you give, the clause needs the completion of its direct object quotation more than the quotation needs its introductory clause. The rule is to capitalize the first letter if the quotation is not syntactically dependent on the rest of the sentence.

For a complete discussion of this subject, you might want to look at The Chicago Manual of Style, section 10.12 in the "Quotations" chapter "Initial Capital or Lowercase." Here's an extract of what it says, in case you don't have ready access to the manual:

When a quotation is used as a syntactical part of a sentence, it begins with a lowercase letter, even though the original is a complete sentence beginning with a capital:

Benjamin Franklin admonishes us to "plough deep while sluggards sleep."

With another aphorism, he reminded his reader that "experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other"--an observation as true today as then.

But when the quotation is not syntactically dependent on the rest of the sentence, the initial letter is capitalized. Note also the punctuation in the following:

As Franklin advised, "Plough deep while sluggards sleep."

With another aphorism, "Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other," he puts his finger on a common weakness of mankind.

His aphorism "Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other" is a cogent warning to men of all ages.

The sentences that concern you are of the type of the very last of these examples.


Question (From an N.C. State undergraduate): When you use "through" in a title, is it capitalized?

Answer: "Through" is a preposition. It's a long preposition, but it's a preposition nonetheless. Lowercase it in a title unless it is the first or last word. If it is the first or last word, capitalize it.


Question 1 (From a graduate student writing a dissertation): I have two questions: In a particular paragraph I have just quoted information contained in the footnotes of an article. I'm using MLA parenthetical documentation formats. What is the order of information that would appear in the parenthesis? What abbreviations would be used, if any?

Answer: Since the format is not specified by the MLA Style Manual, you need to rely on first principles of bibliography and ask yourself how much information you need to provide to ensure retrievability. I recommend simply inserting the letters "fn" after the page number. If it comes up again, remember to handle the same type of citation consistently.

Question 2: On page 184 in the 1985 version of the MLA Style Manual, there's a bibliographic note form that I'm using. It's the one where you only give the author(s) last name(s) and page numbers, if citing specific parts of a text,, but you leave all publication info for the Works Cited List.

My question is this: if I have an evaluative note about some information in a source, and I identify the writer and the text, should I just go ahead and use the writer's full name and fully identify the text (by title)? MLA is absolutely no help on this, and I will never ever use this style manual again.

Answer: This question is very revealing. Dissertation writers don't start pulling out their hair by the roots about problems on this level until they are two days past being finished with their dissertations. In short, my guess is: You don't need another style manual, you need a stapler. You're done.

But to answer your question: The reason the style manual has failed you is that your question is not really about citation, it is about run of text. A discursive note needs to be handled like run of text. Forget the fact that this is a footnote. If you elevated this passage to the text, would you use the writer's full name and the title of the text? If you would, you should also do so in the note. On the other hand, if you would have offered only last name of author and page number in the text, you may follow the same format in the note.

The author/date citation form specifies the minimum amount of information that must be offered to make the source retrievable. It does not prohibit the author from giving more information in the run of text.


Question: This is not exactly grammar, but close. I know the answer is in the MLA Handbook, but I can't find it.

I'm including a block quote in a paper. Itís more than four lines long. At the end of the quote, I want to cite the source. But I'm not sure if a comma belongs in the citation. Here's two examples.

Example 1: Biblio contains only one book by the author.

. . .quote ends here. (Author Page#)

Example 2: Biblio contains more than one book by the same author.

. . .quote ends here. (Author Book Title Page #)

What I'd like to know is if a comma belongs after either Author or after Book Title?

Answer: I'm not much of a fan of MLA style, but I can't deny that a lot of folks follow it. I researched this answer online on a site on citation that is linked to my home page. The site is provided by Purdue University.

Here are the relevant rules:

If the parenthetical citation has only two elements (e.g., author and page number), don't use a comma.

If the parenthetical citation has more than two elements (e.g., author, title, and page number), separate the first two with a comma.

I agree with you that the maverick comma is going to look odd. If I were editing your paper for publication, I would probably deviate from the MLA rules and separate all elements with commas. I would be able to justify this decision on sound bibliographic principles: The goal of bibliographic citation is to help the reader get to the source quickly. A citation that follows the rules but seems inconsistent is as distracting as a citation that fails to follow the rules.

Having said all that, I am obliged to point out that not everyone is as enlightened as the Grammar Hotline. If you are turning your paper in for a grade, I advise you to follow MLA style


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