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Citation FAQ (MLA style)

Answers to some of the questions I am frequently asked,
and answers to a few more which perhaps ought to be asked!

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The Robert College Style Guide gives guidance for and examples of
the most common situations you will meet.
This FAQ sheet attempts to provide guidance for situations not included in the R.C. Style Guide.

This is a work in progress. The greyed-out questions below are ones I am working on.
If you have questions to ask which are not answered here, just send me a note!

Q:  When I use an article I found in Infotrac, do I need to copy those desperately long URLs?

A:  Fortunately, no! When you use an an online database to which a library subscribes, give the full details of the original article, then add the name of the database (Infotrac, in this case), the name of the library you used, the date of access, and the URL of the home page of the database.

The long URL is meaningless, thrown up by the database server for your particular query. A later search for the same article whether by you or another user, would probably get a different URL.

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Q:  Is this true of any long URL?  If my URL is very, very long, can I shorten it? If it is too long to fit on one line; where should I split it?

A:  Alas, no. One reason for citing the URL (and one of the reasons for citing any source you use) is so that an interested reader can retrace your steps, and find the material you used. You can shorten subscription database URLs because they change from one user to another, from one library to another. Static pages do not change, so the URLs stay valid. You must cite that long URL in full.

Long URLs are prone to typos, it is very easy to make a mistake typing them out. The best way is to copy and paste the URL int a text editor or a word processing program (such as MS Word). That way you avoid mistakes.

If the URL is too long for one line, you need to split it over two or more lines. Break it at a slash. Do not use a hyphen, and do not let your word processor force a hyphen. If you do and the reader types in that URL with a hyphen which shouldn't be there, then the page won't be found.

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Q:  How do I cite a quotation of a quotation?

A:  The best advice is to go to the original source whenever you can. If you can find the original source, use that in your text, and not the secondary source which gave you the clue. This is because mis-quotation happens all too often. Author B makes a mistake in his quotation of author A (perhaps leaves out the word NOT in his quotation), and author C quotes author B, so "confirming" the error - and the mistake goes on and on and gets life of its own.

If you cannot trace the path back to the original source, then you must make it clear in your parenthetical citation that what you are quoting is NOT the original, but another author's quotation of the original. Only cite the original source if you can actually track it down and check it!

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Q:  How do I cite a paraphrase of a paraphrase?

A:  Once again, track down the original if you can. If you cannot, then cite the source you actually use, and not the original source which you have not seen.

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Q:  How do I cite an article reprinted in a book of readings?

A:  You need to provide full guide to the original article, but also refer to the collection in which you found it.

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Q:  How do I cite a work (poem, essay, play, short or long story) which is reprinted in an anthology?

A:  The rules are slightly different to that for articles. If the original first appeared as a separate publication, italicize the title; if it was originally part of another work, then the title of the short piece, in quotation marks, is enough. If you wish to show the original year of publication of the original piece, you can, after the title.

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Q:  Do I need permission to use pictures I download from the Internet?

A:  Very often, yes. If you intend to publish your work, in any medium, then definitely yes.

Normally you can use short extracts or paraphrase from articles, books, web pages, television programs, and so on, without seeking permission. It is different as soon as you start using whole works, or substantial pieces of whole works. A picture or a piece of clip-art is often considered a whole work in itself.

Using a whole work without permission, even if you cite its source, may be considered infringment of copyright. This is a legal offense, and can cost serious money. As a rule of thumb, if you cannot find a statement giving free right to copy the piece, you should contact the author, artist, or publisher to obtain permission to use the piece - especially if you are going to publish your work, in hard-copy, on the Internet, anywhere. Very often and especially if you are not charging money for your publication, permission is given without question and without fee. When you write to obtain permission and get it, make a note of this:

          (reproduced by kind permission of the author).

If you write for permission and permission is refused, DO NOT use it.

Absence of a copyright statement does NOT mean that a work is copyright-free.

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Q:   How do I cite a picture downloaded from the internet?

A:  MLA suggests that pictures, photographs, clipart and other illustrations be captioned Fig. 1 (2, 3, 4, ... etc), with a note giving details as appropriate (title of the picture, author, etc), followed by details of where the illustration was found - the book, journal, internet site or whatever - and the usual supporting detail such as date of publication, date of view, and so on.  If you give full details with the illustration like this, you don't need to cite the reference again in your list of works used.

You will find some authorities which suggest that you simply number your illustration and give it an appropriate caption, and include the full reference in the list of works used.  This seems acceptable - but do be consistent.

It is useful if, in your text, you make reference to the illustration which you include; don't include illustrations just because you have found them if they don't add anything to the text!

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Q:   Do I need to cite a picture copied or photocopied from a copyright-free source?

A:  The general rule is, IF IT'S NOT YOURS, THEN YOU CITE IT.  It's the honest thing to do.  If you are using the picture in an academic work for which you are asked to provide citations, then you MUST cite it.  If it is a more personal piece of work, you don't have to - but you might want to cite it anyway.  Sometimes the copyright notice says there is no need to cite the source, sometimes it does ask for acknowledgement, even though copyright-free.  You do have to check - especially if you are publlishing the picture, for instance on the internet or in a school magazine.  You will often find copyright/ copyright-free statements on the back of the title page of a book, and on the home page or the download page of a website. The absence of a copyright statement does NOT mean that a work is copyright-free.

Citing your source is honest, it shows that you are not trying to pass this work off as your own. It is good manners, a way of saying thank you to the artist or the publisher. If the picture illustrates and adds to your text (as opposed to being purely for decorative purposes), you will need a caption to explain what the picture is and how it relates to the text.

As the picture is copyright-free, your reader may want to know how to get hold of a copy as well.

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Q:  Should I list my Works Used in the order in which they are used in my text?

A:  Normally, no. You should list your works in alphabetical order of author's last name, with a hanging indent to make for easy scanning. If there is no author, then the title is used, ignoring initial definite and indefinite articles ('A' or 'The'). If there are several authors, only the first named author is named last name first; all other authors are in firstname lastname order.

In your list of works used, include all works which you refer to in the text, and only those works. Do not include works you might have used in your background reading, but have not referred to in your text.

Do not include here the page numbers of any quotations you have used; the place for those is in the text.

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Q:  My document has disappeared from the Internet; how can I cite it?

A:  This is a major problem. One purpose of citation is to allow an interested reader to follow up your citations, to check and to read the original piece. This isn't a plagiarism check; very often it is because you have found an interesting piece, one worth citing, and the reader thinks it interesting enough to read up the original line of thought.

The problem is, of course, the volatile nature of the Internet. The average life of a web page is estimated as between 40 and 100 days (try a Google search for "average life of a web page" and note the variations!), though it may be that more reliable sites are more static. When you proof-read your final draft for one last time, check all the URLs, make sure they are still active. You might even add a footnote to your list of Works Cited, "All links were checked and were live on month day, year".

If the page has disappeared, you should see if you can find it somewhere else; it may be at a different URL on the same site, or it may be posted somewhere else. If you can find it, cite the new URL.

You could try searching for your URL on the Internet Archive, the Wayback Machine as it is often known <>. This site archives a large proportion of the public Internet. (If you find it here, check the next question for how to cite your new URL.)

If the missing document is fundamental to your paper, then consider including a printout of the "lost" document as an appendix to your paper. (You did make a printout, didn't you?)

If you still cannot find the document, try finding another source to support the point you are making. If all else fails, consider dropping this line of thought from your paper altogether.

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Q:   I want to cite a web page but not all the information is there; there's no author, no date, other information is missing...?

A:  That's one of the problems of the Internet - those who post information don't always follow the conventions of the traditional publishing industry.  This does not necessarily mean that the information you find is less reliable, but you may need to think twice about using it.

If no author is given, try cutting back the URL.  You might find the author named on an earlier page.  You might be able to use the name of the organization behind the web site.  If no author (authority!) can be found, ask yourself again, how authoritative is the information?  If you don't know who wrote it, how do you know s/he's an expert on the subject?  If you are sure that the page is worth using, then simply use the title as your source.  In your list of works used, the title fits into alphabetical order just as if it was a name (ignore an initial A or THE in the title).  In the text, use a short form of the title as your reference.

If you cannot find a date of publication, simply add n.d. after the title.  You will still need the date you last viewed the page.

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Q:  How do I cite a document I originally found on the open Internet, but which I can now only find using the Wayback Machine?

A:  The Wayback Machine, also known as the Internet Archive, is a godsend to information seekers and information users. It is a library of Internet pages, an attempt to collect and keep as many Internet pages as possible, before they disappear. Not everything is archived. Some sites will not allow the Internet Archive to access its documents, others have asked for any pages in the archive to be wiped. It did not start collecting until 1996. Searching can be difficult. But if you have an original URL which no longer works, it is worth seeing if there is a copy in the Internet Archive.

Citing the archive is just like citing any other URL, even if the URL is long. Note the second "http://" in the URL; this is not a mistake. The part of the address after the second http:// is the original address, while that before it is the Internet Archive's address, plus date and time details of when the page was "captured".

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Q:   What about an older version of a document? The original is in the Internet Archive, but the version on the open Internet is different. I want to use the older version. How do I cite that?

A:  This one is tricky - but gets easier. You presumably want to make a point, the older version is different to the later version, and you want to show why or how. This implies that, in the text, you will be making a distinction, and you will in fact need to point to, and to cite, the same site at different dates.

This makes it less tricky; you are working as if the two versions are different works, so you need to give enough information to tell them apart.

One nice thing about the Internet Archive (another nice thing about the Internet Archive), is that you don't have to guess at the date. The Internet Archive URL gives you the date, and time, that the page was captured: the 2001091302334 in the URL:
tells you that the page was captured in 2001, September (month 09) the 13th, at 02:33 and 47 seconds. That is when the page was captured, not necessarily when it was published, so put your date in square brackets with a "c." for circa.

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Q:   If I use different pages from a paper or article spread over several web pages, can I just cite the "front page" of the article?

A:  This depends on the article itself, on how you use the article, and on the nature of the URL of each page.

As a general rule, if you quote the exact words used on a page, you should give as exact a URL as you can; if you quote from several different places on the site, then you need to cite each URL separately.

If you summarise or paraphrase from a particular page, then again you should give as exact a URL as you can - but if the idea you are paraphrasing runs throughout the website (or the book) then it is acceptable to cite a more general source, the book itself, or the URL of the home page.

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Q:   Are there any online tools I can use to help me with my citations?

A:  There are, and some are free!

Amongst those you might want to look at are:
The NoodleTools Site offers a Knowledge Base/ FAQ and lots of other useful information.  Very much worth a visit..
SourceAid: free bibliography creator and citation guide (MLA, APA, Chicago and CSE styles).  Requires online registration; offers feedback.  Enhanced pay-for services offer more help;
The Landmark Project Citation Machine, which offers citation in MLA and APA styles;
KnightCite, which offers citation in MLA, APA and Chicago styles; choose the type of source from the list on the left, and then fill in as much information as you can.
Monroe Community College Libraries offer a great many examples of MLA Style citation.
Joyce Valenza also offers many examples - and her MLA Bibliographic Style - A Brief Guide includes some very useful examples for citing electronic and Internet sources.

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Q:   The site is unhelpful: whichever page I use, the URL seems to stay the same. Can I just use the one URL?

A:  Some sites are like that: the URL in the display bar does not change. You can help your reader by giving the URL and then the path you took to get to the page you are using.

The two pages (and others on this site) appear to share the same URL.

A citation for the first page would end
                   "... 10 February 2004. <>.  Path:

If you were citing the second page, your citation would end
                   "... 10 February 2004. <>.
                         Path: Conference."


(Reproductions by kind permission of the Üsküdar American Academy MUN Club.)

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Q: The quotation I am using contains a spelling mistake. How can I show that this is the original author's mistake and not my mistake?

A: You can use the Latin word sic (meaning "thus" or "just so") in round brackets to show that this is what the original says, and that you have not made a mistake in copying the word/s.

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Q: I want to quote the opening words and the closing words of a paragraph - but not the words in the middle.  How do I show that I have left out some of the original text?

A: Whether you leave out one word or several sentences, you must show that your quotation is accurate - but not complete.  Use an ellipsis (. . .) to show that you have left something out.

Q: Can I add a word or two to a quotation so that it makes better sense?

A: If you add your own words to a quotation, it has to be clear that these are NOT the author's original words, that these are yours.  Use square brackets words you have added, words which are not in the original passage.




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John Royce, BA, MLib, MCLIP
Library Director, Robert College
Arnavutköy, TR-34345 Istanbul, Turkey.

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It was last revised on 22 March 2008.