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Citing Sources

Here we get into the tedious and technical yet necessary business of citing your facts and quotations. The rules have changed since I was in college, and some of my colleagues have not kept up. Therefore, not all of your professors in the humanities will expect the same system. Be sure to inquire before handing in your term research paper. The newer system is known as the MLA (Modern Language Association) system, and it is the one I recommend here. History departments seem to be the last place using the old superscript system, which involves putting a little raised number 1 that refers either to a footnote at the foot of the page, as here, or to an endnote at the end of the paper. All other humanities departments use the MLA style. The sciences use the APA style described in the next section. The differences are only in the method of citing a text, not in quoting it.

When quoting an author, put exact quotes in quotation marks. Nixon did not say "that he was not a crook." He said, "I am not a crook." If the original has a misspelled word or other mistake, quote it exactly as it appears anyhow, but put [sic] in brackets right after the mistake. Titles of published books, newspapers, magazines, and movies all get italicized. So do foreign words (like the sic here), musical compositions, plays, paintings, sculptures, ships, and trains. The common thread is that all these works can stand alone. Parts of larger works, such as titles of chapters or poems in a collection, get put in quotation marks.

Stick to the source you are using. If you are quoting from a separately published edition of Emerson Nature, italicize it. If you are quoting from the reprint of "Nature" in an anthology, put it in quotation marks but italicize the name of the anthology. In the bad old days before computers, typewriters were unable to italicize, at least until the IBM Selectrics came along, and even then you had to change typing balls. So underlining, which had always been the proofreader's mark to the printer indicating the need to italicize, became a common substitute. Today, having reached the apex of perfection, we no longer need substitutes, so unless you are typing on a Smith-Corona, italicize.

First, all direct quotations must be cited. Anytime you use another person's exact words, you must acknowledge the citation. Block quotes are the most common example. Anytime you quote more than four typed lines of prose, you must separate the quotation from the rest of your text. Such block quotes are not surrounded with quotation marks. You must also be judicious. Don't pad your paper with lengthy block quotes that fill up half the page. Leave a blank line before and after the block. Leave ten spaces on the left but no extra spaces on the right. The citation goes at the end of the block outside of the period. Better than the padding of a series of block quotes is the excision of pithy phrases from within that quote that are then included within your text and not blocked. When possible, the citation to a quote within the text goes at the end of the sentence, but if there is any possibility of confusion, put the citation right after the quote, within the sentence rather than at its end.

Quotations, of course, are not the only things that need to be cited, but they are the most frequent. If you use an idea that someone else is responsible for, you must cite it. If you use a fact that might be questioned, even if you do not put anything in quotes, you should cite it. On the other hand, if you use facts or ideas that no one will question, don't bother citing them. This is a subjective decision that you must make. But if you say in your text that Dan Quayle was a member of the Communist Party in his youth, you had better provide a citation so we can check your sources.

Be sure to use credible sources relevant to your subject, and do not depend on one book or one particular point of view. You may have picked up a book by some paranoid LaRouchie or worse. Know your sources and what their biases are. I once had a student turn in a paper on arms control in which every footnote was a reference to some speech by Phyllis Schlafly, the rightwing harpy who helped to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment by traveling around the country giving speeches saying women belong in the home. I flunked him. If writing about the Arab-Israeli struggle, do not use books by Arabs or Israelis exclusively. Do not write about South Africa without taking into account books by Afrikaaners. Include several views. Do not depend upon any one source to provide unbiased accounts of its opponents.

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