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the works cited page and avoiding plagiarism

Stealing is a crime, and that goes for words, too. Using an author’s words or ideas without giving him credit is an act of dishonesty called plagiarism. The reason research papers require parenthetical notations and a Works Cited page is to protect the words and ideas of people who worked hard to come up with them. It’s a matter of giving credit where it’s due.

If you don’t cite the source of a sentence you quote or an idea you paraphrase, you appear to be taking credit for it yourself. That’s dishonest. Plagiarism has caused professors to lose their jobs, students to be expelled, and authors to face lawsuits. Take it seriously.


Parenthetical Citation

You will indicate the source of all your researched information using what are known as parenthetical citations that direct your reader to a Works Cited page at the end of your paper. This chapter will show you how to create a Works Cited page.

We will be following MLA guidelines for this paper. MLA stands for Modern Language Association. The MLA is an organization that, among other things, sets standards for research publishing to protect the words and ideas of authors. MLA guidelines usually apply only to papers in the liberal arts and humanities. APA style (American Psychological Association) and CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) are two other common formatting styles that are more often used for social science and history papers. For this course, however, to keep things simple, we will use MLA style regardless of the type of paper you are writing.


The Works Cited Page

Your Works Cited page will be located at the end of your paper on a separate page. It lists all the books, magazine and newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, websites, and other sources of information you have used in researching your paper. For an example of a Works Cited page, see the end of this chapter.

There is nothing more tedious and nit-picky in English composition than the formatting of a Works Cited page. There are particular rules governing how each entry is to be formatted. A magazine article is listed differently from a book. Books with two authors require special treatment. You may have an article from an anthology or from a professional journal. These require that you list the information in a particular format. Websites and other non-print sources have their own formats as well.

There is no room in this chapter to address the many kinds of sources which require their own specific bibliographical format. Below we list some of the most common kinds of sources and the rules for formatting them. Most likely, this will be sufficient. If, however, you need to include a source that doesn’t fall into any of these categories, the best place to find the proper citation format is the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 8th Edition, which can be found at your local public library or purchased at most large bookstores. You can also order it from Amazon or purchase an ebook version if you like. You are not required to acquire one, however. 

If you cannot acquire a handbook, either of the following websites should have what you need.

Purdue Online Writing Lab (Links to an external site.)

EasyBib (Links to an external site.)

It may take some work to properly format your source material, but don’t shortcut the process. Be sure to include all necessary information, and pay close attention to proper order, spacing, and punctuation. Below are the most common kinds of sources and the rules for formatting them on your Works Cited page (All source examples are fictitious).


Basic Formatting for the Works Cited Page

  • The Works Cited page should appear on a separate page at the end of your research paper. It should have the same one-inch margins and header as the rest of your paper.

  • Write Works Cited centered at the top of the page. Do not italicize the words Works Cited or put them in quotation marks.

  • Double space all citations, but do not skip spaces between entries. Be sure to set your formatting to double-space. Do not simply hit Enter twice between lines. This will cause formatting problems.

  • Do not indent the first line of each entry, but indent the second and any additional lines about five spaces. This is what is called a hanging indent.

  • List page numbers of sources when necessary. For example, if you refer to information that appeared on pages 225 through 250, list the page numbers on your Works Cited page as 225-250.

  • Follow the formatting guidelines below for each of your sources.


A Print Book with One Author

Books are printed with all the required information on a title page at the front of the book.

List the author, last name first, followed by the first name and middle initial (if known). Use a comma to separate the last name from the first and place a period after the name. Then state the title of the book in italics, followed by a period. Then the city of publication followed by a colon, the publishing company’s name followed by a comma, and the year of publication followed by a period. Last goes the medium of publication, in this case, Print.    


[LastName], [FirstName], [MiddleInitial]. [Book Title]. [City]: [Publisher], [Year].[Medium of Publication].



A Book with More Than One Author

If the book is written by more than one author, list them in the same order in which they appear on the title page of the book, not necessarily in alphabetical order. Reverse only the name of the first author. Separate the authors’ names with a comma and the word and.  If the people listed on the title page are editors or translators, place a comma after the name, and the appropriate abbreviation (i.e., trans., or eds.).

Two or More Books by the Same Author

List the first book (alphabetically by title) according to the format above. For each additional book, you can skip the author’s name, substituting three hyphens and a period.


---. [Book Title]. [City]: [Publisher], [Year]. [Medium of Publication].


Oopsie, Daisy. The Art of Waiting Tables. New York: Penguin, 2001. Print.

---. The History of Waiting. New York: Penguin. 19998. Print.


Book with No Author

If the author is unknown, list the entry by book title.


              [Book Title]. [City]: [Publisher], [Year]. [Medium of Publication].


              A Bend in the Road. Boston: Waxman and Sons, 2006. Print.

              Medieval Castles. Philadelphia: Schuster, 2001. Print.


An Article in a Print Reference Book (Dictionary or Encyclopedia)

Articles in dictionaries or encyclopedias are often anonymous. In this case, begin the citation with the title of the article. If the name of the author is given, start with the author’s name. Sometimes encyclopedia articles are signed with initials. Normally these authors are identified by their full name somewhere else in the book. If this the case, try to find it. You should also include the edition of the book. If the author cannot be identified, begin with the article title in quotation marks.

Article titles are placed in quotations. The period goes inside the quotation marks.


An Article in a Newspaper

When writing the newspaper title, omit the word “the” at the beginning (Washington Post, not The Washington Post). If the city of publication isn’t included in the title, put it in square brackets after the title: Virginian-Pilot [Hampton Roads]. If the newspaper is a national publication, no city is necessary. Be sure to include the complete date of the article’s publication: day, month, and year. Abbreviate all months except May, June, and July.

If the newspaper is a particular edition (early edition, late edition, etc.), be sure to include that information after the date, separated by a comma. If the newspaper has lettered sections, include that with the date and a colon. No space between the section letter and the page : “A2,” “D6.”

An Article in a Magazine or Journal

Magazine articles are listed just like newspaper articles. Be sure to include page numbers. If the periodical lists volume and issue, be sure to include it.


An Editorial or Letter to Editor

Treat an editorial like a newspaper article, but add the label Editorial or Letter followed by a period after the title.


A Film or Video

A video recording normally begins with the title and also includes at least the director, the distributor, and the year it was released. Other information – performers, writers, etc. – may also be included, using abbreviations to identify their roles. These additional contributors should be included between the title and the distributor. 

Web Publications

Citing website information can be particularly challenging because so many different kinds of sites exist and are created by often difficult-to-identify individuals and/or organizations. Here’s everything you should include in order (assuming the information is available):             

  • Author and/or editor names

  • Title of article or short work in quotation marks

  • Title of site, or web-published book or project in italics

  • Any version numbers available, including revisions, volumes, or issue numbers

  • Publisher information including publisher name and date of publication or last update

  • Page numbers

  • Medium of publication (Web)

  • Date you accessed the material

  • URL, or web address (The actual URL is not required but is highly recommended. It is not required because URLs change with some frequency.)


MLA Abbreviations:

If a website publisher’s name is unavailable, use the abbreviation n.p. If no publication date is provided, use the abbreviation n.d. If a page number is required, but no page number can be identified, use the abbreviation n. pag.


An Entire Website

Because websites change and update information often, it’s important to list the date you accessed your information. If any parts of the reference are unavailable, you may leave them out. Don’t forget to use the above abbreviations if the publisher or publication date is unavailable.

If a department or agency publishes the material, rather than an individual, list it first.

A Page on a Website

For an individual page on a website, list the author or authors if known, followed by the information covered above for entire websites. Remember to use n.p. if no publisher name is available and n.d. if no publishing date is given.


Below is a correctly formatted Works Cited page to use as a reference. For your page, be sure to include all sources that you used for research, even if you do not cite them directly in your paper. All examples are fictitious.