Basic Documentation Rules

When writing any kind of research paper, you must cite your sources (i.e., use documentation to identify the material drawn from your readings). This is a basic requirement of research writing and copyright law, to make sure that you give proper credit to your sources of information and do not pass off someone else's work as your own, intentionally or unintentionally. Failure to use proper documentation is considered plagiarism, a serious breach of academic honesty and a violation of U.S. law. Here are some basic documentation rules and a few useful Web sites for finding additional information:

  1. Direct (word-for-word) quotations from sources must be placed in quotation marks. If the quotation is very long (three lines or more), start it on a new line, indented from both left and right margins, and single spaced; quotation marks should not be used.

  2. Follow every quotation with a note in parentheses that, for print sources (whether hard copy or electronic copy), gives the last name of the author and the page number, separated by a comma. For example: (Smith, 142). If there is no author, use a short form of the title of the article, journal, or book.

    For interviews and personal communications, give the name of the person interviewed or from whom the communication was received, the medium (e.g., interview, telephone conversation, etc.), and the date. For example: (Smith, interview, 10 July 2003).

    For sources obtained from a Web page, cite the URL in angle brackets and the date when you accessed the Web page. For example: (<> 10 Sept. 2002)

  3. A similar note should follow all indirect or paraphrased quotations, even though you do not use quotation marks. Your wording should clearly indicate what material is from the source.

  4. At the end of the paper, a bibliography (list of references or works cited) should list all the sources used in the paper.

    The entries of print sources are listed in alphabetical order by author (last name, first name) and include the title of the article (in quotes), the title of the book or journal (in italics), the publisher of the book, and the date of publication.

    The entries for Web page sources are listed in alphabetical order by author (last name, first name)—if known—or the title of the Web page—if the author is unknown—followed by an indication of whether the site is a home page, online posting, etc.; name of any institution or organization sponsoring or associated with the Web site; followed by the date when you accessed the site; and ending with the URL of the source in angle brackets. For example:
    "OSHA Announces Comprehensive Plan to Reduce Ergonomic Injuries." OSHA National News Release. USDL 02-201. U.S. Department of Labor. 10 Sept. 2002 <>.

Additional Information on Documentation

The Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) provides detailed information and examples of MLA documentation style for both print material and electronic material:

For more detailed information on both MLA and APA styles, see the following Web sites, which may refer to humanities style and scientific style, respectively. basic.html Guides/Internet/Style.html