So you just figured out how to bluff your way through any general writing task and were feeling pretty good. Now your teacher’s handed you a research project, and you have to go to the library to look stuff up!

Even worse, you’re supposed to use some kind of “Quotation Mechanic’s” guide to show where you got your information . . . and you don’t even know what a “quotation mechanic” is.

Every High school student and GED diploma holder should understand how to quote other people’s work and feel comfortable about citing and using quotations.

Well, you are puzzled, I guess. But your teacher’s talking about quotation mechanics, a method of indicating any outside material that you include in your paper. If you do it right, you can freely use other people’s words and ideas–and you won’t get accused of cheating.

To get started, check out the introductory Frequently Asked Questions included below and then follow whatever links you need.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why worry about quotation mechanics anyway?
  • What is the difference between primary and secondary sources?
  • What in the heck is MLA?
  • What is the difference between “quoting,” “paraphrasing,” “citing,” and “documenting”?Exactly what is plagiarism?
  • How do I indicate where I found a quote?
  • What’s a “Works Cited” page? How do I write one?

Why worry about quotation mechanics?

  • Your teacher expects you to
  • you don’t want to be accused of cheating
  • someone else might be interested in your subject and need to find the sources you used

Primary and Secondary Sources Return to FAQ
With most beginning writing, you are the primary source, drawing upon your own memories, observations, and experiences as you shape your paper. (When writing about literature, the primary source is the short story, novel, poem, or play that you are writing about.)

Anything that you include in your paper that is not from you (or the piece of literature that you are working with) is considered a secondary source.

What is MLA?

MLA refers to the Modern Language Association, a group whose guidelines are the basis of the information you’ll find here. If you’re writing a paper for an English class, chances are you will need to use these when putting together any research project. There are other ways to package research material (e.g., APA, CBE, Chicago).

However, the ideas behind how and when to document a source are quite similar. If there’s a question about which style to use, check with your instructor.

Citation Mechanics

(and other picky stuff)
Accurately citing your sources is important–and, I hate to say it, boring. You’ve got to make certain that you’ve got all the required information and that you’ve put every comma and period in the right place.

There’s really no need to worry about memorizing any of what you find here. Leave room for the important stuff! Simply look through a print or online reference, find a model for the kind of information you’re working with, and follow it. Now, take a deep breath, and let’s get started!

Whenever you cite text, you must make certain that you have identified the author’s name and the location of the quotation. The MLA uses an internal parenthetical style, so you don’t need any numbers for footnotes (and best of all you don’t need to worry about leaving space on your page for the footnote itself!)

The type of information you need to locate the quote varies according to the genre:

  • fiction: cite by page number(s)
  • poetry: cite by line number(s)
  • drama: cite either by act, scene, and line(s) or page
  • number(s), depending upon the format of the play
  • Note: when citing page or line numbers, you should have two numbers to the right of the hyphen:
    (25-27) not (25-7), or (100-01) not (100-1). However, where logically required, you may need three numbers: (99-101).