(revised 10.17.05, 11.09.05)

Ten Most Common Problems

in Using MLA Documentation

 

[For additional information re MLA, see pages 278-303 in Dialogues, 5th ed.]

 

1 Failure to correctly title the Works Cited section.

2 Failure to alphabetically order the sources in a works-cited list.

3 Failure to use proper upper-case and lower-case in titles of works cited.

4 Failure to correctly use italics and quotes in periodical titles.

5 Failure to avoid hanging indentation.

6 Failure to correctly name sources.

7 Failure to correctly place commas and periods WITHIN the closing quote.

8 Failure to correctly place a period when parenthetical references are used.

9 Failure to correctly place a comma after an attribution for a direct quote.

10 Failure to use single and double quotes correctly.

 

ADDITIONAL PROBLEMS

11 Failure to capitalize the first word in a quoted sentence.

12 Failure to correctly cite a WebBoard source.

13 Failure to use correct attribution (or identifying tags).

14 Failure to correctly apply parenthetical references.

15 Failure to insert a period at the end of each works cited entry.

16 Failure to omit unnecessary bibliographic information in the body of the paper.

17 Failure to apply correct spacing in a works cited entry.

 


1. Failure to correctly title the Works Cited section:

 

Incorrect: WORKS CITED

Incorrect: Works cited

Incorrect: Works Cited:

Incorrect: Works Cited

Incorrect: "Works Cited"

Incorrect: Works Cited

 

Correct: Works Cited

 

(Note: If you're citing only one source, then Work Cited is correct.)

 


2. Failure to correctly order the sources in a works-cited list. All sources must be arranged alphabetically. If a work doesn't have an author, then the first important word in the title is used. Example of a correctly ordered list:

 

Dinosaurs in Hawaii! Honolulu Community College. 6 Nov. 2000 <http://www.hcc.hawaii.edu/dinos/dinos.1.html>.

Pipher, Mary. "Saplings in the Storm." Dialogues: An Argument Rhetoric and Reader. 4th edition. Eds. Gary Goshgarian, Kathleen Krueger, and Janet Barnett Minc. New York: Longman, 2003. 343-352.

Tanaka, John. "Response to RD2." Online posting. 8 Apr. 2003. Jim's WB Conference. 2 May 2003 < http://lehua.kcc.hawaii.edu/~jshimabukuro>.

 


3. Failure to use proper upper-case and lower-case in titles of works cited:

 

Incorrect case: The murder of an angel

Incorrect case: THE MURDER OF AN ANGEL

Incorrect case: The Murder Of An Angel

 

Correct: The Murder of an Angel

 

[Note: See the online MLA guidelines.]

 


4. Failure to correctly format periodical titles. The article title appears in quotes; the name of the newspaper or magazine/journal appears in italics or underscore.

 

Stout, David. "Court Throws Out Death Sentence, Citing Lawyer's Flaws." New York Times on the Web 26 June 2003. 26 June 2003 <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/26/politics/26CND-DEATH.html>.

 

An alternative to italics is underscoring:

 

Stout, David. "Court Throws Out Death Sentence, Citing Lawyer's Flaws." _New York Times on the Web_ 26 June 2003. 26 June 2003 <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/26/politics/26CND-DEATH.html>.

 

or

 

Stout, David. "Court Throws Out Death Sentence, Citing Lawyer's Flaws." New York Times on the Web 26 June 2003. 26 June 2003 <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/26/politics/26CND-DEATH.html>.

 


5. Failure to avoid hanging indentation*. In papers submitted electronically, don't use hanging indentation. Instead, use left justification for all lines, i.e., all lines begin at the left margin.

 

Incorrect:

Pipher, Mary. "Saplings in the Storm." Dialogues: An Argument Rhetoric and Reader. 4th edition. Eds. Gary Goshgarian, Kathleen Krueger, and Janet Barnett Minc. New York: Longman, 2003. 343-352.

 

Correct:

Pipher, Mary. "Saplings in the Storm." Dialogues: An Argument Rhetoric and Reader. 4th edition. Eds. Gary Goshgarian, Kathleen Krueger, and Janet Barnett Minc. New York: Longman, 2003. 343-352.

 

[*Hanging indentation -- For a given reference, the first line begins at the margin and subsequent lines are indented -- the exact opposite of standard paragraphs where the first line is indented and subsequent lines begin at the margin.]

 


6. Failure to correctly name sources. When quoting sources, use first and last names or last names, but don't use first names only.

 

Incorrect: John said, "Punctuation is very important in college papers."

 

Correct: John Smith said, "Punctuation is very important in college papers."

Correct: Smith said, "Punctuation is very important in college papers."

 


7. Failure to correctly place commas and periods in direct quotes. Periods and commas are inserted WITHIN the closing quote.

 

Misplaced period: Smith said, "Punctuation is very important in college papers".

 

Revise: Smith said, "Punctuation is very important in college papers."

 


8. Failure to correctly place a period when parenthetical references are used. When a parenthetical reference is attached to a quote, the period FOLLOWS the closing parenthesis.

 

Misplaced period: According to one expert, "Punctuation is very important in college papers." (Smith)

 

Correction: According to one expert, "Punctuation is very important in college papers" (Smith).

 


9. Failure to correctly place a comma in an attribution*. A comma separates an attribution from a direct quote.

 

Incorrect: Smith said "Computers are a necessity -- not a luxury."

 

Correct: Smith said, "Computers are a necessity -- not a luxury."

 

[Exception: When "that" is used, the formatting changes:]

Incorrect: Smith said that, "Computers are a necessity -- not a luxury."

Correct: Smith said that "computers are a necessity -- not a luxury."

[The quote is integrated into the sentence.]

 

[*Attribution (or identifying tag) -- identifies the source of the quote, e.g., Smith says is the attribution in the following sentence: Smith says, "Learning to punctuate quotes is difficult."]

 


10. Failure to use single and double quotes correctly. In American English, use single quotes for quotes within quotes.

 

Incorrect: According to the king, "The hero turned to the princess and asked, "Well, are you coming?""

Incorrect: According to the king, 'The hero turned to the princess and asked, "Well, are you coming?"'

 

Correct: According to the king, "The hero turned to the princess and asked, 'Well, are you coming?'"

 

 

Use double quotes when a passage does not include an embedded quote.

 

Incorrect: John Smith, the author of 'Heavenly Water,' said, 'Hawaii's water tastes best.'

 

Correct: John Smith, the author of "Heavenly Water," said, "Hawaii's water tastes best."

 


11. Failure to capitalize the first word in a quoted sentence. When quoting a sentence or sentences, be sure to capitalize the first word:

 

Incorrect: According to the queen, "the prince is a hero."

 

Correct: According to the queen, "The prince is a hero."

 

Exception: Use lower-case when the quote is preceded by "that":

Incorrect: The queen said that, "the prince is a hero."

Correct: The queen said that "the prince is a hero."

 


12. Failure to correctly cite a WebBoard source.

 

Format: Writer's Name. "Title of Message." [title of message taken from WB message subject line] Online posting. Date of  Message. Name of Discussion Group/List. Date of access <URL of Group's Internet Site, or E-mail Address of List Moderator>.

Example: Tanaka, John. "Response to RD2." Online posting. 8 Apr. 2003. Jim's WB Conference. 2 May 2003 < http://lehua.kcc.hawaii.edu/~jshimabukuro>.

[Note that a period is not inserted between the date and the URL.]

 


13. Failure to use correct attribution (or identifying tags).

 

Incorrect: According to Mary Pipher, she says, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence" (345).

Correct: According to Mary Pipher, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence" (345).

 

Incorrect: Mary Pipher, a clinical psychologist and an adjunct clinical professor at the University of Nebraska, she says, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence" (345).

Correct: Mary Pipher, a clinical psychologist and an adjunct clinical professor at the University of Nebraska, says, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence" (345).

 

 


14. Failure to correctly apply parenthetical references.

 

[The closing quote should be placed before the parenthetical reference -- not after.]

Incorrect: According to Pipher, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence (345)."

Correct: According to Pipher, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence" (345).

 

[Don't repeat the author's name if it appears in the attribution.]

Incorrect: According to Mary Pipher, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence" (Pipher 345).

Correct: According to Mary Pipher, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence" (345).

 

[Be sure to include a parenthetical reference for a quote if the writer is not named in the attribution.]

Incorrect: According to one expert, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence."

Correct: According to one expert, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence" (Pipher 345).

 


15. Failure to insert a period at the end of each works cited entry.

 

Incorrect: Pipher, Mary. "Saplings in the Storm." Dialogues: An Argument Rhetoric and Reader. 4th edition. Eds. Gary Goshgarian, Kathleen Krueger, and Janet Barnett Minc. New York: Longman, 2003. 343-352

 

Correct: Pipher, Mary. "Saplings in the Storm." Dialogues: An Argument Rhetoric and Reader. 4th edition. Eds. Gary Goshgarian, Kathleen Krueger, and Janet Barnett Minc. New York: Longman, 2003. 343-352.

 


16. Failure to omit unnecessary bibliographic information in the body of the paper. In the interest of economy, when bibliographic information (such as the title of an article) for a quote is in the works cited section, don't repeat it in the body. In the following example, the title "Saplings in the Storm" is in the works cited section and doesn't need to be repeated in the sentence containing the quote.

 

Incorrect: In "Saplings in the Storm," Mary Pipher says, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence" (Pipher 345).

 

Correct: Pipher says, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence" (345).

 


17. Failure to apply correct spacing in a works cited entry. For electronically submitted papers, use single-spacing within a works cited entry, double-spacing between entries.

 

Incorrect:

Pipher, Mary. "Saplings in the Storm." Dialogues: An Argument Rhetoric and Reader. 4th edition. Eds. Gary Goshgarian, Kathleen Krueger, and Janet Barnett Minc. New York: Longman, 2003. 343-352

 

Correct:

Pipher, Mary. "Saplings in the Storm." Dialogues: An Argument Rhetoric and Reader. 4th edition. Eds. Gary Goshgarian, Kathleen Krueger, and Janet Barnett Minc. New York: Longman, 2003. 343-352.