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Joe Moxley, Founder, WritingCommons.org

Joe Moxley


Dear Colleagues and Students,

At Writing Commons, we are happy with the overall success of our project. Since 2011, when we launched at WritingCommons.org, we have hosted 6,315,882 users who have reviewed over 11 million pages. We are thrilled that students and faculty find our site to be helpful. Our ongoing mission is to be the best writing textbook possible. We also happen to be free. While we cannot perhaps claim yet that we are the best possible textbook for technical writing or creative writing courses, we are working on that.

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Can the reader distinguish between your ideas and those of your sources?

You don’t want to take credit for the ideas of others (that would be plagiarism), and you certainly don’t want to give outside sources the credit for your own ideas (that would be a waste of your time and effort). So, as a writer, you should distinguish between your ideas and those of your sources before quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing.

In order to help the reader see who’s writing what, it’s important to introduce your evidence. Here are some helpful hints to consider when introducing your sourced material (note that while MLA style is used in these examples, you should use whatever formatting style is required by your instructor):

When incorporating a source into your paper for the first time, reference not only the author’s full name (if provided) but also the title of the publication.

For instance, if I wanted to use a quote from Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture and I had not referenced this source yet in my paper, I would want to give it a full introduction:

In The Location of Culture, Homi Bhabha discusses the effect of mimicry upon the cultural hybrid, claiming that mimicry renders “the colonial subject . . . a ‘partial’ presence” (123).[1]

Before quoting, the author provides the reader with both the author (Homi Bhabha) and the title of the publication (The Location of Culture). That way, going forth, unless the author introduces a different book or article, the reader knows that all references to Bhabha come from The Location of Culture.

When incorporating a source into your paper for the second time (or any other time following the initial introduction of that source), provide the reader with only the author’s last name.

For instance, if I’m still working with Bhabha’s The Location of Culture, I might do something like this:

As Bhabha writes, “[Mimicry] is a form of colonial discourse that . . . [exists] at the crossroads of what is known and permissible and that which though known must be kept concealed” (128).

Since you’ve already provided the reader with Bhabha’s full name (Homi Bhabha), there’s no need to give it again. All later references thus only require Bhabha’s last name. If pulling material from a different work of Bhabha’s, though, you’ll need to introduce the quote (or paraphrase or summary) by specifying this new title (though you’ll still only need to provide Bhabha’s last name).

Side note: Never refer to an author by his or her first name. Either reference the author by his or her full name or by his or her last name, depending upon whether or not you’ve previously mentioned the author’s full name in your piece of writing.

When incorporating a source into your paper for the second time (or any other time following the initial introduction of that source), you may want to place the idea or direct quote within one of your sentences; if so, provide the author’s last name and a page number or page range for the referenced material in an in-text citation.

This method can be quite tricky, because you don’t want your quote to appear “dropped in.” Here are a few ideas about how to effectively incorporate quotes into sentences:

  • You may choose to use a dash (two hyphens) or a colon to introduce the quoted material:

The child crosses this bar when he enters into language, as he can never again access the Real—a realm that now may “only [be] approach[ed] through language” (Price Herndl 53).

This can be tricky, depending upon the excerpt you’re using, because you may have to rework the wording within the quote to suit the sentence structure.

Side note: Whenever you change or add/delete anything—anything at all, even a capitalization—within a quote, you must bracket [ ] the change, addition, or deletion.

You may choose to change the wording within a quote (and bracket accordingly) so that it works within your sentence structure:

The child crosses this bar when he enters into language, as he can never again access the Real, for “[he] can only approach it through language” (Price Herndl 53).

Note that the excerpted material must make sense within the context of your sentence, and the reader still must be able to distinguish between your ideas and those of your source.

[1] Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. Print.
[2] Price Herndl, Diane. “The Writing Cure: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Anna O., and ‘Hysterical’ Writing.” NWSA Journal 1.1 (1988): 52–74. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 30 April 2011.


Cassandra Branham, Editor-in-Chief WritingCommons.org

Cassandra Branham


Dear Colleagues and Students,

Welcome to Writing Commons, an open-education resource for instructors and students of writing across the disciplines. Our mission is to provide a high-quality, cost free resource to support students in the development of writing, research, and critical thinking practices.

This summer, we have been working on a site redesign in an effort to increase the usability of our site for both instructors and students. Our most significant change has been the inclusion of additional categories and subcategories to create a more intuitive hierarchy within the site.

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