This handout provides examples and description about writing papers in literature. It discusses research topics, how to begin to research, how to use information, and formatting.
Contributors:Mark Dollar, Purdue OWL
Last Edited: 2017-10-25 10:18:45
What about MLA format?
All research papers on literature use MLA format, as it is the universal citation method for the field of literary studies. Whenever you use a primary or secondary source, whether you are quoting or paraphrasing, you will make parenthetical citations in the MLA format [Ex. (Smith 67).] Your Works Cited list will be the last page of your essay. Consult the OWL handout on MLA for further instructions.
Note, however, the following minor things about MLA format:
- Titles of books, plays, or works published singularly (not anthologized) should be italicised unless it is a handwritten document, in which case underlining is acceptable. (Ex. Hamlet, Great Expectations)
- Titles of poems, short stories, or works published in an anthology will have quotation marks around them. (Ex. "Ode to a Nightingale," "The Cask of Amontillado")
- All pages in your essay should have your last name the page number in the top right hand corner. (Ex. Jones 12)
If you're using Microsoft Word, you can easily include your name and page number on each page by following the these steps:
- Open "View" (on the top menu).
- Open "Header and Footer." (A box will appear at the top of the page you're on. And a "Header and Footer" menu box will also appear).
- Click on the "align right" button at the top of the screen. (If you're not sure which button it is, hold the mouse over the buttons and a small window should pop up telling you which button you're on.)
- Type in your last name and a space.
- Click on the "#" button which is located on the "Header and Footer" menu box. It will insert the appropriate page number.
- Click "Close" on the "Header and Footer" window.
That's all you need to do. Word will automatically insert your name and the page number on every page of your document.
What else should I remember?
- Don't leave a quote or paraphrase by itself-you must introduce it, explain it, and show how it relates to your thesis.
- Block format all quotations of more than four lines.
- When you quote brief passages of poetry, line and stanza divisions are shown as a slash (Ex. "Roses are red, / Violets are blue / You love me / And I like you").
- For more help, see the OWL handout on using quotes.
It can be confusing to know which titles get italicized and which get quotation marks when citing them in your writing. An easy rule to remember is that short titles and sections of work, such as a chapter title in a book or an episode in a TV show, get quotation marks while larger titles or works, such as a book title or an album, are italicized. However, which one you use may depend on the style and format of writing you are following.
Why Use Italics and Quotation Marks in Titles?
Italics and quotation marks are generally used to set a composition title apart from the text surrounding it. For example, if you were writing the sentence "I read The Cat in the Hat," it wouldn't necessarily be clear what the title was, or even that there was a title at all.
So, italics and quotation marks make the title stand out. A sentence such as "I read The Cat in the Hat" or "I read "The Cat in the Hat" today" is a lot clearer.
Should you set off a title with italics or should you set it off with quotation marks? Well, there are rules for that.
Rules for Using Italics and Quotation Marks in Titles
There are several different writing style guides: The Modern Language Association (MLA) is the style generally used in arts and humanities papers; the American Psychological Association (APA) is used for social sciences; the Associated Press Stylebook (AP) is commonly used in magazines, newspapers and the internet; and the Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago), one of the most well-known formats, is followed in a wide variety of disciplines from publishing to science.
Each of the style guides have their own rules when it comes to formatting titles. AP style is one of the simpler styles to remember, as it does not use italics in composition titles at all.
All formats except AP recommend the following titles should be in italics:
- Ballets, Operas, Symphonies
- Comic strips
- Exhibitions at a museum
- Aircraft and spacecraft
All formats except APA recommend that the following titles should be in quotation marks:
- Book chapters
- Names of video games
- Single episodes of TV and radio shows
- Unpublished writing such as manuscripts or lectures
- Album tracks or singles
- Podcast episodes
- Short stories and poems
APA differs from other formats in that it does not use either quotation marks or italics for titles of shorter works, such as essays that are in collections, lectures or journal articles. These shorter works are formatted in regular type.
MLA and Chicago, while agreeing on most citation styles, diverge on some points. In MLA the titles of online databases should be italicized; Chicago style says to set those in regular type. MLA says that all websites should be italicized while Chicago style says they should be in regular type.
When Not to Use Italics or Quotation Marks
There are certain titles of things that should not be in italics or quotation marks. The following titles should always be set in regular type:
- Scriptures of major religions
- Constitutional documents
- Legal documents
- Traditional games (such as football, hopscotch or blackjack)
- Commercial products (such as Cocoa Puffs)
- Political documents
- Names of artifacts
- Names of buildings
Print and Online Style Differences
Italicizing is easy to do on the computer, but not practical when you are hand writing something. In such cases, underlining is still used and is the same as writing a title in italics.
When formatting titles for the web, be aware that you should go with whatever style is most visually appealing. Online formats tend to be less formal in style compared to print materials. Styling for the web is about attracting visitors to the site so make the title stand out without looking clunky in order to get more attention.
Determine What to Use
By practicing the above rules for using italics and quotation marks you will find that it will become easier to determine what you should use. If you are uncertain about what to use, ask yourself if the title of a work appears inside a larger body of work or if it can stand alone. If the title belongs inside a larger body of work, use quotation marks. If the title is for a body of work that stands alone, it should be in italics. And remember that consistency is key, whichever style you choose.
To learn about which words should be capitalized in a title read YourDictionary's article on Rules for Capitalization in Titles.