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.
The way you cite a play in your in-text citation will vary depending on if the play is a prose play (no line numbers) or a verse play (line numbers).
"In a reference to a commonly studied prose work, such as a novel or play, that is available in several editions, it is helpful to provide more information than just a page number from the edition used... In such a reference, give the page number first, add a semicolon, and then give other identifying information, using appropriate abbreviations."
In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft recollects many "women who, not led by degrees to proper studies, and not permitted to choose for themselves, have indeed been overgrown children" (185; ch. 13, sec. 2).
"In citing commonly studied verse plays and poems, omit page numbers altogether and cite by division (act, scene, canto, book, part) and line, with periods separating the various numbers"
In an example it gives for a citation of Act 5, scene 1, lines 5-12 of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, the in-text citation appears as: (Ant. 5.1.5-12). The handbook states that the titles of famous plays are often abbreviated.
The handbook also specifies that unless otherwise instructed, you should use arabic numerals even if the original play uses roman numerals. For example, the original play may say "Act VII" but you would still use "7" in your citation.
For the Works Cited page, the citation will vary depending on if the play is in an anthology, a collection of the author's work, or a stand-alone book.
If it is part of an anthology, follow this format:
Playwright last name, playwright first name. Title of play. Title of anthology. Editor of anthology. City of publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Page numbers. Medium of publication.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. Great Plays of the 20th Century. Ed. Llewellyn Sinclair. Springfield: Random House, 2000. 10-42. Print.
If the play is part of a collection of the author's works, follow the format above but omit the part about an editor.
If the play is a stand-alone volume, cite it as you would a book:
Playwright last name, Playwright first name. Title. City of publication: Publisher, Year of publication. Medium of publication.
Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: New American Library, 1990. Print.