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.
- To cite a Shakespeare play or poem from a book, anthology, or film on our works cited page we would use the same format as we would for any other author's work. That is the easy part. Here are the two books I am using:
Shakespeare, William, and Cyrus Hoy. Hamlet. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Love Poems and Sonnets of William Shakespeare. New York: Doubleday, 1991. Print.
- Here is how to cite a film, DVD, of VHS versionof a Shakespearean work:
Branagh, Kenneth, dir. William Shakespeare's Hamlet. U.K.: Castle Rock Entertainment, 1996. VHS.
- In-text citation for a film, DVD, VHS:
We may not need one. It is possible to simply refer to Branagh's William Shakespeare's Hamlet in the text of our document as there are no page numbers to refer to. However, if we want to include a direct quote, we could use the in-text citation (Branagh, William Shakespeare's Hamlet).
- Here is how to cite a live performance:
Hamlet. By William Shakespeare. Dir. Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurs. Shakespeare's Globe, London. 25 April 2014. Performance.
- In-text citation for a live performace:
Dromgoole and Buckhur's Hamlet or (Dromgoole and Buckhur, Hamlet)
Play In-text (parenthetical) Citations:
If we are writing a paper that refers to more than one work, we will use the play name in our citation rather than the author. If we are writing about one play then we would replace the play title in the parenthetical citation for the author's last name.
- Italicize play titles: Hamlet (Ham.)
- After we introduce the full play title and it's abbreviation in parentheses, we can use the abbreviation to refer to the play in the rest of our paper. Here is a list of abbreviations for play titles.
- Use Arabic numerals to refer to act, scene, and line numbers (no page numbers are listed): 3.2.10 or 3.2.10-25 if we are covering information from lines 10 through 25. If the line number are 100 or higher, we use the first whole line number 265 and the last two digits of the second line number: 5.2.265-75.
- If referring to an act and scene of a play in your the body of your text, format it as such: In 2.2, Hamlet's despondency becomes the subject of mockery amongst his peers.
- If we are only referring to one work by Shakespeare in our paper than our parenthetical citation would look like this: (Shakespeare 3.2.115)
- If we are referring to more than one work by Shakespeare in our paper, after we introduce our play Hamlet (Ham.)..., our first parenthetical citation will look like this: (Ham. 3.2.115)
- If we have not yet introduced the play in the body of our paper, the first parenthetical citation will look like this: (Hamlet 3.2.115)
Quoting Verse and Prose:
Many of Shakespeare's plays are in a combination of verse and prose. The lesser characters often are written in prose, while the primary characters are usually written in verse. There are different rules for formatting verse and prose.
- For quoting both verse and prose remember to always introduce the scene or character who is speaking. I will not be including those transitions prior to my quotations here, but that does not mean we don't need them in our papers.
- If quoting three lines or less of verse use the short quotation format and use a / to indicate line breaks. Keep all original punctuation and incorporate it into the text of your paper.
- If quoting four lines or more of verse break the lines as they are shown in the text of the play. Do not use / to indicate line breaks. Keep all original punctuation and format as a block quote.
- If you would like to quote verse or prose, but want to leave out parts of a sentence or phrase, simply use ellipses to mark the left out text: "Heaven make me free of it! I follow thee / ...Wretched queen, adieu!"
Play Quotations (short verse):
- For quotations that refer to one character and are under four lines of verse, we can use "Quotation Marks." The citation will come between the last quotation mark and the period.
- We will want to use slashes / to indicate line breaks.
"Doomed for a certain term to walk the night, / And for the day confined to fast in fires, / Til the foul crime done in my days of nature"
- Of course we would use (Hamlet 1.5.10) depending on the number of works by Shakespeare being referred to in our paper. For instance if we were comparing his tragedies and comedies and relying on several different works for source material, we would want to follow the MLA citation rule for citing several works by one author.
Play Quotations (short prose):
"Happily he is the second time to come to them, for they say an old man is twice a child" (Shakespeare 2.2.354-55)
Play Quotations (long verse):
- For quotations that refer to one character and are longer than three lines of verse or four lines of prose we will want to double indent (1" or two taps of the tab key) and create a block quote.
- We will not use quotation marks or italicize the quote, the indentation will be indication enough:
He took me by the wrist, and held me hard,
Then goes he to the length of all his arm,
And with his other hand thus o'er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As 'a would draw it. Long stayed he so.
At last, a little shaking mine arm,
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk,
And end his being. (Shakespeare 2.1.86-95)
- Notice that the parenthetical citation comes after the period in a long quote and that there is not a period after the citation.
Play Quotations (long prose):
- We still will not use quotation marks or italicize the quote, however, we will not worry about line breaks and only take into account the double indentation and citation style.
Here lies the water; good. Here stands the man;
good. If the man go to this water and drowns himself,
it is,will he, nill he, he goes--mark you that. But if the
water come to him and drown him, he drowns not
himself. Argal, he that is not guilty of his own
death shortens not his own life. (Shakespeare 5.1.13-15)
Play Quotations (dialogue between two or more characters):
- Double indent the names of the characters.
- Capitalize each letter in the name of the character.
- Indent the text of the quote one quarter inch further than we indent the character's name.
- Keep original formatting and punctuation.
HAMLET. Then is doomsday near. But your news is not
true. Let me question more in particular. What have you,
my good friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune,
that she sends you to prison hither?
GUILDENSTERN. Prison, my lord?
HAMLET. Denmark's a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ. Then is the world one. (2.2.231-37)
Poem and Sonnet Quotations:
- Follow the same guidelines set by the plays for prose and verse.
- Remember to use line numbers and not page numbers.