Any time you refer to, comment on, paraphrase, or quote another writer’s information, you must document this in your essay through the use of a citation. The purpose of an MLA in-text citation, sometimes called a parenthetical reference, is to help readers easily find the sources in the Works Cited page that correspond to your referenced passage. You will want to make this process as easy as possible for the reader, so the citations are always placed at the end of the sentence and should always correspond with the first word of the matching Works Cited page entry. Let’s suppose that this is a sentence from your essay:
The author explains, “Record deals were usually negotiated by elite businessmen” (Hennessey 127).
Your reader should be able to turn to the Works Cited page and easily find the bibliographic information for this source. It might be listed like this:
Hennessey, William. The Making of Records in Memphis. Atlanta: Capital Book Press, 2001.
Notice that the author’s name in the citation corresponds to the first word of the Works Cited entry. This makes it really easy for the reader to find and match up information, which is the purpose of in-text citations.
Two primary elements of a quoted passage should be given to the reader: 1) the author’s last name and 2) the page number where the referenced passage is found. The page number is always included in the citation at the end of the sentence, but the author’s last name can be placed either in the citation or in the sentence. Here are a few items to remember concerning in-text citations:
- No “page” or “pg.” or “p.#” or any other variant is used to indicate the page number.
- End punctuation goes at the end of the citation, not at the end of the passage.
- Author’s name can either be placed in the citation or in the sentence.
- No comma or other punctuation mark is needed to separate the author’s name and the page number.
Here are a few of the most common in-text citations that you might need to write in your essay:
Example 1: Louis Armstrong easily reached difficult notes, the F’s and G’s that hindered so many other trumpeters (Bergreen 258).
Example 1a: Bergreen explained, “Louis Armstrong easily reached difficult notes, the F’s and G’s that hindered so many other trumpeters” (258).
- Note: If the work has no page numbers (i.e. website) simply put the author’s last name in parentheses.
Two or three authors of the same work:
Example 3: In Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson suggest that metaphors “actually structure our perceptions and understanding” (57).
Example 3a: In Metaphors We Live By, the authors suggest that metaphors “actually structure our perceptions and understanding” (Lakoff and Johnson 57).
- Note: If the work had three authors the citation would read (Lakoff, Johnson, and Smith 57). Remember that there is no comma between the names and the page number, and all authors must be listed either in the sentence or in the citation.
Four or more authors of the same work:
Example 4: Changes in social regulations are likely to cause new fears among voters (Carber et al. 64).
Example 4a: Carber et al. claim that changes in social regulations are likely to cause new fears among voters (64).
- Note: Only the first author, followed by the term "et al." is listed either in the sentence or in the citation. Don't forget to place a period after "al" since it is an abbreviation of a Latin word, but no period is used after “et.”
A work with no author (an organization or website):
Example 5: According to The Center for Contemporary Cultural studies, “There is nothing concrete about hierarchy” (10).
Example 5a: “There is nothing concrete about hierarchy” (Center 10).
- Note: When we don’t have a known author or editor, we can use the book title (in italics), the article title (in quotation marks), or the Web site title (in italics). If we include this title in our sentence, we should write out the entire title. If we include it in our citation, we can shorten it using the first keyword (just be sure that your reader can still find the corresponding entry in your Works Cited page).
A compare-and-contrast essay might seem like the easiest type of paper to write: just find things that are alike and then find things that are different. Piece of cake, right? There’s a catch, however. It is up to you to argue why those similarities and differences matter; otherwise, you don’t have much of a paper. The following 8 easy steps will guide you through the process of writing an effective compare-and-contrast essay that actually has something valuable to say.
1) So they’re alike and they’re different. So what? A good paper will not simply offer a summary of themes, characters, or plot. Your job is to think about how these comparisons and contrasts create meaningful connections to a larger issue.
2) Create an effective thesis statement. Again, you need to say why the comparison and contrast is worthy of note. Let’s say you want to compare and contrast the heroines of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. Your thesis might be this: “Although Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre are very different on the outside, their shared internal values connects them in literary history and in the fight for women’s rights.” Now you have a reason for your efforts and a compelling case for your audience’s attention.
3) Select a pattern. There are two ways you can write a compare-and-contrast paper. You can present your arguments in a "tandem" pattern or an "alternating" pattern.
- Tandem. Separate your pros and cons into two camps. For example, if you are comparing Jane Austen’s Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice to the heroine of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, you would list all the ways in which the protagonists are similar and different. A rough list might look something like this:
|Upper class||Dirt poor, orphan|
|Resists marriage||Resists marriage|
|Socially inappropriate||Socially awkward|
|Ends up with her man, |
and all is well
|Ends up with her man,|
but only after trauma
Once you have your list, the body of your paper will address everything you have discovered about one character, then everything about the other character.
- Alternating. If you opt for this choice, you will be juxtaposing Elizabeth and Jane’s pros and cons. Creating the list of likeness and differences will be handy here as well, but in using this method, you will continually address the two characters “back and forth” as you compose the body of your paper. For example, you might say, “Elizabeth is easy on the eyes, a traditional beauty, but Brontë’s Jane is continually described as plain and homely.”
4) How to decide on a pattern. While there is no rule about selecting one method over another, for longer papers (those that exceed five or six pages) you should probably go with the alternating pattern. It is hard for the reader to retain all the pertinent information about each side of your argument in lengthier discussions. For shorter papers, the tandem pattern will probably be the best bet.
5) Support with primary text. Support your analysis by providing primary textual support; in this case, the primary sources are the novels Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. For each point you address, whether in a tandem or an alternating pattern, offer textual evidence for your positions either by directly quoting from the text or by paraphrasing. Be sure to properly cite each quote or paraphrase in whatever format your instructor requests (e.g., MLA, Chicago, etc.).
6) Support with secondary sources, if required. Some instructors may ask that you use sources other than the text itself to support your argument. A secondary source is anyone other than the original author. Use secondary sources to provide additional backing for your thesis, especially in arguing for why the compare-and-contrast approach you have selected is valid.
7) Include your own voice. One of the biggest challenges for a writer is to offer his or her own take on a topic. You may feel that everyone else has already said everything there is to say about your subject. Don’t be discouraged! Your own interpretation is what is most valuable in the end.
8) Review. Revise. Repeat. Compare-and-contrast essays can often become convoluted if a tight check is not kept on your writing. Review your work often to make sure you have not suffered the sins of summarizing plot, soapboxing, or wandering pointlessly in the literary woods. Move or delete text if you have to: don’t keep trying to pound a piece into the puzzle if it clearly doesn’t fit.