General Editing Advice


The division between drafting and editing is a porous one. Most of us tidy up our prose as we write. Still, once we’re reasonably happy that we’ve made all our points, it’s time to do some final editing. This process can range from rearranging entire paragraphs to tweaking the odd sentence. Either way, make sure you save enough time for editing. Even a quick read through will often reveal a number of obvious errors.

Editing Tips

Set It Aside

If you’ve got the time, set your work aside for a day or two. Once you’ll come back to it, you’ll be well rested and you’ll see the text with a new pair of eyes (well, not literally, but you get the point).

Print It Out

If you’ve been staring at the screen too long, print out your work instead. You might even consider changing the font size (or even the spacing), so that nothing is quite in the same place. It’s amazing how quickly our eyes gloss over mistakes when we’ve seen something a hundred times.

Read Aloud

Another great strategy for spotting mistakes is to read the text aloud. Some people even suggest reading your essay backwards, one sentence at a time. Sounds like great advice, but who is really going to read backwards? You’re better off just reading aloud slowly, questioning all the time whether your prose sounds natural. If you’ve written sentences that you would never utter in a normal conversation, then perhaps your writing may be a bit stilted.

Reading aloud also makes you aware of the pace and rhythm of the text. Are you using one long sentence after another, or do you mix it up? Are the sentences clearly connected to each other? There’s nothing like reading aloud (particularly with another person in the room) to make you aware of the peculiar features of your own writing.

Run a Spell Check

It’s easy enough to run a quick spell or grammar check. No need to be embarrassed by silly mistakes.

Check for Coherence

One of our favourite proofreading strategies is to use a marker and go through a paragraph highlighting all the key words. After that, just ask yourself whether all the key words are connected to one central idea. If not, you may need to do some rewriting to create more coherence.

Check for Relevance

Constantly ask yourself “why is this important?” or “who cares?” Quantity does not guarantee quality, so cut out anything that doesn’t add something new and interesting.

Another good question to ask yourself is whether your audience is likely to find your point obvious, or if you provide a unique angle or spin on the subject matter. Highlight what is different about your particular perspective.

Finally, if you’re completing a specific writing assignment, it’s never a bad idea to read instructor’s guidelines again. Have you fully answered the question, and do all your subpoints back up your central idea?

Fix the Formatting

No need to lose marks over bad formatting. Make sure you use our guides on essay formatting and citation. A bit of time spent on making your essay look professional will make your instructor very happy.


If you’re still unsure about your assignment, don’t be shy to visit your instructor or go to a writing centre (most universities have one). Although there are plenty of cranky and obnoxious professors out there, most will be happy to sit down with you and help you develop your ideas.

Finally, you can also do more editing, but at some point it’s time to stop. Don’t be embarrassed by the final product. If you’ve put in the time and effort, that’s all anyone can ask for. Reward yourself a little and then move on to your next writing project.



Let’s review how to cite newspapers using the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.).

Although newspapers are usually cited only in a footnote, we have also provided examples of bibliographic entries. In addition to the specific examples below, do check out the section on newspaper titles for some of the more finicky rules.


Newspaper Article

The standard citation format for newspaper articles includes the author’s name, article title, newspaper, and date:

1. Robert Saddleback, “Ponying Up: The Rising Costs of Miniature Horses,” Silver Saloon Tribune, August 5, 2017.

Saddleback, Robert. “Ponying Up: The Rising Costs of Miniature Horses.” Silver Saloon Tribune, August 5, 2017.

Online Article

If you’re citing an online article, add a URL (or a database title if that’s all you can find):

1. Johnny Crestwood, “All LA Traffic Lights Now Give Priority to High Income Earners,” Malibu Sentinel, Jan. 25, 2019,

Crestwood, Johnny. “All LA Traffic Lights Now Give Priority to High Income Earners.” Malibu Sentinel, Jan. 25, 2019.


If an editorial doesn’t have a title, cite it as follows:

1. Sarah Flimshank, editorial, Claptown Gazette, June 14, 2011.

Flimshank, Sarah. Editorial. Claptown Gazette, June 14, 2011.

If it does have a title, you can still add the word “editorial” for clarification:

1. Esther Smallwood, “We Endorse Oprah for President,” editorial, Statesman Times, March 15, 2019.

Smallwood, Esther. “We Endorse Oprah for President.” Editorial. Statesman Times, March 15, 2019.

In the same way, if an article is part of a regular column or series, you can add the name of the column/series (in roman font) after the article title.

Letter or Comment

Contributions from readers can be cited as follows:

1. W. Rabbit, Letter to the editor, McGregor’s Garden Variety News, April 5, 2017.

Rabbit, W. Letter to the editor. McGregor’s Garden Variety News, April 5, 2017.

For letters that have an actual title, check out the rules for editorials (above).

If you wish to cite a comment, just follow and adapt the format for online comments.

Article with no Author

For anonymous articles (and editorials, letters, etc.), start your footnote with a title and your bibliographic entry with the newspaper:

1. “Large Woolly Mammoth Starts Zoo Knitting Class.” Timbuktu Times, May 23, 2016.

Timbuktu Times. “Large Woolly Mammoth Starts Zoo Knitting Class.” May 23, 2016.

Newspaper Titles

When you cite the name of a newspaper, here are some rules to keep in mind:

  • Omit The from the title (e.g., not The Fullofit Daily, but Fullofit Daily). You can retain the article in non-English titles.
  • For local newspapers that are less well known, you can add the city in brackets. E.g., Plain Liar (Buffalo).
  • You can also add a state or province for clarification (abbreviated or not). E.g., Current Events (Aurelia, IL).
  • Sometimes you may want to clarify which country’s edition you’re citing. E.g., Guardian (US edition)
  • In some cases you may need to cite a news service rather than a newspaper. If so, don’t italicize the name (e.g., Associated Press).

More Information

For more information about citing newspapers, check out especially sections 14.191-14.200 of the Chicago Manuel of Style (17th edition).

Using Metaphors


Former US President George W. Bush was famous for scrambling his metaphors. He once said, “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”

We might laugh at his gaffe, but metaphors are easily misused. The truth is that language contains countless metaphors, and when we forget their literal meaning the results are often embarrassing.

In this lesson, we’ll teach you how to avoid two common errors: dead and mixed metaphors.

Mixed Metaphors

A mixed metaphor occurs when you’ve used two or more metaphors in a sentence or passage. If the metaphors clash then you’ve got a problem:

On our journey we came to a fork, where the road branched out in multiple directions.

I’m taking a history course. I’m looking forward to digging into some meaty subjects from the past.

Notice that in the second example looking forward contrasts with the study of the past (where we look back in time).

It’s easy to mix metaphors, especially when we forget  the literal meaning of a word:

She’s such a night owl. She stays up late reading and ruminating.

In this sentence, ruminating means thinking, but literally it also means to chew the cud, which is an action associated less with owls than with ruminants such as cows.

A mixed metaphor is not necessarily wrong, but if the metaphors are incompatible then you’re better sticking to a single set of images.

Dead Metaphors

When we use a metaphor with no regard for its literal meaning, then it can easily become a dead metaphor:

When our water-polo team plays, we’re all on the same page.

In this sentence we’ve used the expression on the same page figuratively to mean all together. Literally, however, water-polo is played in a pool, and not on a page.

A dead metaphor, then, is when the literal meaning of a figurative expression clashes with the rest of the sentence. Here are some more examples:

My broken toe is a pain in the neck.

Your talk on fasting has given me food for thought.

Dead metaphors are a symptom of a lazy attitude to language. If we care about making our prose come alive, then we’ll want to avoid killing off the literal meanings of words.

Audio Visual Sources


When you cite audio-visual sources using the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.), there are a number of common elements:

  1. The name of the content creator (composer, conductor, performer, etc.)
  2. The title of the work (in quotation marks or italics)
  3. Information about contributors, recording and performance details, etc.
  4. The publisher and date of publication
  5. The format (e.g., DVD)
  6. Additional information.

The Chicago Manual of Style allows for a lot of freedom in how you order these elements. In fact, the examples in the official guide demonstrate a surprising amount of variation in how entries are put together. So don’t overthink your citations: try to be as detailed as possible, but know that there is no one way to cite each type of source.


The essential elements for citing videos include the director, title, format, and publication information. Beyond that you can include other details as you see fit. In first example we’ve added the original release date. In the second example we’ve included the title of a specific scene:

1. Ender Pot, The History of Fizzbin (2006; Montreal: Shatner Productions, 2008), DVD.

2. “An Unexpected Find,” Searching for Unicorns in Southern Mongolia, directed by Elmer Watkins, narrated by Cindy Crewneck (Toronto: Imaginary Castles Society, 1990), Videocassette (VHS).

Pot, Ender, dir. The History of Fizzbin. 2006; Montreal: Shatner Productions, 2008. DVD.

Watkins, Elmer, dir. Searching for Unicorns in Southern Mongolia. Narrated by Cindy Crewneck. Toronto: Imaginary Castles Society, 1990. Videocassette (VHS).

If the format is Blu-ray, write “Blu-ray Disc” (both words capitalized). You can include additional contributors (e.g., writers and actors) as well as any other relevant information.

TV Series

Here’s how you might cite an episode from a TV series:

1. The Arsonist, season 2, episode 5, “The Slow Burn,” directed by Mateo Inflagrante, written by Emerson Jones, featuring Emma Stove, Thomas Tallis, and Peter C. Microphone, aired September 3, 2018, on XYZ.

Inflagrante, Mateo, dir. The Arsonist. Season 2, episode 5. “The Slow Burn.” Written by Emerson Jones, featuring Emma Stove, Thomas Tallis, and Peter C. Microphone. Aired September 3, 2018, on ABC.

If the TV series cannot be watched online, you can leave out the URL or provide a link to a page where the TV series can be purchased.


See our separate entry under online sources.

Music Recording

Because recordings of music vary widely, the following examples are meant as suggestions only. You should feel free to add, remove, or combine elements in order to provide a detailed citation.

In particular, you will often have to choose which author or contributor you want to cite first (e.g., composer, performer, conductor). The other contributors can then be listed after the title. Make sure you add a description of each role as appropriate.

The date is flexible too. You can cite the copyright date, the publication date, and/or the date of the recording.

Finally, for LPs and CDs, see if you can find the catalogue or acquisition number, and list it right after the publisher.

Entire Record

Here are a couple of examples of how you might cite an entire LP or record:

1. Johan Hippelhammock, violinist, Austrian Folk Dances, with the Waltzburg Orchestra, conducted by Simone Prattle, recorded January 19, 2011, Strudel Records SR 743, 2013, 2 compact discs.

2. Johann Sebastian Bach, Two Violin Concertos for the Three Fingered Violinist, performed by Axel Yoyo, with the Sweetness and Light Orchestra, conducted by William Nimble, Capital CDP 18766, 1967, 33 ⅓ rpm.

Hippelhammock, Johan, violinist. Austrian Folk Dances. Waltzburg Orchestra, Simone Prattle. Recorded January 19, 2011. Strudel Records SR 743, 2013, 2 compact discs.

Bach, Johann Sebastian. Two Violin Concertos for the Three Fingered Violinist. Performed by Axel Yoyo. Sweetness and Light Orchestra, William Nimble. Capital CDP 18766, 1967, 33 ⅓ rpm.

Note that in the second example “33 ⅓ rpm” refers to the playing speed of the LP. Adding the LP designation would be necessary only if the recording consists of multiple LPs (e.g., 33 ⅓ rpm, 3 LPs).

Single Track

You can also cite a single track. In such cases, your final bibliography may simply list the entire CD or LP (as in the final example)

1. Fred Whitesock, performer, “Sandal Tap Dance No. 5,” track 3 on Fabric or Friction, Over the Top Records OTT 387, 2018, compact disc.

2. Bob Jammer, vocalist, “Leaving You,” by Gregory Samsanov and Hilda Smith, recorded February 2004, track 5 on The Divorce Proceedings, Cumbria Records, 2004, compact disc.

Whitesock, Fred, performer. “Sandal Tap Dance No. 5.” Track 3 on Fabric or Friction. Over the Top Records OTT 387, 2018, compact disc.

Bob Jammer, The Divorce Proceedings. Recorded February 2004. Cumbria Records CR 763, 2004, compact disc.

Electronic Music File

Much of our music these days is found online. To cite an electronic music file that you’ve streamed or downloaded, make sure you specify the file format (e.g., MP3 audio) or streaming platform (e.g., Spotify):

1. Katy Sweet, “Bubblegum Girl,” MP3 audio, track 9 on Summer Drives, Cutie Patootie Media, 2017.

Sweet, Katy. “Bubblegum Girl.” Track 9 on Summer Drives. Cutie Patootie Media, 2017, MP3 audio.

As you can see, the order of the information is flexible. In some cases, you may also want to add a URL at the end.


Here’s how you might cite a professional presentation at a conference:

1. Madge Nelson, “Gru’s Parenting Strategies” (Presentation, Third Annual Minion Lore Conference, University of Paperwork, Smalltown, CA, February 22, 2017).

Nelson, Madge. “Gru’s Parenting Strategies.” Paper presented at the Third Annual Minion Lore Conference, University of Villainy, Felony City, CA, February 22, 2017.

For other types of presentations, change the description as appropriate (e.g., poster presented at …).


Performances are normally cited only in the notes, and not in the bibliography. Add as much information as you think relevant:

1. The Lost Umbrella, dir. Roger Sneak, written by Michel Petit, Grand Théâtre, Cherbourg, France, July 5, 2015.

Other Audio-visual Files

Any other audio-visual files should be cited following the same patterns illustrated above. Provide additional description as appropriate.

In this final example we’ve cited an audio book:

1. Ian Thorpe, Classic Tennis Sounds: The Sharapova Years, read by Esther Ball and Rafael Swipe (Amsterdam: Courtside Audio, 2015), audio book, 24 hr., 59 min.

Thorpe, Ian. Classic Tennis Sounds: The Sharapova Years. Read by Esther Ball and Rafael Swipe. Amsterdam: Courtside Audio, 2015. Audio book, 24 hr., 59 min.


For more information about citing audio-visual sources, please check out sections 14.261-14.266 of the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.).

Manuscript Collections


If you’re doing archival research, citing sources can be a bit tricky. There is great variation between documents, which is why the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.) allows some leeway in how you cite your sources.

Common elements include a description of the document or collection, as well as some indication of where the source can be located (often a library).

In footnotes the specific item (letter, report, etc.) is usually cited first. In the bibliography your entry can start with any number of things (the collection, the author, etc.).

Note that libraries often provide their own instructions for how to cite their holdings. For expert guidance, check out the resources section below.

General Guidelines

Here are a few tips for citing archival sources:

  • Use quotation marks only for specific titles. Generic descriptions (e.g., Letter, Memorandum) don’t need quotation marks.
  • If the generic description of the source is not actually found in the manuscript, you don’t always have to capitalize it.
  • You can use the abbreviations MS and MSS for manuscript and manuscripts (though the first usage is typically written out).
  • In your footnotes you can often omit the word letter (e.g., 2. Colonel Tom to NASA)


Here are some examples of how you might cite an item in a collection:

1. Prince Albert to Queen Victoria, 17 June 1859, Victoria Papers, Royal Pane Archives, London.

2. Ian Tipperary, memorandum, “How to Stop Canadians from Burning Down the White House,” 6 December, 1813, Dolley Madison Papers, MS 322, Princeton University Library.

Victoria Papers. Royal Pane Archives, London.

Tipperary, Ian. Correspondence. Dolley Madison Papers. Princeton University Library.

Note that these are but a couple of variations, and you will have to be flexible in adapting them to your own needs.


Often libraries provide their own citation guidelines. Examples include the National Archives of the United States and Library Archives Canada. For more information, see also sections 14.221-14.231 of the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.).

Interviews and Messages


According to the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.), interviews and personal messages may be cited in the footnotes alone, though in some cases you can add an entry to your bibliography as well.

Unpublished interviews

Interviews rarely have a title, and the main focus is on identifying the interviewer and interviewee (listed first). If the interview has been published or is available in a collection of some sort, you can provide some additional information.

For unpublished interviews, cite as much information as is available:

1. Bertrand de Born (CEO, Schismatix Group), interview by Dante Lighthead, March 2, 2017.

2. Amish Killjoy, in discussion with the author, September 15, 2002.

de Born, Bertrand (CEO, Schismatix Group). Interviewed by Dante Lighthead. March 2, 2017.

Killjoy, Amish. Discussion with the author. September 15, 2002.

Published interviews

Let’s look at a couple of examples of how published interviews might be cited. First, here’s an interview shared on a blog:

1. Kim Jong-un, interview by Dennis Rodman, Embrace the Worm (blog), January 8, 2018,

Jong-un, Kim. Interviewed by Dennis Rodman. Embrace the Worm (blog). January 8, 2018.

Next, here’s an interview published as a journal article:

1. Michael Rode, “What’s New in the Recording Industry: Interview with Michael Rode,” by Jim Shure, The Right Focus 2, no. 5 (2017): 99-104.

Rode, Michael. “What’s New in the Recording Industry: Interview with Michael Rode.” By Jim Shure. The Right Focus 2, no. 5 (2017): 99-104.

In this case the title already indicates that this is an interview, so we’ve written “by Jim Shure” rather than “interview(ed) by Jim Shure.”

If your source has been published in a different format, don’t panic. Just adjust the format to meet your needs.


Personal messages don’t need to be cited in your bibliography. Most often you can just provide a name (where possible), a description (message, conversation, etc.), and a date:

1. Jane Birk, email message to the author, August 2, 2015.

More Information

For more information about how to cite interviews and messages, see sections 14.211-14.214 of the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.).

Understanding Your Grade


Receiving feedback on an essay is often a frustrating experience. It’s hard to deal with all the red ink and focus on learning from our mistakes. In addition, students often disagree with instructors on what constitutes a good grade. An instructor might see a B- as a perfectly respectable mark, whereas the student is satisfied with nothing less than a B+.

To prevent misunderstandings, we’ve tried to describe how most instructors think about each type of grade. These grading criteria should give you some rough idea of whether your instructor’s mark is fair or not.

Common Grading Criteria

The following grade descriptions are commonly used for marking essays at the university level.

A Grade

An A grade is reserved for an outstanding essay that provides genuine insight and a persuasive argument. While complete originality is not required, the writer’s thesis should be complex, nuanced, and compelling. In addition, the essay structure is coherent and logical, the evidence is well-integrated, the analysis is detailed, and the writer is able to deal fairly with possible objections and other points of view. Essays that deserve an A grade require little correction in terms of spelling and grammar, though there is no expectation that the writing is flawless.

B Grade

A B grade is given to a strong essay that has a clear structure and an effective argument. This type of essay does require some more polish and editing, but it has an interesting thesis backed up by a sufficient amount of evidence. A B essay may be a bit rough around the edges (both in terms of content and style), but it successfully accomplishes the main objectives of the assignment.

C Grade

A C grade does not stand for crappy. It stands for competent. A C signifies that your writing meets all the basic requirements. Your work has structure, a decent argument, and an adequate amount of proof. In short, your work has potential. With a bit more work and editing you can turn your competent paper into something really good. To improve, you’ll likely also need to fix quite a lot of writing errors. If you struggle with a persistent error such as comma splices or apostrophe problems, your instructor may not give you anything higher than a C until you deal with the issue.

D Grade

A D grade is given to essays that are deficient and provide barely enough content to merit a passing grade. Such essays also contain a significant number of writing errors and tend to lack at least one of the basic aspects of an essay (a thesis, a coherent argument, sufficient evidence, and good paragraph structure). A D essay often reveals some misunderstanding of the topic or assignment and requires major revision.

F Grade

A failing grade is given to essays that are so illogical, poorly organized, and underdeveloped that the instructor cannot find any justification for passing the assignment. An F suggests that the writing is riddled with errors and that the argument is inadequate or incorrect. Note also that essays that are heavily plagiarized will automatically receive an F.

Grading Abbreviations

Can’t figure out what your instructor’s scribbles mean? Check out our sheet of Grading Abbreviations used by editors and academics.

APA Essay Format


Formatting your essay has gotten a lot easier with the 7th edition of the APA style guide. No longer do students have to provide a running head or an abstract (unless your instructor asks for it). The result is a more streamlined essay format, so that with just a little bit of attention to the details you can be off to the races!

Note: All detailed instructions refer to Microsoft Word. If you’re using a different word processor, you may have to look for an equivalent setting.

The Basics

Essay Components

An APA paper has three parts:

  1. The Title Page
  2. The Essay
  3. The Reference List

If your instructor would like an abstract, you can insert it after the title page. It’s best to separate each section with a page break (Insert > Page Break).


You have some options when it comes to choosing a font. Here are some acceptable choices:

  • Sans-Serif font: Calibri (size 11), Arial (size 11)
  • Serif font: Times New Roman (size 12), Georgia (size 11)

Whichever one you choose, make sure you use it throughout your entire essay. Footnotes are typically in size 10 font, and for captions to tables and figures please use a font size between 8 and 14.


Since 2007, the default margin for any Word document has been 1 inch all around. Fortunately, APA format has the same requirement. If for some reason you need to fix the margins, go to Page Layout > Margins > Normal.


All the text in your essay should be double-spaced. To make this change quickly, first press Ctrl + A to highlight all text and then press Home > Line and Paragraph Spacing (symbol) > 2.0. Make sure you also click on “Remove Space After Paragraph.” There’s no need to provide extra spaces between paragraphs or around headings.

Title Page

Let’s look at the basic layout of an APA title page:

An image showing a sample APA title page

Let’s break down what goes into making a great title page. The first thing you’ll want to do is add a page number in the top right hand corner (Insert > Page Number > Plain #3).

The title of your essay should be about 3-4 double-spaced lines from the top of the page. The text should be centered and in bold font. If your title is quite long, you can split it across two lines (in such cases press Enter after the colon if you’re using a subtitle). Make sure that you capitalize important words, but not prepositions and articles.

Double space all the text on your title page and add an extra space after the title. Then provide your name, the department, course, instructor, and date. Centre all this information and don’t use bold font. The date can be formatted in different ways, but the preference is to spell out the month in full.

If you have co-written an essay, list both authors on the same line, separated by “and.” For 3+ authors, separate the names with a comma and add “and” before the final name.


For student papers, the abstract (max: 250 words) is entirely optional. However, if your instructor does require a summary of your paper, then place the abstract on its own page, right after the title page. Centre the word “Abstract” in bold font and left-align the actual summary. Use a single paragraph and don’t indent the first line.

Essay Start Page

Your essay really begins on the third page. Your title should be in bold font, centered, with key words capitalized:

Note too that (unlike in the abstract) the first line of each paragraph is indented one tab space.

References List

Finally, don’t forget to cite your sources:

For more details, please visit our page on formatting the reference list.

Section Headings

APA papers are often divided into sections. If you’d like to organize your material with headings, you can choose from a number of different headings. Start by using first level headings and use the others for sub-headings:

First Level Heading (Bold, Centered)

Second Level Heading (Bold, Left Aligned)

Third Level Heading (Bold Italic, Left Aligned)

Fourth Level Heading (Bold, Indented, Ending with a Period).

Fifth Level Heading (Bold Italic, Indented, Ending with a Period).

As you can see, you don’t have to use some complex numbering system (e.g., 3.2.1b) to organize your ideas. The formatting of the heading does the trick.

Finally, don’t add a sub-heading (e.g., Introduction) between the essay title and the first paragraph. Also, don’t forget to capitalize important words in each heading (what’s called title case).

APA Essay Template

Make your life a little easier by downloading one of our APA templates. Enjoy!

APA Essay Template (Without Abstract or Running Head)

APA Essay Template (With Optional Running Head and Abstract)

Brainstorming Strategies


If you struggle with writer’s block, you might try some of the brainstorming activities listed below. Of course, by themselves these techniques will only go so far. If you have to write a research paper, you should probably do some actual research before you try to develop your initial ideas.

As you brainstorm, don’t be afraid to jot down ways in which people might critique your ideas. Although in free writing any potential objections are usually ignored, you shouldn’t think of criticism as a separate activity from brainstorming. It’s good to note other viewpoints. Doing so may actually trigger further thoughts and ideas.

Brainstorming Techniques


While reading can be a form of procrastination, it can also jump start the writing process. As soon as you’ve finished a chapter or essay, copy a passage or two and write down some thoughts about it. This is a great way to force yourself to get started or keep writing.


Example of Using Lists for Brainstorming

Free writing

Set yourself a time limit (a few minutes perhaps), and start writing down whatever comes up in your mind as you contemplate your topic. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation, or whether your ideas are good enough. The key is just to keep writing. Do remember though that this is a pre-writing technique–I’ve seen a few too many exams that look like some kind of free association.


Don’t know where to start? Begin with a description.

Topic: my experience volunteering in Nepal

The orphanage was in the tourist district, presumably so that foreign visitors would feel sorry and volunteer their time. The building was falling apart. The roof was leaking and the walls were a patchwork of faded paint and plaster. As I quickly discovered, the director was horribly corrupt, and embezzled most of the funds. The children were so hungry that they would go begging in the streets. Not that they were all orphans–most of them were simply from families too poor to take care of them.


To create vivid descriptions, employ your senses:

Topic: Dissecting a frog

Touch: slippery, clammy
Hearing: squishy
Sight: bulging eyes, webbed rear feet
Smell: the sterile smell of the lab
Taste: ugh! Not doing that.


Clustering, or mind mapping, consists of drawing a web of associations:


Jot down contrasts, similarities, oppositions, and analogies.

For example, let’s say you’re writing about antidepressants. You might start with a contrast between medicine and poison. When we examine that contrast we might remember that medicine is also a kind of poison. Indeed, antidepressants have many negative side effects (insomnia, weight gain, nausea, etc.). Knowing this, we may well wonder to what extent antidepressants are over-prescribed.


While there is no need to define well-known words, sometimes investigating the meaning and origin of a word can shed new light on your topic.

For example, why is one of Shakespeare’s plays called Much Ado About Nothing? To answer this question we might research the connotation of “nothing” during the early modern period. When we do so, we’ll quickly discover that Shakespeare is punning on “noting” (music), making a lewd sexual joke, and reflecting on human life as created from nothing (ex nihilo).

5 W’s

Let’s not forget the journalistic questions, or the 5 W’s:

What? Invention of Penicillin.
When? September 28, 1928.
Where? St. Mary’s Hospital, London.
Who? Alexander Fleming.
Why? Discovered by accident.


There are of course many more pre-writing techniques (also called heuristic methods). You can tell a story (narrative), explain cause and effect, or provide an example or two (exemplarity). Use whatever method works, but do remember that no amount of pre-writing will help you if you haven’t done enough research to inspire your thinking. So don’t be afraid to hit the books again until you’re in a better position to develop that cluster diagram or make a detailed list.



Plagiarism is stealing other people’s words and ideas and passing them off as your own.

Plagiarism is a serious offense. At the university level it will usually get you an F on your assignment. If you plagiarize repeatedly you may even get kicked out of the institution.

Outside the academy, the penalties vary. Being caught plagiarizing certainly hurts your reputation and you might lose your job.

But you shouldn’t obey the law just to avoid getting caught. If you value original thought, personal integrity, and scholarly research, then you will naturally want to avoid plagiarism. That’s why it’s important to cite your sources and know how to integrate quotations properly.

Common causes

You might think that you would never plagiarize. However, many plagiarism cases are the result of negligence, ignorance, or a lack of self-confidence. Here are some reasons why even good students sometimes plagiarize:

  • Last minute panic
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Misunderstanding what constitutes plagiarism
  • Sloppy note taking
  • Slavishly copying someone’s ideas, often in the same order
  • Working on an assignment with others and handing in similar papers
  • Citing sources in the bibliography, but not in the paper itself

Yet even when plagiarism is inadvertent and unintended, ignorance is no excuse. You need to cite your sources and present your own argument.


Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re plagiarizing. This is especially the case when you are paraphrasing the ideas of others.

A paraphrase is when you put someone else’s ideas in your own words and provide only a citation (so no quotation marks).

Let’s say you’ve read the following passage about the Aztec ruler Montezuma, and you would like to borrow some ideas:

Motecuhzoma may have been elected tlatoani [Aztec ruler], but his coronation awaited the successful conduct of a war. He decided to wage his coronation war against the cities of Nopallan and Icpatepec. . . . One day into the march, Motecuhzoma ordered the Cihuacoatl [senior advisor] to return to Tenochtitlan and execute all the tutors of his children and all the court ladies attendant upon his wives and concubines. . . .In these acts, he set the tone for his reign.  He instilled fear with sudden and inexplicable executions, tested the loyalty of his ministers, and constantly checked to see if orders had been executed promptly. (29)

Source: Tsouras, Peter G. Montezuma: Warlord of the Aztecs. Potomac, 2005.

An inadequate paraphrase is one where you retain many of the original words and phrases:

The tone of Motecuhzoma’s reign was one of fear and terror. For example, shortly after his coronation Motecuhzoma ordered the Cihuacoatl to execute his children’s tutors and the court ladies who accompanied his wives and concubines (Tsouras 29).

This paraphrase is too close to the original, and you should just use a quotation instead.

Of course, you are allowed to repeat key words (reign, fear, Cihuacoatl, etc.), but you should not copy an entire phrase (Motecuhzoma ordered the Cihuacoatl), and you should as much as possible change the wording.

Citing Common Facts

There is a limit to what needs to be cited. You do not need to provide a source for information that is widely known.

Here are some examples of the kinds of things that do not need citation:

  • famous dates (e.g., the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue)
  • well known facts (e.g., the atomic mass of Cadmium)
  • the main outlines of historical events (e.g., the Protestant Reformation)
  • proverbs and maxims (e.g., don’t look a gift horse in the mouth)

It can of course be difficult to know whether a fact is well known, especially if you are not familiar with the subject matter. One way to check is to consider whether multiple sources share the same information without providing any citation. That’s usually a good indication that you’re dealing with a universally acknowledged fact.

For example, you don’t need a source if you’re claiming that spiders have eight legs or that the mountain gorilla is in danger of extinction.

On the other hand, many apparent facts can be contested. Few sources, for instance, agree about the number of casualties in World War I or about the approximate age of the earth. In fact, almost any time you’re dealing with statistics you should provide a citation.

Finally, if you are writing about literature, there is no need to quote or paraphrase when you’re summarizing the plot of a novel or short story. You should be able to come up with a plot summary yourself.

Defining Originality

Students often voice their frustration with research by saying, but I didn’t know anything about this topic before I began researching it. So how can I avoid plagiarizing?

This is a valid objection. Students may feel they have no original ideas and are just regurgitating material from various sources.

Fortunately, originality is largely defined by how you interact with the information, not by how much you knew at the start.

Even if you go into a project with very little knowledge, as soon as you start reading various books and articles you will begin to form an opinion. So don’t read passively. Evaluate your sources, crosscheck supposed facts, and synthesize various ideas. In this way you will gradually form your own argument and avoid plagiarism.

It’s quite common for undergraduate research papers to be a patchwork of quotations and paraphrases, but it’s the careful selection and interpretation of the evidence that makes the essay original.

Advice to Instructors

Instructors may find it difficult to know how to deal with student excuses, so here is some advice for them. (Students may also find it interesting to know their instructor’s perspective.)

Any experienced instructor has heard all the excuses. Here are just a few examples of what students might say:

I did a similar paper for a different class and when I went back to my old notes I didn’t realize that they contained some words and phrases that were direct quotations.

I asked my brother for some help with editing and he added the plagiarized passages. He is not a university student, you know.

I was tired. I’m overwhelmed with assignments, I have a full time job, and my grandmother is in the hospital. I guess I made a mistake, but I hope you will understand.

In my culture plagiarism is acceptable. It’s customary to honour wise people by repeating their ideas.

How can instructors tell if an excuse has merit? While it’s important to be sympathetic (and it doesn’t hurt to have a Kleenex box handy), the focus should stay on the assignment, and less on the life circumstances that may have been a factor. At the beginning of the course, the instructor should have spelled out clearly what constitutes plagiarism is, and what the penalties are. That way the student cannot claim ignorance, and both parties have a clear reference point.

The instructor should also know the institution’s rules inside and out. Too often instructors are much more draconian than the rules themselves. If an essay has a few phrases that are plagiarized, but the rest of the paper has adequate citation, it’s hardly fair to assign an F to the assignment. It would be better to assign a smaller penalty (e.g., a 10% deduction). The instructor thus has the duty to know the rules and to apply them generously in favour of the student.

Doing so will make most grade appeals unnecessary. In fact, instructors have to be absolutely sure that a passage is plagiarized before they can act. Noting that a few ideas are broadly similar will not be enough in the case of an appeal. The onus is therefore on the instructor to provide adequate proof of plagiarism (highlighted phrases, URLs of the original web pages, etc.). It’s also a good idea to keep a photocopy of the assignment when returning it to the student.

But above all the instructor has a responsibility to design assignments that are difficult to plagiarize. If a student can google the topic and immediately find an entire essay on the same question, then the instructor is partly to blame.

An easy solution is to assign comparative topics (then at least the student would have to plagiarize from multiple sources and somehow piece them together). However, there are often better approaches. Try to assign topics for which there may be academic sources, but relatively few popular web pages. Ask the students to approach the subject from an unusual angle. Be specific about which secondary sources the students must interact with.

If the assignment is constructed properly in the first place, then plagiarism will at best be sporadic and minor, and likely not in the student’s best interest. Instructors who are proactive will have fewer plagiarism cases and fewer appeals.

A Culture of Plagiarism

Why is plagiarism rampant across university campuses? Some of it has to do with the way in which we access information. Don’t know the answer to a question? Just google it! We are a bit like Pavlov’s dogs that way.

The same behaviour affects how we research. In high school, students are often not taught adequate research skills, and so they look everything up online.

This culture of googling has a detrimental effect on students’ self-confidence. Instead of thinking for themselves, students begin most assignments by seeing what other people have to say.

As a society we have a duty to encourage students to believe in themselves, to trust that they can be great independent thinkers. That’s the only way to deal with plagiarism properly.



When you list your sources in an APA paper, the third part of an entry is usually the title. Here we review the basic rules for citing titles in your reference list.

Rules for Titles


Typically, only the first word of a title is capitalized:

Postprandial mood swings in adults who eat their lunch before 11 o’clock.

Exceptions are proper names and the first word of a subtitle:

Studies in obsessive compulsive disorder: The case of the Oxford comma.

As you can tell, you don’t need to use quotation marks for titles.


Use italics for titles of standalone works (e.g., books, websites) and for the names of periodicals:

Social hierarchy and towel whipping during the middle school years. (book)

Journal of Interracial Dating (periodical)

Don’t use italics when a work is part of a longer work (as with an article published in a periodical).

Additional Information

If your source contains extra information that relates to your title (edition, number, etc.), you can add it in parentheses:

Famous Freudian slips: The complete anals (Vols. 1-11).

Frank conversations with Frank (3rd ed., Vol. 2).

Frequency of calf muscle spasms in left handed adolescent swimmers (Publication No. Gr8-WRK-U2).

No Title

If your source lacks a title, you can substitute a description in square brackets:

[Photograph of latrinalia at Leicester train station].

For comments and social media posts that lack a title, it is customary to provide the first 20 words of the text.

Description of the Source

Sometimes it may be helpful to add a brief description of the source. This is especially the case for unusual sources:

Colonel Brandon’s flannel waistcoat [DVD]

Capitalize only the first word in square brackets. Here are some sample descriptions:




[Conference session]


[Data set]

[Database record]

[Unpublished doctoral dissertation]


[TV series]


[Audio podcast]

[Mobile App]

[Comment on the article, “Five ways to rejuvenate your relationship”]

For more information about citing titles, please see pp. 291-93 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Edition (7th ed.).

Integrating Quotations | Part 1 (MLA)


If you want to see dramatic improvement in your writing, then focus on integrating quotations. It is an area where many people struggle. Whereas in ordinary speech we easily introduce the words of others (he said; she was like), it somehow seems more difficult in writing. That is why learning the rules is time well spent.

Being able to integrate quotations gives you the confidence to interact with the ideas of others, to be part of a larger discussion. Quoting is not just about referencing a few lines of text that seem vaguely relevant. It is about having a conversation.

On this page we will cover the basics of integrating quotations. All examples follow the MLA style rules.

The Basics

The Parts of a Quotation

In academic writing, nearly every quotation is made up of three parts: a signal phrase, the quote itself, and some kind of citation:

Signal Phrase + Quote + Citation

Example: As Kurt Ramble argues, “Urban farming should be incorporated in the elementary school curriculum” (78).

The signal phrase consists of your own words that signal to the reader that a quotation is coming.

The quotation can be long or short. If it is quite long, then it may have to be formatted differently as a block quotation.

As for the citation, in this guide we will be using parentheses, but you could use footnotes or endnotes if you are not following MLA conventions.

Now that we know the three basic parts of a quotation, we can zoom in a little. Most quotations share the following details:

The Parts of a Quotation Formatted Using the MLA Style Rules

Notice that this passage is not crammed full of bibliographic information. Most of the time you need mention only the author and the page or line number. Other details can be saved for the works cited page. For example, titles are normally only mentioned if they are directly relevant, or if you are citing multiple works by the same author.

When a quotation is followed by parentheses, final punctuation is removed from the end of the quotation (with the exception of question marks and exclamation marks found in the source) and your own punctuation follows the citation.

Types of Signal Phrases

Quotations are categorized by the way they are introduced, and there are three main types of signal phrases.

The Short Expression

One of the easiest ways to introduce a quotation is to announce who the speaker or author is and to add a verb that describes the way in which the idea is expressed:

Jonathan Truculent writes, “The best part of the pizza is the crust” (314).

As Iris Evans suggests, “Cell phones and tablets have increasingly overlapping capabilities” (58).

There are plenty of other verbs that work equally well:

argues, believes, notes, states, implies, observes, etc.

Note that many of these constructions are introduced by the conjunction as:

As Smith argues …

Of course, your signal phrase can include more than the author and the verb. Here are some instances where the “short expression” is not all that short:

As Imagen Randolph suggests, in a salacious memoir that caused quite a scandal, “There was always inappropriate behaviour at his parties.”

John Connelly mentions the contrary opinion of Judge Gavel, who writes, “[N]0 jury should convict on those grounds” (qtd. in Connelly 23).

It was George Fandangle, the nineteenth-century antiquarian, who famously wrote about the Greek philosopher Stroumboulopoulos, “Just like the popular culture he analyzed, he is now mostly forgotten” (117).

However, at the core of these signal phrases we still have the author and the verb. In all such cases we use a comma between the signal phrase and the quotation.

After this type of signal phrase, the first word of the quotation is usually capitalized. You can use square brackets around the capital letter if the word in the source was in lowercase.

Checklist for the short expression:

  • Does your signal phrase include at least a subject and a verb (e.g., He suggests)?
  • Does your signal phrase end with a comma?
  • Have you capitalized the first word of the quotation?
  • Is the quotation a complete sentence?
  • Have you put the appropriate closing punctuation after the parentheses (e.g., a period) rather than at the end of the quotation?

The Formal Introduction

Next, we have a more stately way to introduce quotations. The formal introduction consists of an independent clause that typically makes a claim about the quotation that follows. The quotation then acts as proof or evidence of the signal phrase:

Godfrey Boggart, on the other hand, claims that opera is a dead art form: “While classic operas like Carmen or The Magic Flute are still being performed, most new operas receive little public attention and are in any case overshadowed by musicals” (49).

The formal introduction does not require a verb of expression (writes, believes, argues, etc.). It just needs to be a complete sentence that allows us to make sense of the quotation.

As with the short expression, the quotation is usually a complete sentence too. The one exception is if the quotation is an appositive phrase:

To describe the reasoning of toddlers, child psychologist Martin Frost coined a humorous portmanteau word: “toddlerlogical” (205).

If you find this an awkward construction, then just use the next method of integrating quotations: the run-in quotation.

To determine if you need to capitalize the first word of the quotation, check your source and follow the same formatting.

Checklist to the formal introduction:

  • Are both the quotation and your introduction complete sentences? (exception: the quotation is an appositive noun phrase)
  • Have you followed the same capitalization as in your source?
  • Does your introductory phrase end with a colon?

The Run-in Quotation

Often you can combine your signal phrase with the quotation to form one complete sentence. In that case you don’t need any punctuation in between. You will have to be selective about which words you quote, as the transition needs to be seamless.

The transept “first became popular in Romanesque architecture, and it gave the basilica the appearance of a Latin cross” (Chevet 5).

Buchanan contends that “despite being the longest ice age, the Huronian era remains understudied” (3).

The signal phrase may include the author and a verb of expression, but neither is essential. The key is that the signal phrase and the quotation together form a complete sentence.

So, there you have it: if you pick one of the three signal phrases, you should have no trouble introducing your quotations.

Checklist for the run-in quotation:

  • Do your words combine with the quotation to form a complete sentence?
  • Have you left out all punctuation before the quotation?

Minor Variants

Occasionally, you may come across a quotation that has no signal phrase. It just sits there, all by itself in the middle of a paragraph. Kind of sad really, as the reader may have no idea what to make of it. Our advice is to play it safe and always provide a signal phrase.

A more acceptable variant is where the order is flipped around, and the signal phrase comes afterwards:

“The high costs of drugs are as much an effect of government intervention as a by-product of free market capitalism,” writes economist Hugo X. Santana (19).

Notice that by default the citation comes at the end of the sentence. As a result, the comma has been placed inside the quotation, even though it was not there in the source. Sometimes, for the sake of clarity, you may wish to place the citation immediately after the quotation.

You can also place the signal phrase in the middle if you like:

“The high costs of drugs,” writes economist Hugo X. Santana, “are as much an effect of government intervention as a by-product of free market capitalism” (19).

This way of integrating the quotation (placing the signal phrase later in the sentence) is more common when the words are spoken rather than written down:

“I will shoot anyone who thinks gun control is unnecessary,” shouted Ella Pringle, at a rally in Utah.

Another acceptable variant is to introduce the quotation with a short prepositional phrase:

According to Virgil Cain, “Japanese gymnasts have managed to improve their elasticity by eating copious amounts of calimari.”

Make sure your signal phrase and the quotation form a complete sentence.

While you are free to experiment, in academic prose the default is to place your signal phrase before the quotation. Otherwise, your reader won’t immediately know what to make of the quotation and has to wait for an explanation.

Continuing After the Quotation

You might be asking yourself, do I need to end every sentence right after the quotation? Can I extend the sentence?

Yes you can.

The only caution is that continuing after the quotation is best done when your signal phrase runs right into the quotation (see above) and when the quotation is relatively short. Here is an example:

Odysseus is “the man of twists and turns,” an apt description of both his character and his wanderings coming home from Troy (1.1).

This is also a great way to string together a number of shorter quotations:

Matilda Anderson, in a recent address to the Anthropophagy Society, argued for a “redefinition of cannibalism,” so that the restaurant industry “might have a new source of protein” (1, 5).

Note that with multiple quotations you are allowed to combine citations. If those citations are from different sources, separate them with a semi-colon.

If you feel uncomfortable about extending your sentence after the quotation, then use a period and start a new sentence. Don’t fudge it by adding semi-colons.

Checklist for continuing on after the quotation:

  • Do your words combine with the quotation(s) to form a complete sentence?
  • Have you left out all punctuation before the quotation?
  • Have you placed parentheses either at the end of the sentence or immediately after the quotation?
  • Have you put punctuation after the parentheses as appropriate?


Now that know how to introduce a quotation with a signal phrase, check out part 2 of our guide on quoting to learn about all those finicky exceptions! Don’t worry though–with a bit of practice you will master the rules soon enough.

If you would like to print a version of this page, please download our handy Guide to Integrating Quotations.



Welcome to our introduction to the APA style guide. APA stands for the American Psychological Association, a body that provides guidelines for a number of disciplines, particularly those in the social sciences. In this guide we explain the essential APA rules for citing sources and formatting your paper. For the official (and complete) style guide, you’ll have to buy the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Common Features

APA, like MLA, uses in-text citation, by which we mean that sources are cited in the body of the text, as opposed to in footnotes or end notes. Unlike MLA, APA puts more emphasis on the date of publication. Often it is enough to cite the author’s last name and the date:

Bobbejaan (1999) argued …

… melancholy (Hrapniuk, Irate, & Wyrd, 2017).

This is sufficient if you’re referring to the general argument of the source you’re citing. On the other hand, if you’re quoting or drawing attention to a specific passage, you will also need to provide a page number:

(Smith, 2008, p. 11).

In APA style, the final bibliography is called a reference list. Again, the date of publication receives more emphasis, and is placed close to the start of each entry:

Frenetick, J. (2014). The psychology of trout tickling. LNG Press.

Clearly, APA papers value research that is current and up to date.


APA style can seem overwhelming, since it covers not only citation and formatting rules, but also gives advice on how to do research properly. Our focus is on the former. As you take courses in the social sciences, you will learn how to do everything from statistical analysis to conducting experiments. Don’t feel you need to know everything at once–simply consult whatever sections are relevant to you now.

In-Text Citation: Basic Rules


When you cite your sources in the text of your essay (what is commonly called in-text citation), you normally need to give just enough information so your reader can easily find the source in your final list of references. As with MLA style, citations are included in the text and not in the footnotes, though you are of course allowed to add footnotes for clarification and extra information.

There are a few sources that can be cited only in the text, and not in the reference list:

  • Personal communications that are not easily accessible
  • General references to websites, journals, apps, etc.
  • Quotations from research participants
  • Epigraphs

Core Principles

APA in-text citations focus on the author and the date of publication. If you’re quoting (rather than paraphrasing) you should also add the page number.

Here are a few sample in-text citations using the same source:

Jones (2017) argues that children who are unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum are more likely to experience bouts of depression during adolescence.

In 2017, Jones argued that children who are unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum are more likely to experience bouts of depression during adolescence.

Children who are unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum are more likely to experience bouts of depression during adolescence (Jones, 2017).

For children unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum, the results can be tragic: “Around 16% suffer from depression in their teenage years” (Jones, 2017, p. 44).

The first two examples are called narrative citations because they are part of the sentence itself. The last two examples are parenthetical citations: they enclose all the information in a final set of parentheses.

If you’re familiar with a different method of citation, watch out for the following features of APA style:

  • Authors are cited by last name only, though in the final list of references, initials may also be given.
  • All elements within parentheses are separated by commas.
  • Page numbers are introduced with a “p.” or “pp.”
  • Suffixes (e.g., Jr.) are omitted.

You will also note that APA essays frequently engage with the overall argument of a source, rather than some small detail or snippet. That is why often only the author and date are given, and no page number is provided. However, page numbers are important for direct quotations and can be helpful when paraphrasing a specific passage in a longer work.

The Ampersand

When citing works with multiple authors, you should join the names with “and” in the text of your essay, and with an ampersand (&) in parentheses:

Urchin, Urnwood, Unction, and Creep (2007)

(Urchin, Urnwood, Unction, & Creep 2007)

No Date of Publication

Should it happen that your source lacks a date or has not been published yet, then you can add “n.d” or “in press”:

(Crikey, n.d.)

(Flaky, in press)

Repeated Citations

When you use the same source multiple times in the same paragraph, you don’t necessarily need to cite it in every sentence. For example, when paraphrasing a source, make sure it is cited in the first sentence. Subsequently, when naming the source in the course of a sentence (as opposed to in parentheses), you can omit the date. If you introduce a different source or start a new paragraph, you’ll have to cite your original source in full again:

Fleaburg (2005) argued that giving more expensive roses on Valentine’s Day provided a greater happiness quotient than during the rest of the year. Part of the reason appears to be that the added cost is a marker of investment in the relationship. However, Fleaburg points out that once the cost reaches a certain threshold (typically around three times the normal price), the emotional returns start to dwindle, and may even be reversed should the parties be struggling financially or be of Dutch heritage. Similar research by Tillbury (2009) and Muffin (2018) confirms these findings. Nevertheless, it has been pointed out that more research needs to be done to take into account the effect of Costco wholesale flower prices (Fleaburg, 2005).

Numbers of Authors

One Author

When citing a single author, drop any suffixes (e.g., Jr.), and provide both the author’s name and the date:

Obermaus (2016) determined that psychotic taxi drivers are less likely to cause accidents.

Psychotic taxi drivers are less likely to cause accidents (Obermaus, 2016).

As mentioned above, if you’ve mentioned the author’s name outside of parentheses, then you can omit the date the next time you mention the name outside of parentheses (and in the same paragraph):

Obermaus (2016) determined that psychotic taxi drivers are less likely to cause accidents. Still, Obermaus also found that psychotic taxi drivers are more prone to road rage during traffic jams.

However, if you are citing multiple sources, or if the name is in parentheses, then make sure you provide both the name and the date in your next citation. This rule also applies if you’re citing more than one author.

Two Authors

For a single work by two authors, provide both names in every citation:

Frock and Flinck (1999) found that among some of the Bogo tribes, ritualized courtships consisted of elaborate handstands and cartwheels.

Among some of the Bogo tribes, ritualized courtships consisted of elaborate handstands and cartwheels (Frock & Flinck, 1999).

Note the use of the ampersand when names are joined in parentheses.

Three or More Authors

Anytime you’re citing a source by three or more authors, list just the first name followed by the Latin abbreviation et al. (and others):

Pointdexter et al. (2011) found …

(Pointdexter et al., 2011)

Notice that the abbreviation is not italicized.

If the shortened citation and date are the same as for another publication (that shares a similar group of authors), cite as many authors as necessary to distinguish the two sources. For instance, let’s say you want to shorten the following lists of authors:

(Smiley, Gaylord, Sanguin, & Giggles, 2009)

(Smiley, Stephens, Smith, & Stitch, 2009)

You would shorten as follows:

(Smiley, Gaylord, et al., 2009)

(Smiley, Stephens, et al., 2009)

If the last author is the only one that’s different, then just write out all the names.


Some sources are authored by groups (e.g., associations, societies, institutions). Spell them out fully the first time. If you intend to shorten them later, add the abbreviation in the parentheses:

The Pathological Liars Study Group (PLSG, 2010) found that …

(Pathological Liars Study Group [PLSG], 2010)

Notice the use of square brackets in the second example to avoid confusion between different sets of parentheses. After the first citation, you can provide just the abbreviated form:

The PLSG (2010) argued …

Group names should be spelled out fully in your reference list.


Now that you’ve learned the author-date system, check out also our other page on in-text citation, which covers some more unusual types of citations. 

For more information about APA in-text citation, see chapter 8 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).



Outlines are an effective way to organize your ideas. They provide structure and direction, they organize your thoughts, and they free your mind to focus on one section at a time. Outlines are a key tool for any writer, and it’s good to know how to create them quickly.

Outline Structure

You can normally use whatever outline structure suits you. The main thing is to differentiate between the various levels of organization. As an example, here’s an outline that uses a classic hierarchy:

Topic: A History of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

I. Introduction

II. The Original 1994 Agreement

A. Key Figures

i. Reagan’s idea

ii. Mulroney’s support

a. Liberal and NDP opposition

iii. Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s contribution

B. Provisions and Exceptions

III. Later Additions

IV. Notable Disputes

V. Trump’s Protectionism

VI. The Future of NAFTA

VII. Conclusion

As you can see, this is only a partial outline, as many of the sections can use further subdivision. It should nevertheless indicate how you can create a clear outline structure. In this case we’ve used letters and roman numerals, but you can use other formats too.

Tips for Effective Outlines

While an outline provides structure, it can easily remain static and disjointed. To make it come alive we suggest you do the following:

  • Include a rough description of your thesis, so you can check if all your points relate back.
  • Jot down some notes about how your sections connect to each other.
  • Be ready to modify your outline so that your points flow logically
  • Zoom in far enough that you have a sense of what examples and evidence you might use. If you have too much material you may need to add new points to your list.
  • Format the list in a way that works for you (you can add colour, change the font type and size, modify the indentation, etc.)
  • Ask a friend if the outline seems clear and interesting

In-Text Citation: Additional Rules


We have covered the basics of in-text citation elsewhere. This page details some unusual cases and exceptions.

Additional Rules

Same Last Name

If you’re citing authors who share a last name, provide the first author’s initials in each citation:

The problem has been discussed by B. Frank (1992) and I. M. Frank (2008).

Bush, Goldstein, & Frank (1995) argue …

Notice that in the second example Frank is not the first author listed, so there is no need to add initials. The reader can check the reference list to find out which Frank is meant.

If two co-authors share a last name, then you don’t have to use initials:

(Jones & Jones, 2020)

No Author

If a source has no author, provide a short version of the title (or whatever else is the first information in the reference list):

(“Wimpy Kids,” 2005)

(Gender Euphoria, 2011)

If the title lacks italics in the reference list, then place it between quotation marks. Capitalize important words in the title.

In the rare instance where a work is actually signed “Anonymous,” you can use that as the name:

(Anonymous, 2015)

Multiple Works

If you’re citing multiple works in the course of a sentence (and not in the final parentheses), then you can use any order you want:

Wiener (2012), Mayer (2009), and Franks (2001) all argued that the name Hotdog Syndrome might sound catchy, but would never pass muster as an official diagnosis.

By contrast, when citing multiple works in final parentheses, organize them alphabetically by the name of the first contributor. Use semi-colons to separate the sources:

The size of a handbag contributes less to social status than the colour and materials (Johansen, 2009; Prude & Clasp, 2012).

If an item is in press, list it last:

(Vogelsang, 2010; Beard, in press)

When citing multiple works by the same author(s), give only the date for each item after the first:

(Jones, 2001, 2008, 2014; Peters, 2009)

If two or more dates are the same, use letters (a, b, c…) to distinguish them:

(Young, 2005a, 2005b; Zielinski, 2003)

Finally, if you want to emphasize one of your sources, you can place it first and introduce the other sources with a phrase such as see also:

(Ker, 2015; see also Bragg, 2016; Loreman et al., 2007)

In this example, Ker’s study is given priority (breaking the rule about alphabetization), and the other sources are treated as of secondary importance.

Multiple Dates of Publication

Sometimes you might want to provide two dates of publication. This is useful for reprints, translations, and so on. Separate the dates with a slash:

(Pavlov, 1933/2009)

Adler (1929/2015)

Second Hand Information

If one of your sources cites another source, one that you cannot access yourself, then you can use the phrase “as cited in”:

Her last will and testament stated that “the black sheep will get nothing” (as cited in Smith, 2005).

The ascent of Mount Sinister took four weeks and claimed the lives of two mountaineers (Sharp, 1999, as cited in Fillmore, 2011).

Use this method only when you can’t look up the original source yourself.

Citing a Part of Source

Quotations are generally cited by page number, but there are other ways cite a specific section of a source. These include tables, paragraphs, chapters, theatrical references, Bible verses, and much more:

(Gibbet, 2008, pp. 23-24)

(Karpati, 2001, Table 3.1)

(Felicity, 2003, paras. 5-6)

(Bronsman, 1962, Chapter 5)

(Newly Revised Still Standard Bible, 2019, Rom. 4:1)

(Shakespeare, 1623/2009, 2.4.12-14)

(Fillmore, 2018, “Methodology” section, para. 2)

When citing a heading or section of a longer work, you can abbreviate the title.

In all such citations, the words page(s) and paragraph(s) are abbreviated, and most other descriptive words are capitalized (though not section).

Personal Communication

Any personal communication that is not accessible to your readers (i.e., is not recoverable) should be cited as follows:

E. G. Sand (personal communication, May 3, 2017)

(B. Sandwich, personal communication, December 22, 2014)

Make sure you provide the person’s initials and give the date in full. This is important because personal communication is not included in the final reference list.

Personal communication can include emails, letters, lectures, text messages, conversations, and so forth. Such sources are only cited in the text of your essay, and not in the reference list.

Citations in Parentheses

If some text in parentheses includes a citation, don’t use an extra set of parentheses to set it off:

Incorrect: (see Angstfreund (2008), Chapter 5, for a detailed discussion)

Correct: (see Angstfreund, 2008, Chapter 5, for a detailed discussion)

In such cases, commas will do.

For more information about APA in-text citation, please see chapter 8 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Editing for Metadiscourse


Even if you’ve only ever written a single essay–or even a line of an essay–you’ll be familiar with metadiscourse and the challenge it presents. Metadiscourse is a fancy word for the language we use to frame our ideas:

In this example of metadiscourse, the phrase "nice shirt" is framed with the words "I've got to say."

It’s hard to write without using metadiscourse. For instance, anytime you indicate a change in direction, you end up using expressions like howeveron the other hand, or yet one might argue that. All of these are examples of metadiscourse.

Use too much of this kind of language and your prose will seem stilted and cumbersome; use too little and the reader will be lost in a jungle of disconnected observations. Let’s take a closer look, then, at how you can use metadiscourse to frame your ideas effectively.


The word metadiscourse consists of two parts. The word discourse means communication or debate. The prefix meta comes from Greek and means something like about. In other words, metadiscourse refers to the language we use to talk about our regular communication.

If your thesis reads “I will argue that according to Plato thinking for yourself is antithetical to an oral tribal culture,” then the phrase “I will argue that” is metadiscourse. It frames the idea and tells the reader how you want your words to be understood.

Metadiscourse is important because it allows us to put our stamp on the material, to give direction and relate the various facts and opinions to each other.

Here’s how one scholar defines metadiscourse:

Essentially metadiscourse embodies the idea that communication is more than just the exchange of information, goods or services, but also involves the personalities, attitudes and assumptions of those who are communicating. (Hyland 3)

In other words, your choice of metadiscourse affects your writing style. It affects how readers perceive you as a person.

Editing for Metadiscourse

Here’s a sample essay introduction filled with metadiscourse:

When comparing two pieces of literature, there are many different aspects that a person can analyze. When we take a closer look at Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass or C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe we see that this is true. For example, Lewis shares a Christian message, whereas Pullman promotes an atheist worldview. In this essay, I will demonstrate that these themes come up especially in relation to lying. Whereas Lewis condemns Edmund for being a liar, Pullman makes his heroine, Lyra, an accomplished liar and praises her for it.

Clearly this paragraph is very self-referential. The writer constantly reminds us that literary analysis involves comparison, analysis, close reading, and argumentation. Much of this language is redundant, and we could easily do with a shorter version:

Philip Pullman wrote The Golden Compass in part because he hated C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Whereas Lewis shares a Christian message, Pullman promotes an atheist worldview. We see this especially when it comes to lying. Lewis condemns Edmund for being a liar, but Pullman makes his heroine, Lyra, an accomplished liar and praises her for it.

The revised version is more direct. By minimizing the frame we can focus on the picture.

The point, then, is that metadiscourse should be used judiciously. Some writing instructors go overboard and launch a crusade against metadiscourse, deleting as much self-referential language as they can. Instead, the challenge is to find a happy medium, where your metadiscourse makes the reading process smooth and easy.

Finding Your Voice

A common struggle for writers is to decide what pronouns to use (or whether to use them at all). Let’s review whether it’s acceptable to use “I” and “we” in academic writing.

Using “I”

I can’t tell you how often students have come to me and said “But my teacher told me never to use ‘I’ in my essay.” While such advice may be well-meant, it has the unfortunate effect of making the act of writing seem somehow impersonal and distant, as if essays have to be composed in a different language.

Now it is true that in some disciplines (e.g., history) the first person voice is frowned upon, mostly because the author is expected to seem objective and unbiased. It’s also true that “I” is often redundant. If you’re writing a book review and you open with “I think that Slade House was a gripping read” you could just as well say “Slade House was a gripping read.”  The reader will assume that the statements on the page are your opinion.

Despite these caveats, using “I” is not forbidden, and is often preferred. The first person voice is particularly useful when you’re distinguishing your ideas from those of others:

Whereas Sarah Jones argues that … I would suggest that …

I agree with Michael Smith that …

The first person pronoun is also great for indicating shifts in your argument:

I will argue that …

Having seen that … , I think we can safely conclude that …

Even if you later decide to delete some of those “I’s,” they will have helped you to get your ideas on paper, and that’s a good thing.

Royal We

Another pronoun that tends to confuse writers is “we.” Here’s how to use “we” without sounding pompous.

First, avoid using the “royal we,” where “we” is just a grander way of saying “I”:

We will argue that …

As we have demonstrated …

Unless you are coauthoring a piece of writing, this use of “we” is not advisable.

On the other hand, you can use “we” if you’re actually referring to multiple individuals:

In our study group we found that …

As we examine the evidence, we will see …

Notice that in the second example “we” refers to the writer and the reader(s). This use of the pronoun can be an effective way of making your audience feel part of the process.


Much of essay writing consists of learning to use metadiscourse properly. It’s about discovering your own voice, of developing your writing personality.

At first the tendency will be to do too much, to start every sentence with a transitional word (therefore, thus, etc.), or to add unnecessary modifiers (e.g., essentially). Then the pendulum might swing the other way, and you feel self-conscious every time you write “I will argue,” or “we will see.”

But in the end you’ll find the right style for you, and that’s really all that matters.

Works Cited

Hyland, Ken. Metadiscourse: Exploring Interaction in Writing. Continuum, 2005.

Formatting the Reference List


The final bibliography in an APA paper is called a reference list. The reference list includes only those sources that have been cited in the text and that support the argument. Background studies and works of general interest are not included.

In addition, sources cited in the reference list should be recoverable. The reader should be able to locate and access them. For that reason, personal documents (e.g., emails, letters) that are not publicly accessible should be cited only in the body of your essay, and not in the reference list.

On this page we cover basic formatting rules, how to alphabetize entries, and some common abbreviations you can use when citing your sources.

Basic Formatting

Start your reference list on a separate page.

Write “References” (centered and bold) and then list your sources in alphabetical order. Double space all text and use hanging indentation to organize entries:

An image showing a sample APA reference list with two entries

Alphabetizing Entries

Entries are generally organized alphabetically, by surname:

Allworth, A.

Basketcase, B.

Clause, S.

However, here are some special cases to watch out for …

Nothing Precedes Something

The APA manual explains that in alphabetizing, “nothing precedes something” (303). Take the following names:

Crutch, X. A.

Crutchfield, B. P.

Crutchy, C. N.

In this example, all three surnames start with “Crutch,” but after that the first surname has “nothing” (ignoring the initials) and so it comes first.

Same Author

1. If you’re citing multiple works by the same author, organize them by year of publication:

Duncecap, C. V. (n.d.)

Duncecap, C. V. (2015).

Duncecap, C. V. (2017).

The same rule applies for citing multiple authors:

Billups, C., & Barkley, C. (2014).

Billups, C., & Barkley, C. (2016).

2. If the author and the year are both the same, alphabetize by title and add a letter behind each date:

Whitecraft, B. (2017a). A brief history of briefs.

Whitecraft, B. (2017b). The sociology of underwear.

Articles (a, an, the) are ignored for the purpose of alphabetizing.

3. If the same author has published individually and with others, always place the individual publication first:

Bittern, S. (2012).

Bittern, S., & Scotch, T. (2002).

This assumes, of course, that both entries start with the same surname.

No Author

Use the name “Anonymous” only if that’s how the work is signed. Otherwise, if the author’s name is missing, alphabetize by title (ignoring The, An, A).

Group Names

Spell out group names, and alphabetize accordingly:

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mafia Research Division. (2015).

Sicilian Mob Studies Association. (2014).

Society for the Study of Godfathers. (2011).

Notice that a subdivision (e.g., Mafia Research Division) is mentioned after its parent body. However, you can often leave out the parent body (here the Federal Bureau of Investigation) and cite it later in the entry as the publisher.

If the title page of your source lists both individual authors and a group name, then provide the individual names for the author and save the group name for later in the entry.


Finally, here are some abbreviations you can use in your reference list:

ed. (edition)

Rev. ed. (revised edition)

2nd ed. (second edition, etc.)

Ed. (Editor)

Eds. (Editors)

p. (page)

pp. (pages)

Vol. (Volume)

Vols. (Volumes)

No. (Number)

n.d. (no date)

Pt. (Part)

Suppl. (Supplement)

Trans. (Translator or Translators)

For more information about how to format and organize your reference list, please see chapter 9 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Authors and Editors


The author can be anything from a single person to a group or organization. There are many types of authors. Examples include a speaker at a TED talk, the editor of a book, a singer, the writer of an article, or someone who comments on a web page.

This page explains how to cite authors and editors as part of your APA reference list.


Inverted Names

Most of the time you’ll first want to give an author’s surname, followed by initials:

Jones, A. B. (2001).

If the first name is hyphenated (e.g., Mary-Jo), use both a period and a hyphen (e.g., M.-J.). In general, remove titles (e.g., Dean, President, etc.), but do add suffixes (e.g., Jr.).


If you’re citing two or more authors, join the last two names together with an ampersand (&):

Jones, A. B., Smith, C. D., & Axelrod, D. T. (2009).

When using an ampersand between two group names, don’t add a comma:

Fun in the Sun Conference & The Hawaiian Epicurean Society.

However, do provide commas with three or more group authors.

Twenty-One or More Authors

When citing a source with 21 or more authors, delete every name after the 19th and before the final one. Use three spaced periods to indicate the omission:

Seacrest, B. T., Reynolds, A. T., Etheridge, L., Cruise, T., Merkel, A., Bergkamp, N., Cornflake, X., Bobbejaan, I., Watson, E., Ampersand, N., Doubletake, C. B., Corny, W., Snowflake, Y., Naughty, T., Funfner, P., Zijlstra, K., Allegro, U., Andante, E., Presto, J. . . . Ratzinger, W. (2015).

Same Name

If authors share the same last name and initial(s), you can add the full first name in brackets:

Williams, B. [Brent]. (1999).

Williams, B. [Bryan]. (2004).

Be sure also to spell out each initial in the text of your essay (e.g., Brent Williams, 1999).

Group Author

Don’t abbreviate the names of group authors:

Peruvian Pavlovians Society. (2009).

Hawaiian Littoral Study Group. (2011).

If you list the group name as author, don’t include it again later in the source section of the entry.

No Author

If a source has no author, place the title first:

Dit is niet een echte titel. (2006).

Only if the work is clearly signed “Anonymous” can you use this designation as the author.


Editor as Author

When citing one or more editors in the author position, invert the names and add (Ed.). or (Eds.).

Brown, A. T. (Ed.). (2011).

Strand, J. S., & Johnson, C. N. (Eds.). (2016).

Editor and Author

If the source has an author, and the editor’s name comes later in the entry, don’t invert the editor’s name:

Templeton, R. (2009). The destructive work habits of slobs (T. V. Time, Ed.; 2nd ed.). Billabong University Press.

Entry in Edited Volume

If the source is a chapter or entry in an edited volume, use the word In before the editor’s name:

Prune, B., & Bucket, C. J. (2017). Are splash parks a waste of water? In N. Green, & B. B. Gun (Eds.), Climate change and urban planning (pp. 14-19). Spain: Solar.

For more information about how to format the author element, please see chapter 9 (especially pp. 285-89) of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Publication Date


If you have questions about how to cite the date of a publication following the APA guidelines (7th ed.), please consult the examples below.


Year of Publication

The default option is to give the year of publication.

Crabby, M., & Grumby, Z. (Eds.). (2011). The anxiety of influence: Why the fear of plagiarism haunts academics. Journal of Insipidity, 24(1), 99-111.

Note the final period after the parentheses.

Month and Day

For frequent publications such as magazines and newspapers, you can give the year, month, and day (if known):

Slinky, B. (2014, May 7). The elephant in the room, or how to tranquilize people with unusually large egos. Popular Anesthetist, 108(4), 33-35.

In some cases you may instead provide the season:

(2015, Spring)

No Date

Use the abbreviation “n.d.” to indicate if a source does not have a date:

Smith, A. (n.d.). Adhocracy. In Dictionary of economic jargon. Retrieved September 19, 2019, from

Estimated date

Prenderwick, E. (ca. 1972). Peruvian Pavlovians Society constitution. In T. Droolbug (Ed.), Papers of the Peruvian Pavlovians Society (pp. 23-33). University of Lima Press.

Multiple Years

Multi-volume publications are often published over a longer time period. Provide the first and last date of publication:

Sharp, B. (Ed.). (1999-2009). Famous Freudian slips: The complete anals (Vols. 1-11). Lima, Peru: Parapraxis Press.

In Press

If a work has accepted for publication but has not been officially published, write “in press”:

Blunt, R., Bumbles, T. T., & Wink, M. S. (in press). Can emojis adequately capture the emotional states of adolescents? Digital Communication Trends.

In such cases it is likely that there is no URL or DOI to provide.

If a work is still in progress, or has been submitted but not yet accepted, then don’t provide a description for the date. Simply list the year when the work was created.


For more information about citing the date of publication, please see pp. 289-91 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs)


A DOI, or digital object identifier, is an alpha-numeric string that is associated with a particular publication. It is similar to a URL (a uniform resource locator), the web link you see in your browser’s address bar. However, a DOI is more stable and will remain permanently attached to a publication.

The APA guidelines suggest that if a source has a DOI, you should include it in the citation, even if you did not access the source online.

Current Guidelines

The American Psychological Association follows the guidelines for DOIs provided by Crossref, the organization that helps publishers create consistent citation linking. A proper DOI should be in the following format (the letter being a variable number or letter):

Let’s take a closer look at the component parts of a DOI:

Note that every DOI will include the number 10 at the start of the prefix. The next number is at least four digits long and is associated with the registrant, a particular publisher or organization. The suffix consists of any number of letters and numbers.

When citing an online source with a DOI, add it at the end of your citation:

Wittles, Q. (2011). Freud and the art of doodling. Art and Psychology, 19, 22-33.

Make the link clickable if your writing is published online. Also, make sure you don’t add a period afterwards, as that may mess up the link.

How to Find a DOI

Most often you will find the DOI at the beginning of the article (look on the first page, above the title or in the header and footer).

If you’re using an academic database, you will also often find the DOI listed in the information for the article. In some cases, it may not be formatted correctly:

In this example, you would need to edit the link to get rid of “dx” and the library extension (“”):



Note that normally we would use https instead of http.

Older Methods

In the past, DOIs were sometimes formatted differently:


If you are citing the same DOI today, you’ll want to use the current format:


If you’re doubtful about the usefulness of DOIs, just take a DOI (not one from this article–they’re mostly made up) and copy it in your browser’s address bar (then press Enter). Alternatively, you can go directly to the DOI resolver at Knowing the DOI allows you to easily find the text it belongs to.

For more information about DOIs, please consult pp. 298-300 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).



A periodical is a magazine or journal that comes out in regular installments. This page provides a number of examples of how to cite a periodical article. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, try match the closest example or consult the official APA manual.

Basic Format

The basic format for articles is as follows:

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (year of publication). Title of the article. Periodical Title, volume number(issue number), page range, doi.

Here is what that looks like in practice:

Rush, N. M., Quick, C. F., & Scamper, A. (2016). The handwriting of psychology students analyzed through the notation of the ampersand in final exams. The Psychic Calligraphist, 22(1), 1-18,


  • Provide initials for first names.
  • Whenever you cite more than one author, use an ampersand before the final name.
  • Don’t capitalize key words in your title. Only the first word and proper nouns need capitalization.
  • Use italics for the periodical title and volume.
  • Provide the issue number only if each issue starts pagination from page 1.
  • For more information about DOIs, check out our separate page and consult the examples below.
  • Depending on the citation, some details may be altered or omitted.


Article in Print

An article in print does not need a DOI number:

Kappa, A. B., Middlington, E. & Mooney, P. R. (2016). The non-uniformity of heterogeneous co-ed frat houses. Social Architectonics, 12, 99-108.

Article with DOI

When you add a DOI, make sure you omit the final period.

Wittles, Q. (2011). Freud and the art of doodling. Art and Psychology, 19, 22-33.

Article with URL

Plump, T. T., & Carrot, C. V. (2012). Quarterly sales of hamburgers and hotdogs in Hamburg and Frankfurt. Journal of Fast Food Economics, 9(3), 88-93. http://ufv.lib/us/12.9.3/sales

More Than Twenty Authors

When citing a source with more than twenty authors, delete every name after nineteenth and before the final one. Use three spaced periods to indicate the omission:

Seacrest, B. T., Reynolds, A. T., Etheridge, L., Cruise, T., Merkel, A., Bergkamp, N., Colon, S., Semi-Colon, B., Comma, N., Dash, Z., Potato, M., Waffle, C., Chocolate, K., Kamp, U., Fifteener, V. Jones, E, Watson, T. Chupkra, M., Klosur, I.,  . . . Ratzinger, W. (2015). Coping with the fears of brain freezes and melting ice-cream. Childlike Psychology, 5(2), 144-89.

Article In Press

Whipper, T. X., & Knuckleboner, P. C. (in press). Some differences between the British and the Scottish clammy handshake. Journal of Body Language.

Magazine Article

If you’re citing a popular magazine (rather than an academic periodical), you may want to give the month and/or day of publication:

Slinky, B. (2014, May 3). The elephant in the room, or how to tranquilize an unusually obese man. Popular Anesthetist, 108(4), 33-35.

For magazines published online, add a URL.

Newspaper Article

For newspaper articles, provide the day and month, and, where appropriate, cite page numbers by the section of the paper:

Hendrix, K. (2001, November 2). Sociology professor wears pajamas to class. Blue River Gazette, B1, B7-B8.

In this example, the article can be found in section B.

For online newspapers, just replace the section with the URL of the article:

Hendrix, K. (2001, November 2). Sociology professor wears pajamas to class. Blue River Gazette.

Special Issue or Section

Sometimes a periodical is devoted entirely to a single issue or topic. If you would like to cite the issue as a whole, provide the names of the editors followed by the title of the issue and the designation “special issue”:

Crabby, M., & Grumby, Z. (Eds.). (2011). The anxiety of influence: Why the fear of plagiarism haunts academics [Special Issue]. Journal of Insipidity, 24(1).

If you’re citing just a section of the journal, change the description of the title and add page numbers:

Florist, F., Grist, M. J., & Groanwold, A. B. (Eds.). (2007). Animation and imagination: The dynamics of visualization in early childhood education [Special section]. Studies in Indoctrination, 88, 59-102.

For more information about citing periodicals, please see pp. 316-21 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).



This page will teach you how to cite longer works such as books and reference works, as well as the chapters or entries in them.


Basic Format

Here’s the default format for citing a book:

Author, A. A. (year of publication). Title (translator or editor). Publisher. DOI or URL

And here’s what that might look like in practice:

Youngblood, A. (1999). Addicted to Facebook and fake news: Studies in gerontology (F. Finch, Ed.). We The North Press.

Whitman, W. (2016). An introduction to urinal etiquette. Pissoir Digital.

You can vary the format by replacing the author with an editor or a group. Leave out the DOI or URL if the book doesn’t have one:

Putin, V. (Ed.) (2017). The fate of the pierogi in Russian controlled Ukraine. Black Sea Press.

Now that you know the general format, check out the variations below for other examples.


You only need to indicate that your source is an audio book if that version is different in some way from the regular text (e.g., it is abridged):

Carbuncle, R. D. (2015). How to fake a fake smile (H. Glow, Narr.) [Audiobook]. Colgate Audio.


Here’s how to cite an electronic book that lacks a DOI:

Nibali, B. (2002). A brief history of the little black dress.

Multi-volume Work with Multiple Editors

The following entry includes two editors, an edition, and a specific volume:

Sharp, B., & Klunk, H. (Eds.). (2009). Famous Freudian slips: The complete anals (2nd ed., Vol. 3). Parapraxis Press.

Edition with Author and Editor

Templeton, R. (2009). The destructive work habits of slobs (T. V. Time, Ed.; 2nd ed.). Billabong University Press.

Republished Work

Idler, A., Freude, S., & Dung, C. (1999). Hope I don’t fall in love with you: Problems with patient-therapist transference (B. Stricter, Ed. & Trans.). Golden Gate Press. (Original work published 1928)

Providing the original date of publication is also important for editions of classic works of literature (e.g., Plato, Shakespeare, etc.).

Translated Book

Grettirsdottir, L. (2002). A brief introduction to Icelandic humour (T. Smith, Trans.). Oxbridge University Press.

If the title is in a foreign language, you can add an English translation in square brackets behind it.

Chapters and Entries

Basic Format

Here is the basic format for citing a specific section of a book:

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (year of publication). Title of chapter or entry. In A. Editor, & B. Editor (Eds.), Book Title (pp. xx-xx). Publisher. DOI or URL

And this is what that looks like in practice:

Prune, B., & Bucket, C. J. (2017). Are splash parks a waste of water? In N. Green, & B. B. Gun (Eds.), Climate change and urban planning (pp. 14-19). Solar Press.

Now that you know the basic format, let’s look at a few sample variations.

Book Chapter, Reprinted from a Journal Article

Cork, V. (2005). The pedagogy of surprise. In B. P. MacDonald, & E. Sorenson (Eds.), Teaching with Emotion (pp. 89-102). Big Hat Press. (Reprinted from “The pedagogy of surprise,” 2001, Journal of Sentimentality, 4[3], 66-81,

Note that here the issue number of the article is placed in square brackets rather than parentheses.

Online Reference Work

Online works will typically lack page numbers:

Norton, F. (2010). Trauma. In H. Ypnosis (Ed.), The Gobsmack Encyclopedia of Psychology.

Other information that may be missing includes the author, editor, and date:

Adhocracy. (n.d.). In Dictionary of economic jargon. Retrieved January 11, 2019, from

When the entry lacks a date, you can provide a retrieval date instead.

For more information about citing books and sections of books, please see pp. 321-29 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Meetings and Presentations


When scholars want to share their ideas, they deliver talks, present posters, and discuss their results. This page will help you cite the different types of presentations, using the APA style guide (7th ed.).

Meetings and Presentations

Conference Paper, Poster, Session

If you’re citing a speech, poster, or conference session, use the following format:

Presenter, A. A., & Presenter, B. B. (Year, month and days). Title [Type of Contribution]. Conference Name, Location. DOI or URl.

In practice, we get something like this:

Flokstra, Z., & Flintwitch, I. (2002, September 7-9). The benefits of spool knitting in environmental science classrooms [Poster presentation]. Knitting Scientists Society Congress, Chicago, IL, United States.

Zizek, B. (2011, June 5). Teaching architecture with Lego [Paper presentation]. Annual Conference of the International Lego Pedagogy Group, Boston, MA, United States.

To cite an entire session, just list the contributors as the author and write “Conference sesssion” in square brackets after the title.


A symposium is meeting where a number of scholars come together to discuss a particular topic. If they’re polite, they’ll let the chair keep them from droning on too long. You can cite all the contributors or single out specific individuals.

Here’s the basic format:

Contributor, A. A., & Contributor, B. B. (Year, month and days). Title of contribution. In C. C. Chairperson (Chair), Symposium title [Symposium]. Conference Name, Location. DOI or URL

And here’s an example:

Kushner, X., Spicer, K., & Scarface, B. K. (2017, January 19). The economic effect of the Magnitsky Act. In M. Kardashian (Chair), Conference on Russian-American Relations [Symposium]. Itinerant Economists Society Conference, Thredbo, Australia.


When select conference presentations are published, they are often bundled together as one document (called the conference proceedings). When you cite a presentation included in such a publication, follow the regular rules for citing an entry or chapter in a book:

Dalek, S., & Whu, Y. (2017). The crazy physics of the EmDrive thruster. In B. S. Gallblather (Ed.), The Future of Interstellar Travel (pp. 35-42). Backwater Press.

For more information about citing meetings and presentations, please see pp. 332-33 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).


Basic Format

Let’s start with the default option for citing an unpublished thesis or dissertation:

Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of dissertation or thesis [Unpublished doctoral thesis or master’s thesis]. Institution.

Here’s what that looks like in practice:

Nyet, D. (2005). Procrastination and dissertation completion times at three Ontario universities (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Toronto.


Dissertation or Thesis in a Database

Fleming, C. T. (1998). Valentine’s Day and the Macedonian horticultural industry (Publication No. 483294) [Master’s thesis, Saints Cyril and Methodius University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.

Dissertation From the Web

When you’re not using a database, you may want to include a URL and/or archive name:

Obvius, C. (2014). The psychology of common sense (Doctoral dissertation, Donair University). Donair Institutional Repository.

For more information about citing dissertations, please see pp. 333-34 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).



Need to cite a review of a book or film? This page will teach you how, using the APA guidelines (7th ed.)

Citing Reviews

Basic Format

The default format for reviews involves a book review published in a journal:

Reviewer, A. A. (Date of the review’s publication). Review Title [Review of the book Title, by A. A. Author]. Periodical, volume(issue), pages. DOI or URL

Here’s an example:

Rutgers, A. (2010, December 22). I may be Greek, but I’m not narcissistic. [Review of the book The Psychological Make-up of Six European Nations, by E. Pratt]. Psychobabble Magazine, 66(1), 22-23.

If the review is of a different medium than a book, change “Review of the book” to whatever description is appropriate (e.g., “Review of the film”). The same goes for the author of the material under review. For example, you might replace the author of the book (E. Pratt in our example) with the director (e.g., “by B. Alonso, Dir.).


As an example of the changes you can make to the basic format, here is a film review published in a newspaper:

Cringeworthy, E. (2014). Nowhere Close. [Review of the film The Bridge to Somewhere, by F. Synopsis, Dir.]. The Millenial Times

For more information about citing reviews, please see pp. 234-35 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Data Sets and Software


If you’re using a data set or a specialized kind of software or measurement tool, you should cite it in your reference list.

Of course you don’t have to cite common types of software such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, nor do you have to account for the use of universal programming languages (e.g., Java).

Data Set

Here is the basic format:

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of data set (Version number) [Data set]. Publisher or Source. DOI or URL.


  • You can leave out the version number.
  • If the information is still being updated, you can provide a retrieval date and URL (e.g., Retrieved May 7, 2017, from URL).
  • You can change the description in square brackets (e.g., Data set, Unpublished raw data, etc.).
  • Italicize the names of data sets.

Here are some examples:

Brazilian Department of Soccer Statistics. (2007). Goal scoring efficiency of forwards in a state of post-carnival inebriation, 1999-2004 [Data set]. Retrieved July 8, 2019, from 

Cramp, I. E. (2008). Catholic prayer benches and arthritis rates [Data set]. Pews Research Society.

Vanspronsen, T. (2001). [Unpublished raw data on impostor syndrome at the administrative level]. University of Zenith.

For links to important data sets and repositories, check out this APA page.


Let’s start with the basic format:

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of work (Version number) [Computer software]. Publisher or app store. URL


  • You can leave out the version number.
  • You can change the description in square brackets (e.g., Computer software, Mobile app, Equipment, etc.).
  • Italicize the title.

Here are two examples:

Alert, A. B. (2015). HyperAware Optimizer (Version 3.2) [Computer software]. Caffeine Logistics.

Innocuous Developers. Fun time-wasting game (Version 1.9) [Mobile app]. App Store.

For more information, please consult pp. 337-41 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Audio Visual Sources

Films and Videos

Benedict, E., & Scramble, T. (Directors). (1962). Breakfast epiphany [Film]. Singular Productions.

Vilnius, R. (Director). (2015). Unboxing the latest antidepressants from Senegal [Film; two-disc speical ed. on Blu-ray]. Lithuanian Lithium Association.

Youtube Videos

Manning, C. [Styledog]. (2011, December 5). How to cite videos in APA [Video].


Jones, A. (Host), & Jones, B. (Executive Producer). (2017-2018). Planet sunny [Audio Podcast]. Smile Productions.

Podcast Episode

Radcliffe, N. (Host). (2015, September 15). The one that got away (No. 23) [Audio podcast episode]. In Lab Rats.

Television Series

Willburg, C., & Flincher, D. (Executive producers). (2011-17). Thirteen unlucky teens [TV series].  Rooibos TV.

Television Episode

Ornery, F. (Writer), & Flincher, D. (Director). (2017, May 5). Matilda’s cat [TV series episode]. In C. Willburg (Executive producer), Thirteen unlucky teens. Rooibos TV.

Music Album

Brundage, K. (2015). Waking up beside you [Album]. Bottled Angst Records.

Single Song

Brundage, K. (2015). What’s that tattoo? [Song]. On Waking up beside you [CD]. Bottled Angst Records.


Clefbom, C. (2015). Apple tree in the backyard [Photograph]. Clefbom Museum.

For more information about citing audio-visual sources, please see pp. 341-47 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Social Media and Websites

Social Media

The basic format for citing social media is as follows:

Author, A. A. (Year, Month and day). Title [Description of audiovisuals]. Site name. URL

Note that the title is typically the wording of the social media post (up to 20 words). If the post does not include any audiovisuals or links, just leave out the description in square brackets.


When citing a tweet, be sure to add [Tweet] after the title and description:

Grump, D. [@BGrumpy99]. (2019, December 24]. Will probably be disappointed with my Christmas presents (again). 🙁 #ChristmasSucks [Image attached] [Tweet]. Twitter.

You can omit the description of audiovisuals in square brackets, or else provide a different wording (e.g., Link attached).

You can also cite a Twitter profile. In this case, provide a retrieval date, since the content may change:

Grump, D. [@BGrumpy99]. (n.d.). Tweets [Twitter profile]. Twitter. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from

You may replace “Tweets” with other parts of the Twitter profile (e.g., lists, moments, topics).

Post on Facebook, Tumblr, etc.

Here’s an example of a Facebook post:

Sophie and Sebastian. (2019, September 14). Excited to share another fun children’s story [Image and link attached] [Status update]. Facebook.

You can tailor this for other social media posts. Change the descriptions in brackets to suit your needs. For example, for Instagram you would might write [Photographs] instead of [Status update].

To cite a Facebook page, make sure you indicate the specific page title (home, photos, etc.):

Russia Hoax Conspiracy Society. (n.d.). Photos [Facebook page]. Facebook. Retrieved August 2, 2018, from

You’ll note that this reference has a lot in common with the Twitter profile citation above.


Try to retain emojis if possible. If you are unable to create the same emoji, you can describe it in square brackets:


[grinning face]

For a list of emojis, see the Unicode website.

Forum Post

Cassidy, B. (2017, December 5). So I am writing a paper on the psychology of train robbers and I wonder if any of you could [Online forum post]. Reddit.

Notice that even though the post keeps going, we’ve cut it off after 20 words.


Let’s start with the basic format:

Author, A. A. (Year, Month and day). Title. Site. URL

Here is an example of a webpage:

Bauer, A. (2017, August 21). My view of the eclipse. Andy’s Science Blog.

If you’re interacting with multiple pages from the same website, you’ll have to cite each one separately.

If you want to cite an entire website, don’t do so in the reference list. Just mention the website in your text and provide the URL in parentheses.

If the author and the site title are the same, omit the latter. If the page is likely to change over time, provide a retrieval date:

Geese Unlimited. (n.d.). Why ducks are overrated (the latest stats). Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https:/www/

For more information, please consult pp. 348-52 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

In-text Citation


When you cite your sources in the text of your writing project (what’s often called in-text citation), you need to give just enough information so that people can trace the quotation or image back to its source.

Usually that means providing the author and page number:

Boredom is sometimes seen as a threat to productivity in the work place. However, it has also been called the “single greatest cause of creativity and invention” (Jones 35).

The reader can then turn to your Works Cited page and find the complete citation:

Jones, Mark. “Boredom and Creativity.” The Causes of Boredom: A Collection of Essays, edited by Esther Yawn, Etcetera Press, 2017, pp. 34-49.

Of course, when the author and page number are not available, or you’ve used a source such as a play or poem, you will have to find other alternatives. Further down, we will review the options.

For now the main thing to realize is that the MLA guidelines promote an unobtrusive citation style. Your in-text citations should state only the most essential information. That way the reader can enjoy your writing without distraction.

How Much to Cite

When students first begin to do research, the tendency is to provide too much bibliographic information in the body of the text. Here is some advice about when to provide additional information.

First of all, try to keep page numbers inside the parentheses. There has to be a good reason to draw attention to a particular page. Here are some examples of where it makes sense to break the rule:

Pages 80-101 contain a beautiful series of photos of the author’s extended family.

For some reason, page 72 is missing in the manuscript

Yet just two pages further Susan Ballantyne argues the exact opposite.

The same thing is true for the title of your source. Don’t mention it unless you have a good reason. And here are some good reasons to include the title:

  • You are discussing a primary source (as opposed to a secondary source)
  • You are dealing with multiple works by the same author and need to differentiate them (e.g., in a comparative essay about two Shakespeare plays)
  • You want to discuss the wording of the title (perhaps the phrasing is problematic)
  • You want to focus more extensively on a particular source, or indicate a more extensive debt
  • The work has no author and is known primarily by its title

Otherwise you can typically leave out the source’s title. The same applies to the rest of the publication information. Save it for your Works Cited.

The Basic Rules

Author and Page

As mentioned, the normal procedure is to cite just the author and page number (with a space in between):

As has been observed, “The mating rituals of the Australasian gannet are a model for us all” (Quack 92).

If the author or page has been mentioned in the text already, there’s no need to repeat it in parentheses:

As Herman Kuiper writes, “Zimbabwean origami is deeply influenced by the shape of the Victoria Falls” (109).

When the name is provided in parentheses, omit the first name. In the body of the text it is customary to give the full name for the first citation. After that you can often use just the last name.

Finally, place your citation as close to the quotation as possible:

Hannah Patton deplores “the use of the coat rack as a fashion statement” (4), especially as it is usually covered with coats.

You don’t have to wait till the end of your sentence before giving the citation.

Authors with the Same Name

If you are citing from multiple authors with the same last name, you can add some clarity by adding an initial (or the full name if the authors share initials):

As has been observed, “The mating rituals of the Australasian gannet are a model for us all” (I. Quack 92).

Use the full name when including it in the text rather than in parentheses.

Multiple Works by the Same Author(s)

If you are citing multiple works from the same author(s), you can add a short version of the title, either in the text or in parentheses:

As Bledsoe and Smith argue in “Misogyny,” Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 cannot be rescued from “a charge of anti-feminism” (18).

It has been suggested that the phrase interpersonal relationships is “rife with redundancy, for when is a relationship not interpersonal?” (Funke, Communication 3).

Notice that the title is italicized or placed in quotation marks just as it appears in the Works Cited. Also, if the parentheses contain the author and title, then add a comma before the title, but not after.

To shorten a title, look for a key noun phrase, or, if there is none, use the opening few words.

Multiple Authors

If a work is published by two authors, cite both:

The distance between one’s toes “may have an effect on self-esteem levels, especially among surfers and swimmers” (Lovegood and Sorenson 55).

For three or more authors, use the abbreviation et al. (Latin for “and others”):

Jane Austen’s villains are “either superficial Romantics or dissipated boors” (De Bourgh et al. 98).

Avoid using the abbreviation if you cite the authors in the text rather than the parentheses. Either cite all the authors or use a work around (e.g., “De Bourgh and others”):

De Bourgh and others argue that Jane Austen’s villains are “either superficial Romantics or dissipated boors” (98).

No Author

If a source lacks an author, cite it by its title instead. In the body of your text, you may use the full title (at least the first time), but in parentheses a short version is required:

The Dakar Rally: The Greatest Race on Earth provides a riveting account of the famous race, but it lacks any reference to the death toll.

The Dakar Rally has long been “one of the most dangerous races on earth” (Dakar Rally 42).

If there is no title or author, then use whatever descriptive phrase you have used in the Works Cited.

Missing Page Numbers

If a source has no page numbers, try use an alternative label. Here are some sample abbreviations you can use:

par. or pars. for paragraph or paragraphs

sec. or secs. for section or section

ch. or chs. for chapter or chapters

Here is what that looks like in practice:

Only one critic noted that “the most prominent aspect of Rostropovich’s playing was his baldness” (Baldwin, ch. 3).

As this example shows, if you provide both the author and label in parentheses, then separate them with a comma.

On the other hand, if your source has no numbers whatsoever, then leave out all numerical references:

This effect has been called the “Disneyfication of Winnie the Pooh” (Smith).

Don’t feel bad about giving only the author’s name (or a short title), and don’t start counting paragraphs or line numbers yourself.

Other Citations

For some sources you will want to provide a different numbering. Here are the most common examples:


Cite plays by act, scene, and line number:

1.2.15-16 (refers to act 1, scene 2, lines 15-16)

If the play is in prose and lacks line numbers, you may cite it by author and page number.

Audio and Video

Cite time duration in hours, minutes, and seconds:

02:03:27-29 (refers to 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 27-29 seconds)


Cite poems by line numbers:

lines 9-14

After the first citation, you may omit the descriptive label (“line,” “scene,” etc.). Avoid abbreviations (e.g., ll. for lines)


If a source is published in multiple volumes, and you cite only one volume, you need provide only the page number. However, if you borrow from multiple volumes by the same author, provide the number of the volume as well as the page number(s):

It was the dreaded black fly that “did them in” (Irigano 4: 89-90).

This citation refers to pages 89-90 in volume 4. Make sure to add a space after the colon.

Common Prose Works

Let’s say you’re quoting from a famous novel like Brave New World. There are so many editions in print that your reader may have a difficult time finding a passage based on a page number alone. In such cases you can add more information at the end of your citation:

Huxley 87; chapter 8

If the source uses other numbering (e.g., sections), you can use that instead.


If you borrow an idea and put it in your own words, you are paraphrasing. In such a situation you may need to cite multiple authors whose work you have summarized. Separate them with semi-colons:

Some researchers believe that optimism can help patients heal faster, but that telling people to be happy is more likely to leave them depressed (Bile 59; Choler 44-46).

Indirect Quotations

Sometimes you find the perfect quotation—the only problem is that it’s already a quotation in your source. In such cases you can use the description “qtd. in” (quoted in) to show where you found the passage:

As Ariana Humboldt notes, “a phobia of spiders can suggest an underlying fear or trauma” (qtd. in Kidney 221).

However, avoid using this method too frequently, or it will seem that you get all your best ideas second hand.

Repeated Use

Should it happen that you repeatedly use the same source, you can slack off in how much you cite. In the following example, both quotations are from the same source. Since they come in quick succession, the author has decided to cite just once.

As Herman Kuiper writes, “Zimbabwean origami is deeply influenced by the shape of the Victoria Falls.” Kuiper sees the frequent origami reproductions of the famous waterfall as a paradoxical attempt to “capture what cannot be contained in art–namely, a flowing, ever-changing process” (109, 112).

This method is especially handy if an entire paragraph is indebted to a single source. Even if you do decide to provide a separate page number after each citation, you do not have to give the author’s name each time.

On the other hand, if another source intervenes, be sure to provide more clarity:

As Herman Kuiper writes, “Zimbabwean origami is deeply influenced by the shape of the Victoria Falls” (109). In fact, most scholars agree that such paper reproductions represent “the archetype of African origami” (Sinderbad 24). Nevertheless, the shape or image is hardly static. Kuiper sees the frequent origami reproductions of the famous waterfall as a paradoxical attempt to “capture what cannot be contained in art–namely, a flowing, ever-changing process” (112).

In this example, the quotation from Sinderbad comes in between the two passages from Kuiper.

In summary, the basic rule is that if you think a reference is clear enough then you can give less information about its source.


This page does not cover every single rule for in-text citation. When you work with particular texts you may come across other ways of citing information (e.g., cantos, chapter and verse, etc.). Part of learning the rules for citation is about adapting to the customs of your discipline.

Now that you know the basic rules for in-text citation, you may want to check out our more extensive guide to integrating quotations (part 1 and part 2). It follows the MLA guidelines and will teach you everything from citing poetry to using ellipses and block quotations.

For more information about in-text citation, see chapter 6 of the MLA Handbook (9th ed.).



Many of us have a conflicted attitude towards punctuation. On social media, we tend to enjoy it when friends share humorous pictures of punctuation mistakes. But when it comes to actually studying the rules of grammar, we can be a bit lazy. Intuitively we feel that we know the rules, but most of us end up guessing where a comma or a semi-colon should go. It’s time to change that.

Funny Mistakes

One of the most common punctuation mistakes is to form the plural with an apostrophe. This is sometimes called the “grocer’s apostrophe,” since it seems to happen all too frequently in supermarkets:

Would you have spotted that this should read “bananas”? It’s good to avoid such basic errors, but if we want to improve more substantially, we really need to study grammar.

Sentence Structure

The key to learning punctuation is to understand how the parts of a sentence work together. Take the following sentence:

If you’ve watched enough TV detective series, then you’ll get the impression that the most dangerous places in the world are Oxford, small islands in the Caribbean, and pretty much anywhere in the British countryside.

Why the commas? The first one is to separate the dependent clause (starting with “if”) from the independent clause (starting with “then”). The remaining commas separate the items in a list. People often argue about whether the last one is necessary, given that we’ve already used “and.” The added comma is known as the Oxford comma: it is increasingly preferred, as it provides more clarity.

The point, however, is that knowing something about sentence structure makes punctuation much easier.

The Breathing Theory of Punctuation

What you want to avoid, by contrast, is adding punctuation marks such as commas and semi-colons whenever it sounds like there is a pause. Writing is not like swimming, where you take regular breaths between strokes. It’s quite possible to have an entire sentence without punctuation, other than the initial capital and the final period. Although our pauses and our punctuation marks will often line up, the breathing theory of punctuation is imprecise and best avoided.


There is a real beauty to punctuation. Once you see how the different parts of a sentence work together, you’ll feel more at ease, even with some of the trickier punctuation marks. You might even take pride in being able to use a semi-colon or a dash effectively.

Shifts in Perspective


A shift in perspective occurs when your use of verbs and pronouns is inconsistent. There are five different shifts to watch out for (three for verbs, two for pronouns).

Pronoun Shifts

Before we look at the two types of pronoun shifts, we need to review a few facts about pronouns.

Pronouns are either singular or plural in number. In addition, pronouns are either first, second, or third person.

An easy way to remember the difference is to say, “I will be the first person to tell you (the second person) that she is the third person.” In other words, the first person is the speaker, the second person is spoken to, and the third person is spoken about.

To make this a bit more visual, here’s a chart of the most common personal pronouns:

Singular Plural
1st person: I we
2nd person: you you
3rd person: he/she/it/one they

If you want some more review, check out our lessons on pronouns.

Shifts in Person

Here’s an example of a shift in person:

Dear fellow graduates, now that we have crossed the stage, you have a bright future ahead of you.

First person pronoun: we

Second person pronoun: you

Presumably this should all be in the first person. However, it’s good to remind ourselves that sometimes a shift in perspective makes sense:

Dear fellow graduates, now that we have crossed the stage, you have a bright future ahead of you. I, on the other hand, have student loans.

Sometimes the speaker actually does have a different point of view.

Shifts in number

Shifts in number are more common, especially in student essays.

Here’s a shift from one (singular) to their (plural):

One should not let their friends pressure them into smoking.

Correct: Kids should not let their friends pressure them into smoking.

Notice that it’s often easiest to shift the whole sentence into the plural. Otherwise you would have to make multiple changes.

Watch out also for groups or organizations that consist of many members but are grammatically singular:

Even though the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has less and less control over its members, rumours circulate that they will try to ramp up the production of oil.

Correct: Even though the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has less and less control over its members, rumours circulate that it will try to ramp up the production of oil.

It’s easy to shift from it to they when dealing with a collective entity.

Verb Shifts


Avoid awkward shifts in tense. The following sentence, for instance, suddenly jumps from the past to the present tense:

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi died in 1598, the heir to the throne was too young to govern, and the resulting power vacuum leads to the Battle of Sekigahara, in 1600.

By the way, there is no universal consensus on what tense to use in talking about literary texts and other written documents. For instance, historians tend to treat texts and their contents as part of the past, whereas English teachers see the text as timeless, or as immediately present to the reader.

Compare, for instance, the following two sentences:

In Shakespeare’s play, Henry V tells his soldiers before the Battle of Agincourt that “gentlemen in England now a-bed / Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.”

According to Shakespeare, Henry V told his soldiers before the Battle of Agincourt that “gentlemen in England now a-bed / Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here.”

Whereas the first sentence describes only the action in the play, the second sentence is much more concerned with historical fact, and so the past tense makes more sense.

Yet there is some leeway here, so be careful when you’re relating literary texts to their historical context, especially when different disciplines have varying conventions.


A verb comes in one of the following moods:

1. Indicative: a simple statement or question.

We are having a party. (statement)

Do you like our party? (question)

2. Imperative: a command to do something.

Come to our party!

3. Subjunctive: a conditional statement.

Had you been less busy, you could have come to our party. (statement contrary to fact)

I might come to your party if you invite me. (hypothetical statement)

I wish you were here. (a wish)

We hope that you come to our party (a suggestion)

He insisted that she come to the party (a demand)

Clearly, the subjunctive mood is the trickiest one.

Now, experience will tell you that sentences often shift from one mood to another. The key is to avoid unnecessary shifts, as in the following examples.

1. A shift from the subjunctive to the indicative:

I would write a letter to my Minister of Parliament if the cost of ink was not so horrendously expensive.

Correct: I would write a letter to my Minister of Parliament if the cost of ink were not so horrendously expensive.

2. A shift from the imperative to the subjunctive.

Come see our performance of H.M.S. Pinafore, and you should bring your boyfriend too!

Correct: Come see our performance of H.M.S. Pinafore, and bring your boyfriend too!


Verbs are either in the active voice or in the passive voice. In the active voice the subject of the sentence is doing the action, whereas in the passive voice the action is happening to the subject.

Here’s a sentence with a verb in the active voice:

Kayla read thirteen books on her holiday.

Subject: Kayla.

Active voice: read.

And here’s the passive version:

Thirteen books were read by Kayla.

Subject: Thirteen books.

Passive voice: is sponsored.

It’s useful to remember that the passive voice often leads to a by construction (by Kayla) that tells you who or what is actually performing the action of the verb. Once you find the implied subject, it’s relatively easy to make the sentence active.

If you want to be more direct and concise, try use the active voice. Either way, try to avoid awkward shifts such as the following:

Andrew won the golf tournament. In the process, a new course record was set.

In this example, the second sentence unnecessarily shifts to the passive voice.

And that’s it for shifts of perspective.

Future Perfect Continuous


The future perfect continuous (or future perfect progressive) describes a continuous action that will be completed at some point in the future.


The future perfect continuous is formed by combining will have been with the present participle:

She will have been teaching for ten years.

We will have been traveling for six months at that point.

Negative Form

Simply add not:

We will not have been fasting very long yet.

Asking Questions

You can employ the regular form, although this usage is rare:

Will he have been crawling by that time?


Continuous Action Completed in the Future

They will have been skiing for two hours.

I will have been waiting for a while.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Past Perfect Continuous


The past perfect continuous (or past perfect progressive) describes an action that started in the past and continued until another moment in the past.

It is often accompanied by an indication of how much time has passed.


The past perfect continuous is formed by combining had been with the present participle:

She had been celebrating.

We had been exercising.

Negative Form

Simply add not:

We had not been paying attention.

Asking Questions

Use the regular form:

Had he been smoking again?


Continuous Actions Completed in the Past

They had been studying trigonometry for three weeks already.

We had been swimming in the lagoon when the tsunami struck.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Present Perfect Continuous


The present perfect continuous (or present perfect progressive) describes an action that started in the past and has either just been completed or still continues at the present moment.


The present perfect continuous is formed by combining have been (or has been) with the present participle:

Note that there is no present perfect continuous for the verb to be. You would not say have been being. You can just say have been.

Negative Form

Simply add not:

We have not been lying to you.

Asking Questions

Use the regular form:

Has he been jogging again?


Recently Completed Actions

The present perfect continuous can be used to describe actions that started in the past and have recently been completed:

They have been lobbying the government to change the law.

She has been complaining again.

Ongoing Actions

The present perfect continuous can also describe actions that started in the past and are still ongoing:

I have been sneezing constantly.

We have been searching for hours now. 

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Past Perfect Tense


The past perfect (or pluperfect) describes an action that was completed in the past, usually before something else happened.


The past perfect is formed by combining had with the past participle:

You had baked such a fantastic pie.

They had tasted success for the first time.

Negative Form

Simply add not:

We had not thought that possible.

Asking Questions

Use the regular form:

Had he spotted the sniper?


Actions Completed in the Past

I had noticed you were behaving oddly.

By the time the whistle went, we had scored five tries.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Future Perfect Tense


The future perfect describes an action that will be finished or completed in the future.


The future perfect is formed by combining will have with the past participle:

You will have seen me walk across the stage.

They will have visited the museum.

Negative Form

Simply add not:

We will not have managed that.

Asking Questions

Use the regular form:

Will he have gone home?

Sample Uses

Actions Completed in the Future

At the end of our trip we will have visited twenty countries.

I don’t think I will have completed the assignment by then.

As the examples show, the future perfect is often used to refer to an action completed before some other event or moment.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Present Perfect Tense


The present perfect tense describes an action that happened in the past or is still happening now.


The present perfect is formed using have (or has) and the past participle:

Note that irregular verbs form the past participle differently (e.g., eaten, bought, swum). They do not add –ed to the base.

Negative Form

Simply add not:

I have not confessed.

Asking Questions

Use the regular form to ask questions:

Have they seen the light?

Sample Uses

Past Events

We have visited Burundi.

While the verb often refers to the recent past, there is no exact time limit to how long ago the action may have occurred.

Events Still Happening

I have completed two exercises and am almost done.


We have learned a great deal.

Unknown Duration

They had worked together for some time.


You have mastered the art of origami.


The time frame of the present perfect is more open ended than with the simple past. Use the simple present when you need to be more specific about the timing of the action.

That’s why you cannot use the present perfect with certain adverbs of time (e.g., yesterday):

Incorrect: I have skipped school yesterday.

Correct: I skipped school yesterday.

On the other hand, you can use the present perfect with adverbs that are less specific (e.g., already, ever, never, etc.):

I have already finished my assignment.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Future Continuous Tense


The future continuous (or future progressive) describes an action that will take place in the future over a certain amount of time.


The future continuous consists of will be followed by the present participle:

You will be suffering greatly.

Negative Form

The negative form simply adds not:

They will not be coming.

Asking Questions

Use the regular form to ask questions:

Will you be needing a projector?

Primary Uses

Future Actions

I will be waiting for you.

Repeated / Continuous Actions

We will be practicing every Thursday night.


Next year they will be crushing their opponents.

Non-continuous Verbs

Not all verbs have a continuous aspect. See our section on the present continuous for more details.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Present Continuous Tense


The present continuous (or present progressive) is used for actions that are happening at the present moment.


To form the present continuous, use am, is, and are, followed by the present participle:

Negative Form

The negative form simply adds not:

We are not skinny-dipping.

Asking Questions

Use the regular form to ask questions:

Are you watching the game?

Primary Uses

Present Actions

We are studying right now.

Ongoing / Temporary Actions

They are doing a major in Spanish.


More and more people are writing papers on their phones.


Tomorrow I am coaching the junior team.


She is always shouting.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Past Continuous Tense


The past continuous (or past progressive) is a tense that describes an unfinished action in the past. By unfinished we don’t mean that the action never ended. Rather, the action continued or progressed over a period of time.


To form the past continuous, use was or were and the present participle:

Negative Form

The negative form simply adds not:

We were not dating.

Asking Questions

Use the regular form to ask questions:

Were you holding hands?


Incomplete Actions

I was mowing the lawn at the time.

We were drawing penguins.

With Other Actions

The past continuous is often used in conjunction with other verbs. Together they relate actions in time:

While we were messaging, Tom’s dad grabbed his phone and threw it out of the window.

Before I went to school, I was reading Asterix and Obelix.

Repeated Actions

Every day we were conjugating verbs.

It was raining constantly.

To Show Change

Times were changing.

They were learning so many life lessons.

The tomatoes were ripening quickly.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Future Simple Tense


The future simple tense expresses that an action will happen at some future moment. The future simple tense can be used to talk about future events, make predictions, declare one’s intentions, and state a spontaneous decision.

The future simple tense is not the only way to talk about a future action. A somewhat less formal way is to use an am going to construction (e.g., I am going to walk five miles).


To form the future simple tense, use will or shall and the base of the verb:

We will wash your car.

They will finish their homework.

I shall keep my promise.

Note that shall is more common in British English and is used primarily in the first person (I, we). For more info, check out our separate discussion of shall.

As mentioned, in some instances you can also form the future with am going to:

We are going to see the play.

I am going to read that book.

You are going to clean your room!

They are going to tour Ireland.

In general, using will expresses greater certainty. However, there is a lot of overlap. The am going to construction is typically used for planned and predetermined events, for indicating one’s intentions, for making predictions, and for ordering people around. In most cases, the use of am going to is closely tied to some knowledge or evidence drawn from the present moment.

Negative Form

The negative form simply adds not. 

We will not accept your demands.

You won’t believe this!

Note that the verb won’t is a contraction of will not.

Asking Questions

Use the regular form to ask questions:

Will you visit?

Shall I make a cup of tea?

In this case shall is clearly preferred when speaking in the first person (I, we).


Future Actions

She will meet you at the airport.

We will be glad to host you.

Spontaneous Actions

I will do the dishes.

We will do it right now.

Intentions / Promises

I will write the report.

You will never walk alone.


The Pittsburgh Penguins will win the Stanley Cup this year.

He will crash his car before the year is out.

Tricky Cases

One of the most confusing things about verbs has to do with dependent clauses. If your native language is not English, you may sometimes be tempted to use the future simple when the present simple tense will do.

This applies especially to some sentences where the main clause contains the future simple tense and the dependent clause does not. Let’s review these cases.

References to Time

When a clause starts with a reference to time (before, after, when, as soon as, etc.), you often need to use the present simple instead of the future simple:

Incorrect: After we will milk the cows, we will have breakfast.

Correct: After we milk the cows, we will have breakfast.

Conditional Statements

In some if statements you may not need to use the future simple tense:

Awkward: I will buy your guitar, if you will teach me some simple chords.

Better: I will buy your guitar, if you teach me some simple chords.

Even though the action of teaching will take place in the future, we tend to use the present simple. One way to think about it is to consider that from the perspective of the moment when the action of buying takes place, the act of teaching is simultaneous (and thus present). Another explanation is that hypothetical statements like this have a timeless quality to them. Either way, the present simple is better.

That Clauses

Here’s one more example where the dependent clause does not necessarily need the future simple tense:

Incorrect: I will talk to that girl that you will want to go out with.

Correct: I will talk to that girl that you want to go out with.

Here too the present simple tense is preferred.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Past Simple Tense


The past simple tense (also called the preterite) describes a completed action that took place before the present moment.


In English, the past simple tense does not change based on person or number.

To form the past simple tense, regular verbs add –ed:

She ordered

I sulked

I obeyed

She smiled

For specific spelling rules, please watch the video above.

Irregular verbs change more drastically. Here are a few examples:

Do – did

Come – came

Buy – bought

Sit – sat

Negative Form

The negative form consists of did not (didn’t) and the base (the infinitive minus to)

We didn’t (did not) surrender.

He did not call.

They didn’t wait.

Asking Questions

To ask a question in the past simple tense, use did and the base (the infinitive minus to):

Did you ask?

Did they request that?


Completed Actions

I cooked breakfast.

Over a period of three years he mastered the guitar.

Repeated Actions

Every day at lunch she ate a sandwich with cheese, lettuce, and tomato.


I rarely played the flute those days.

Sequence of Actions

I smiled and she frowned.

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Present Simple Tense


The present simple tense describes an action happening at the present time.

However, the present simple tense often has a timeless quality to it, and is not necessarily happening right now.


The present simple is easy to form. Use the base form of the verb and add an s for the third person singular:

Note too that verbs that end in –y often change their ending to –ies (e.g., cry becomes cries) in the third person singular. The exception is if a vowel precedes the –y (e.g., slay becomes slays).

In addition, some verbs add –es in the third person singular (e.g., he stitches, she caresses). This is because the base form ends with a sound such as “s” or “ch.”

Negative Form

The negative form consists of do not (or don’t) and the base of the verb:

We don’t smoke.

I don’t drink and drive.

Asking Questions

To ask a question, use do and the base of the verb:

Do you think so?

Do you subscribe?


Habitual / Repeated Actions

The monks prune the hedges faithfully.

On the first day of each month, Fred cuts his fingernails.

General Statement

Female lions hunt more than males.

Arranged or Scheduled Actions

They always catch the 7:30 train.

With the Future Tense

Sometimes the present simple is used together with a future tense verb:

George will not be happy once he finds out.


Please come and have a look at this document.

Historical Present

You can occasionally use the present simple to talk about something that happened in the past:

We were in the Cheesecake Cafe when out of the blue he proposes to me!

This use is more common in literature and in casual conversation.


The present simple is rarely used to describe an action that is immediate to the speaker. For that you are more likely to use the present progressive (e.g., I am typing right now). Instead, the present simple is primarily used to describe recurring, timeless, and habitual actions. That’s why the present simple is often accompanied by references to time (every day, tomorrow, sometimes, etc.).

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.


Why Parts of Speech Matter

There are eight parts of speech, and it pays to learn them. If you want to become a better writer, you need to know something about the building blocks of language.

Our approach to parts of speech is fairly straight forward. The primary goal is to help you identify each part of speech in the context of a sentence. That’s why we’ve tried to keep this section as streamlined as possible. Most of the instruction in usage and specific grammatical problems has been set aside for later.

If, after you work through this section, you can spot an adverb or a preposition, then that’s cause for celebration. Any other grammatical rules your pick up along the way are just a nice bonus.

Writer’s Block


Every writer will experience writer’s block. We’ve all stared at the screen or paper, not knowing what to do next. Sometimes it’s a lack of ideas; sometimes we can’t find the right phrasing. On this page we’ll diagnose the problem and suggest some possible remedies.

Common Causes

The first step to beating writer’s block is to examine what’s actually bothering you. Even experienced writers sometimes get blocked, and in fact the more you know–about grammar, audience expectations, or even your subject matter–the more you may struggle to know where to start. It’s a good idea, then, to determine what is causing your writer’s block, so that you can be more purposeful in addressing the problem.

Lack of Confidence

Lacking confidence is a downward spiral. The more you stare at a blank page, the less confidence you’ll have.

Linear Composing

Often people think they have to write from beginning to end, when they’re better off starting in the middle, with what they know. Writing is messy, and it’s okay to jump around and connect your ideas later.

Rigid Rules

Rules can be constraining. When writers know their writing will have to conform to a million different rules (from punctuation and mechanics to essay structure), they may be hesitant to “just write.”

Premature Editing

When you don’t allow yourself to write freely, you end up perfecting each sentence before moving on. This kind of premature editing will not only slow you down but can also make you lose your train of thought. In fact, it may even make you afraid to write down any unfinished thoughts.


Some writers worry that words will not be able to capture the complexity of an idea. Or at least they know that it will take several sentences or paragraphs to fully explain what’s on their mind. They’re worried then that as soon as they start writing they’ll have to make changes to qualify their initial point. At the back of their mind they think they should be able to do a perfect first draft, and they’re frustrated by the reality that their first attempt may need significant revisions.

Fearing the Audience

It can be daunting to write with confidence when you believe that your audience is smarter than you, or will judge you if you make a mistake.


Writers are often encouraged to split the assignment into smaller tasks (something we also encourage), but this practice may also make it difficult to see the whole picture. Writers are blocked when they have to start connecting the dots, when they have to create some kind of overall story out of their disjointed notes or paragraphs.

Personal Distance

If you don’t have any emotional or personal interest in a writing project you may not experience much motivation to get started. On the other hand, if you’re too invested in your writing you may have a hard time knowing how to reach a more general audience. It’s important, then, to be both interested and objective when you start typing.

Poor Planning

Finally, without proper planning you will not succeed. It’s a good idea to create a rough outline and make some initial notes before you get started. On the other hand, if you collect too much data you may have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees.


The main way to beat writer’s block is to be active. You’re better off to write half a sentence than to worry how you might finish it.

In addition, many of us may need to change our conception of how writing works. In the preface to his massive Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin famously quotes Augustine, another prolific writer, who confesses, “I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.” In other words, even great writers recognize that writing and learning are intertwined, that writing is the process through which we learn. We don’t always come up with a thought and then write it down. We often start with some vague idea and write until the whole picture emerges like a sculpture from a block of stone.

With that in mind, here are some techniques to help you overcome writer’s block.

Thinking through Writing

If writing is part of the thought process, then it’s okay to start with whatever you are thinking about your topic. Imagine that you’ve been assigned to write a paragraph about your philosophy of leadership, and all you can think about is how your boss at work is a lousy leader. Then start with that. Write a list of everything you detest about your boss. Vent a little. Have some fun. Even if most of this material won’t make it in your final paragraph, the exercise will get you thinking about what does make for good leadership.

Avoiding Procrastination

In this digital age we’re all easily distracted. If you can’t write a sentence without checking your Facebook status, perhaps it’s time to write by hand for a while. You can also set a timer or turn off your internet connection.

For longer assignments a good strategy is to make a schedule for different tasks. For an academic paper you might start by just making a list of useful sources. Then you might read each one and make some notes. After that you can brainstorm what your own argument or thesis might be. If you spread these tasks out over successive days (and plan them out in your calendar), then the whole task will seem less overwhelming.

Asking Questions

All writing is an answer to some imagined question. When you get stuck, start asking as many questions as possible. What made you pick your topic? Why should anyone care? What do others think? Have you always thought the same thing or has your thinking changed? How do your ideas connect? Can you think of other examples or facts? What might someone who does not share your perspective say? If you regularly struggle with writer’s block, come up with a list of questions and force yourself to write out the answers.

Talking it Over

When you’re stumped, talk to someone. Sometimes it’s easier to explain your topic by talking with a real person.


Even the most analytical essays tell some kind of story. Indeed, it may help you to think of your writing as a narrative that relates an ever more complex series of events. And just like a storyteller cannot introduce all the facts at once, so it’s best to start with a few details or ideas and move gradually from the known to the unknown, from a consensus view to what is contentious, new, and difficult.


In the world of sport, consistent practice allows you to build up muscle memory, so that in a game situation your body knows what to do. The same is true for writing. Start by writing short paragraphs that include a topic sentence, some examples, and a conclusion. Once you master the paragraph, write two and connect them. A good writing instructor should be able to help you start small and build up your confidence gradually.


Writing is difficult when we either have too little direction or feel constrained by the demands of others. With too many rules we lack the freedom to be creative. Without any guidance we are left to flounder by ourselves. That’s why giving students an open topic may be the worst thing an instructor can do. Students feel lost, and may view their teacher as acting like the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: … So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

The problem is that we might not have the time to go on walking. Yet when we’re truly stuck, when all the solutions described above don’t work, perhaps it is time to go for a walk, get some fresh air, and come back when we’ve had a chance to think things over. Writing is never easy, and even taking a break may be part of the process.

Further Resources

If you’d like to read more, we recommend the following two studies:

Evans, Kate. Pathways Through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment. Sense Publishers, 2013.

Rose, Mike. Writer’s Block: The Cognitive Dimension. Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.

Reading Critical Sources Effectively


Many of us are lazy readers. We avoid reading things that clash with our own beliefs, and we skip material that seems difficult. That’s why we often have a hard time mastering new information. When the going gets tough, our eyes simply glaze over.

Don’t believe me? See if you can read this entire page carefully, without once opening a new tab or visiting Facebook.

If you manage to do so, you’ll learn a few tips about how to read articles and books critically and effectively.


Don’t Cherry Pick

A lot of students skim through articles (books are too long), hoping to find just one or two quotations that prove that they’ve done research. That’s why so many quotations come from the opening one or two pages of an article (or worse, from the abstract!).

Cherry picking quotations leads to confirmation bias: the ideas of others are referenced only if they conform to one’s own perspective. In addition, the original author’s general argument is ignored in favour of a selective engagement with a specific point.

Do your best, then, to understand and discuss the author’s main thesis.

Look it Up

Don’t know a difficult word or concept? Look it up. Google it, use a reference work—do whatever it takes to get to the same level as the author.

What’s the Main Argument?

Find the thesis quickly. Skim through the abstract and opening paragraphs and underline the main point(s). Then make sure you read everything else in relation to the central claim. Does the author make a convincing case?

Read Selectively

Skimming is an art. A lot of critical work will be irrelevant to your research, and you don’t want to get bogged down in material that may be interesting, but slows you down.

So learn to read paragraphs as units. Determine quickly what the main point of the paragraph is, and then decide whether it’s immediately relevant. Don’t worry—you can always come back to it once you’ve mastered the more essential parts of the argument.

Watch out especially for paragraphs that summarize the current critical debate on the topic (the state of the field). Just like you, critics fill up space by quoting each other. Get a sense of the key issues and move on to the author’s own argument. You can always read the other people later.

Who Cares?

It’s easy to get sucked into reading articles just because they’re on your topic, but if the argument is weak or uninteresting, don’t waste your time. You do not have to quote from every source you find!

In addition, ask yourself why the author is interested in this issue. Check out the author’s credentials and background, and try to understand what motivated him or her to write on this topic.

Spot the Methodology

Scholars love theories and frameworks that help them make sense of information. They may even spend a lot of time explaining their methodology. It’s your job to see if the facts fit the theory, or if a different approach might be more productive.

Over time you will become more aware of different methodologies, and you’ll be able to spot quite quickly the school of thought that influenced the author.

What Do Others Think?

While you should first pay attention to the author’s own argument, you can gradually zoom out and see how he or she engages with other critics. Does the author accurately represent the ideas of others? Is the tone constructive or antagonistic? Does the author quote only supporting views or is there some acknowledgment of opposing views?

As you expand your research, follow the chain of citations and read the author’s sources. Then come back to the text and re-evaluate it.

Check the Evidence

Don’t accept a single thing you read without skepticism. Even if the author cites sources in support, with a bit of research you might be able to find a study that disputes those findings.

So look for inconsistencies and weak arguments, and try to spell out the author’s implicit assumptions. Nevertheless, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. Showing some charity in a critical debate demonstrates maturity and poise.

Take Notes

Master the text by taking notes. Underline, write in the margin, draw pictures, keep a notebook, make an outline—do whatever it takes to make sense of your reading. This will also help you write your essay, as finding the right quotation or reference will be much easier.

One useful strategy is to summarize the text in one or two sentences. This forces you to think about the entire argument. As a bonus, you might even incorporate the summary in your own essay in order to quickly capture the author’s thesis.


Reading strategically can save a lot of time and make writing the essay a more enjoyable experience. If you’ve already summed up the argument and underlined the most quotable passages, incorporating those ideas in your own writing will be a less daunting task.

Above all, think of reading secondary sources as participating in a conversation with others. As we listen attentively, and treat each other with respect, we can all grow and learn together.

Working With Assumptions


Much of our research and writing involves crafting and analyzing complex arguments. It’s a real skill to be able to pick out logical errors or hidden assumptions. On this page we’ll teach you how to split every argument into its components parts.

Claim, Evidence, Warrant

The classic approach to dissecting arguments was developed by the British philosopher Stephen Toulmin. It’s called the Toulmin Method. For our purposes, we’ll focus on three key aspects of any argument:

  1. The Claim (or conclusion): a statement of a point you want to argue.
  2. The Evidence (or facts, reasons, grounds): the points that back up your claim.
  3. The Warrant (or assumption): the logic that ties together the claim and the evidence.

The warrant is probably the trickiest part. Think of it as a general assumption that often remains implicit and is not spelled out.

Let’s look at an example:

Claim: Bullying is a massive problem at our school.

Evidence: For one thing, the walls at the back of the school are sprayed full of graffiti.

Warrant: Graffiti is a sign of bullying.

In this case we’ve assumed that bullying and graffiti are somehow connected. The supposed link is spelled out in the warrant. Often, of course, the warrant is not really warranted and is something we can contest.

Here’s another example:

Claim: Our school should really have a pub.

Evidence: How can students be expected to be creative without having a beer or two?

Warrant: When students drink beer in a pub they will be more creative in school.

Again, the assumption is suspect. When we engage in debate or analyze other people’s arguments, it’s critical to drill down to the level of the warrant. Otherwise you’ll never get to the core of the issue.

Let’s finish with one more example–this time with two possible warrants:

Claim: Very few French people use bicycles to commute to work.

Evidence: French people tend to associate riding a bike with racing (e.g., in the Tour de France).

Specific warrant: When people associate biking with sport they are not likely to use bikes as a regular means of transportation.

Abstract warrant: A prejudice about a habit may limit adaptation to new circumstances.

You can see that one warrant may lead to another warrants. After all, our ideas are often based on a complex network of assumptions.

Audience Assumptions

Different readers make different assumptions. For instance, if you’re writing for a secular audience, it does not make sense to rely exclusively on the authority of a religious text. Consider the following argument:

We should all be willing to forgive our enemies. After all, the Bible tells us to turn the other cheek.

Implied is the idea that everyone should listen to the Bible. It would be more effective to rephrase the argument and indicate that the biblical reference is not to be interpreted as evidence but as an illustration of what the claim entails:

We should all be willing to forgive our enemies. As Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Such a revision makes the passage more neutral, though one might still have to add more proof to convince a secular audience that forgiveness is indeed a good thing.

In short, always consider whether the warrants implicit in your arguments will be shared by your audience.

More Information

To learn more about working with claims, evidence, and warrants, we recommend checking out The Craft of Research, 4th ed. (by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and others), an excellent introduction to the art of academic writing.

Doing Research With Google


The tide is turning, and using Google for research is no longer taboo. Indeed, most instructors will encourage you to discover the amazing resources available on the web. The difficulty is in narrowing down the search results.

On this page we provide some tips for making your searches more effective. Be sure also to watch our tutorial on Google Scholar (video above) to find quality academic articles and books.

General Advice

You’ll want your search terms to be as detailed as possible. It’s better to search for general anxiety disorder than just anxiety. The order of search terms matters too. Try place your most important terms first.

At the same time, you can always refine your results, so don’t be afraid to start with just a few key words and see what you find.


Specify the Type of Source

When you’re doing a search, be sure to use Google’s tabs to refine your search:

As you can see, you can search for images, news, maps, and more. If you click on Tools you can also display the toolbar:

Play around with the different options to see what’s available.

If you click on Settings you will be able to set some parameters to your use of Google. You can adjust your preferred languages, you can clean up your search history, and you can do an advanced search.

Use Quotation Marks

To search for a specific phrase, place quotation marks around it.

Search Titles

To search just the titles of websites, use the tag intitle: before your key word(s).

Search URLs

If you want to search URLs instead, place inurl: before your key word(s).

Search Text

You can also search just the text by inserting intext: before your key word(s).

Search File Types

One cool feature of Google is the fact that you can specify what file type you’re looking for. Here are some examples:

filetype:ppt (for PowerPoint)

filetype:pdf (for PDF documents)

filetype:xls (for Excel spreadsheets)

filetype:doc (for Word documents)

Find Older Versions

If a website has changed, or if you’re just curious about previous versions, type in cache: followed by the URL. Check out also the Web Archive to go back in time.

Find Similar Sources

Found a website you liked? Use the tag related: followed by the URL to find similar websites.

Find Linked Pages

If you want to see what other sites linked to a website or page, type in link: followed by the URL.  If you have your own website this is a fun way to see who’s sharing your site.

Find Definitions

You can use Google as a dictionary by adding define: to your search.

Search a Specific Website

If you want to restrict your search to a specific website or page, write site: followed by the URL.

Alternatively, you can press Control + F  to bring up a search box for the page you’re looking at.

Use an Asterisk

If you’ve forgotten some part of a phrase, use asterisks to indicate the missing words:

Search: Ne * * Pas

Find: Ne Me Quitte Pas (song lyric)

Try a Reverse Image Search

You can find where else an image has been used by right clicking on the image and selecting “search google for image.” You can even upload your own image (drag and drop it into Google) and Google will do its best to identify the image and find related pictures.

Search Social Media

Insert @ before a word to search social media. Add # to a word to search for hashtags.

Search a Range

Looking for a range of numbers or dates? Place two period between the numbers to indicate a range:

E.g., 1964..1968

Use OR

You can specify an alternative search term by inserting OR. Note that you usually don’t need to add AND.

Eliminate Search Terms

If you want Google to ignore a particular search term, place a hyphen (a minus sign) before it.

E.g., if your main search term is mongoose, you can add -cobra to eliminate a third of the results.

Search Old Newspapers

Google provides an excellent depository of old newspapers for you to search.

Have Some Fun

Finally, if you want to have some fun, Google has created all sort of in-jokes or Easter eggs. For just one example, type in “do a barrel roll” and see what happens. There are many more funny search terms for you to discover.


Using Google is increasingly an art, so try out the different tips on this page. They will help you find exactly what you’re looking for.

Pronouns: Intro


A pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun. The word goes back to Latin (pronomen), and literally means in the place of (pro) a name/noun (nomen). That’s why pronouns usually come after the noun that they refer back to:

John‘s robot even combs his hair for him.

Here the pronoun his refers back to John, a proper noun. Bonus points if you noticed that the same applies to him.

The noun that comes before the pronoun also has a fancy Latin name: it’s called the antecedent (from Latin antecedere, to go before).

It can happen that the pronoun comes before the noun, as in this example:

In his last will and testament, Carl left his wife the whole kit and caboodle.

It can also happen that a pronoun has no antecedent, as Lewis Carroll famously pointed out in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In this passage, the Mouse is trying to read a history lesson, when the Duck rudely interrupts him:

[Said the mouse,] “…even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable—”

“Found what?” said the Duck.

“Found it,” the Mouse replied rather crossly: “of course you know what “it” means.”

“I know what ‘it’ means well enough, when I find a thing,” said the Duck: “it’s generally a frog or a worm. The question is, what did the archbishop find?”

Whereas the Duck insists that language should follow the rules, and that it must refer to something, the Mouse takes the view that his intended meaning is clear. Intentions are more important rules.

As the Duchess will later say, “take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves.”

If life were only that easy.