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Is it acceptable to use the abbreviation cf. in MLA style?

In MLA style, cf. may be used in parenthetical citations, but writers should take care not to use the abbreviation, meaning “compare” (from the Latin “confer”), when they intend see also. Whereas see also is used to direct a reader to a supplementary work, cf. is used to compare one source with another:

Diminutive staffs (between ten and twenty officials to inspect the nation’s multifarious workhouses) necessarily meant that much was left to “local discretion” (Fraser 53; cf. Wood 79–83).*

In the example above, the citation “(Fraser 53; cf. Wood 79–83)” means that Fraser is the source of the preceding borrowed material and that Wood may be compared with Fraser.

Published 24 July 2019

If I am including a publication listed by a title written in nonroman characters in my works-cited list, should I provide in my parenthetical citations the title in the original script or the transliterated title?

Use whichever method will be most useful to your reader. If you are citing a report, for example, and there is only one report listed by title, it would be fine to list the work in the original script in your parenthetical citations, since your readers—whether or not they are familiar with the language—will be able to find the entry in the works-cited list:  

A recent report noted that private elementary schools in Japan are proliferating (平成26年度調査 3).
Work Cited
平成26年度調査結果の概要(初等中等教育機関) [Heisei 26 nendo chōsa kekka no gaiyō (shotō chūtō kyōiku kikan); Summary of 2014 Fiscal Year Survey Results (Primary and Secondary Educational Institutions)].

Published 18 July 2019

How should mathematical theories be cited in my prose and in my works-cited list?

It depends on whether the theory can be considered common knowledge.
When you discuss a complex mathematical theory, you should cite a source that explains the theory. As always, to create your works-cited-list entry for the source, follow the MLA format template and key your in-text citation to the first element of the entry. In the following example, the authors of the source, Earl D. Rainville and Phillip E. Bedient, are named in the prose, and this information directs your reader to their work in the works-cited list:

Earl D. Rainville and Phillip E. Bedient explain a “theorem concerning the existence and uniqueness of solutions” . . .

Published 16 July 2019

How do I cite in my prose an untitled poem known by its number in a collection?

If you are citing an untitled poem known only by its number, a generic description of the poem can be substituted for the title in the works-cited list and in the in-text citation, if necessary. For instance, in an essay about Shakespeare’s sonnets, you might write the following:

Shakespeare’s sonnet 130 is an anti-Petrarchan poem, negating the conventions of love poetry Petrarch had made popular. It begins with an unflattering comparison: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” (line 1).

Work Cited
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 130. The Complete Sonnets and Poems, by Shakespeare, edited by Colin Burrow, . . .

Published 2 July 2019

How should I style my parenthetical citation the first time I quote lines from a poem if I have not mentioned the author’s name in my prose?

The MLA Handbook explains that if you are citing line numbers instead of page numbers in your parenthetical citation, you should “in your first citation, use the word line or lines” before the line numbers, “and then, having established that the numbers designate lines, give the numbers alone” (121):

According to the narrator of Felicia Hemans’s poem, the emerging prisoners “had learn’d, in cells of secret gloom, / How sunshine is forgotten!” (lines 131-32).

If you do not mention the author’s name in your prose, include it in the parenthetical citation and separate the name from the word line or lines with a comma:

According to the narrator of the poem, . . .

Published 12 June 2019

How do I cite photographs or other images that I use in a PowerPoint presentation or Web project?

Cite an image used in a PowerPoint presentation or Web project the same way you would cite it in a printed paper. See the example in our post on citing a screenshot or frame capture in a caption. As the post explains, if the image is merely illustrative, provide full publication details in a caption. But if you refer to the source of the image elsewhere, the caption should provide only enough detail needed to key to a works-cited-list entry. The list of works cited may be included as the final slide or as the last page of the Web project.  . . .

Published 15 May 2019

How do I cite an abstract?

Very few circumstances call for citing an abstract.
Never cite an abstract as a short-cut, a way of avoiding reading and citing the full published work. This is akin to citing the summary of a work that you would find on a book jacket or on a site like CliffsNotes. If you cite an abstract in lieu of the work it summarizes, you are shortchanging both the author and yourself: you are not accurately representing the author’s complete work, which may contain key information that is missing from the abstract, and you lose the experience of reading and engaging with the author’s extended argument and the evidence that supports it.

Published 1 May 2019

How do you punctuate a question that quotes a question?

Do not use two question marks. Use only the question mark contained in the quotation:

Which Shakespeare character asked, “Is this a dagger which I see before me,  / The handle toward my hand?” 

But if the sentence includes a parenthetical citation, place the question mark after the citation:

How would you respond to the writer’s question, “How important is punctuation” (5)?

  . . .

Published 30 April 2019

If students omit from their works-cited lists works they have cited in their paper, have they plagiarized?

As our plagiarism guide notes, “Plagiarism is presenting another person’s ideas, information, expressions, or entire work as one’s own.” Citing sources accurately often requires learning and then carrying out various complex mechanical tasks, from using quotation marks to including an in-text citation to listing the source in the works-cited list. Even professional writers accidentally leave sources out of their works-cited lists (hence the need for editors).
Although we cannot speak to individual instances of source omission, we would encourage teachers to weigh the sum total of a student’s effort to credit a source, as well as the scope of any omissions, . . .

Published 26 April 2019

How do I quote lyrics from a duet in which the performers take turns singing?

How you quote lyrics from a duet depends on how you accessed them and how many lines you are borrowing.
If you quote lyrics from a printed source—such as liner notes, a Web site, or video captions—and borrow fewer than three lines at a time from the song, you can run the quotations into your text. You can make clear in your prose which performer is singing which lines and key your in-text citation to the first element of your works-cited-list entry. In the example below, the prose makes clear that Jamie Foxx sings one line of the song “Pop Goes the Weasel” . . .

Published 25 April 2019

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