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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 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

How do I cite a phrase from a poem quoted in the published version of a speech?

To cite a poem quoted in the published version of a speech, create a works-cited-list entry for the speech since it is your source. You can provide relevant details about the poem being quoted in your prose or in a note.
For example, in a speech about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy quoted Aeschylus. If you were quoting Kennedy’s speech, you might write the following and cite the speech:

Kennedy urged listeners to reject physical destruction and to seek mutual understanding, quoting Aeschylus, who wrote, “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, . . .

Published 18 March 2019

How do I make clear that a paraphrase is on the same page as a quotation I’ve given in the previous sentence?

The MLA Handbook (3.5) provides techniques for making citations more concise when a source is used more than once in succession. But it notes that you should “[a]lways give your citations in full . . . if these techniques would create ambiguity about your sources” (124). Thus, if you need to make clear that a paraphrase is on the same page as a quotation in a previous sentence, repeat the page number in parentheses after the paraphrase, as shown in the following example:

Hilma af Klint’s art explores “the invisible relationships that shape our world” (Müller-Westermann 7). This focus is not surprising, . . .

Published 18 February 2019

How do I show the blank space between stanzas when quoting from a poem?

Use a single line space to separate stanzas of poetry, as in this excerpt from Felicia Hemans’s “The Image in Lava”:

Thou thing of years departed!
What ages have gone by,
Since here the mournful seal was set
By love and agony!
Temple and tower have mouldered,
Empires from earth have passed
And woman’s heart hath left a trace
Those glories to outlast!
And childhood’s fragile image
Thus fearfully enshrined,
Survives the proud memorials reared
By conquerors of mankind. (lines 1–12)

When quoting poetry in your prose (i.e., when quoting three lines or fewer), use a double slash to indicate a stanza break, . . .

Published 31 January 2019

How do you cite a famous saying?

All well-known quotations that are attributable to an individual or to a text require citations. You should quote a famous saying as it appears in a primary or secondary source and then cite that source. While it is acceptable to cite a famous saying from a Web site or a book that lists famous quotations, quoting from the original source provides readers with more context and could strengthen the argument you are making. The following two sentences provide examples:

As Alexander Pope said, “A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing” (line 215).
As Alexander Pope said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing” . . .

Published 3 January 2019

What percent of a source may I directly quote in my paper?

Writers, including student writers, should quote only what is necessary to make their point. Relying on a percentage to determine what’s necessary is unlikely to be useful.
Writers preparing to publish their work should keep copyright laws in mind and consider the principles of fair use. One consideration in determining fair use (but certainly not the only one) is the amount borrowed. The MLA is updating its fair use guidelines, formerly published in the MLA Style Manual. In the meantime, we recommend the guidelines offered by the United States Copyright Office and the Association of University Presses.

Published 4 December 2018

If I repeatedly use a quotation from the same source, do I need to use quotation marks each time?

You should generally use quotation marks if you repeat a quotation from the same source, but you may omit quotation marks when referring back to a concept or method (e.g., distant reading) mentioned in the source:

Moretti takes issue with this tendency to regard literature at any level as “a world” complete and classifiable rather than one in production and changing unevenly. Ironically, coming from someone obviously given to spatial diagrams of literary phenomena, “distant reading” adheres to the principle that “spatial proximity never turns into functional interaction” (14). Moretti won’t let us construe the distance implied by distant reading in opposition to the closeness and polysemy of literary language.

Published 2 November 2018

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