Documentation during Editing

The best time to worry about the details of your documentation format is during the editing step. This is the time when you shift gears from worrying about content and clarity, to making sure that you’ve followed the rules of your style guide.

Most documentation systems use 2 parts:

  1. In-text citations: Usually in parentheses at the end of a quotation or paraphrase, in-text citations tell your reader which idea came from which source, and where in that source the idea might be found. If you’ve tagged your ideas in the prewriting step, editing your in-text citations should be a matter of checking your punctuation and making sure you present all the appropriate information.
  2. Full list of Sources: This list is called a Works Cited in MLA style, References in APA style, or Bibliography in CMS but it’s purpose is the same in all three. It provides your reader with full information about each of your sources. There are a lot of rules for sequencing and punctuating these lists, and it’s important to pay careful attention to the details when you edit your final draft.

Textbook publisher St. Martin’s Press provides details on how to document in your discipline.

Which style guide should you use?

Your professor usually will tell you which style guide to choose. MLA is usually used for literature and the humanities, APA is usually used for the social sciences. But there are situations when you may be asked to use a different style guide than what you’re used to.

For more information and links to specific style rules visit the Bibliography and Citation page in Union Institute & University’s Library Help Center website.

Is this you?

Does the idea of putting together a bibliography for a research paper fill you with panic? Does the works cited page for your paper become the focus of your thoughts about that paper?

The bibliography or works cited page is a part of your paper where you can be “right” or “wrong.” In that way, it is unlike the rest of the paper where the difference between success or failure is much less black and white. Because of this, it’s possible someone once told you that your documentation was “all wrong.”

Correct documentation is as important as a nice table setting for a meal. It is not the meal, but part of the way some people expect a meal to be presented.

The only big mistake you can make in documentation is not telling your reader about the sources you’ve used for both words and ideas.

Focusing too much on the right and wrong of documentation formats can distract you from what’s truly important about presenting your research. The nice thing about documentation format errors is that they are easy to fix. You can even get someone else to fix them for you, and it’s not cheating at all.

Using Citation Machine or Other Citation Web Tool

There are several web tools that will format your citations for you following the major style guide of your choice. Citation Machine is one of the best known.

While these tools can take the guesswork out of some of the details of formatting, they still require you to know your way around a book, article, or web page, and be able to identify key information needed for the citation. If you don’t know who created a web site or the city where a book was published, a fancy citation won’t help you.

Check and proofread citations created by citation machine carefully and make sure that they are in the same font and font size as the rest of your document.