Chapter 12 – Using Sources & MLA Format

White LED shines on a stack of books
“White Led Light” by Artem Follow, Composition in Cultural Contexts, Pexels is licensed under CC BY 4.0

The discovery, analysis, and integration of relevant source material into a research project is referred to as a “research methodology.” This can be a daunting, frustrating, and sometimes scary process. But is is essential if we are to fully engage in the essay writing process as a way to expand and fortify our own thinking and writing.

It takes a lot of discipline and courage to boldly go into the world of a given topic to check our ideas against those of authoritative, relevant, and reliable source material. It can also expose us to the reality that most topics are far more complicated than they originally appear.

This is an essential component of college writing. It is important to get our thoughts and ideas down on paper in clear and understandable ways. But it is equally important to verify, challenge, and expand those ideas by comparing/contrasting them with the most reliable information we can find on our chosen topic.

We do not research just to verify what we already believe about a topic, but to challenge our previously held ideas and, hopefully, move beyond the echo chamber of our own thoughts into a meaningful, substantive dialogue with others who also have relevant experience and expertise on the topic. Sometimes very different from our own. Sometimes not.

Doing this will help us to generate a depth of knowledge that goes beyond the superficial and into the real mechanics of knowing. The result will be an essay that is engaging, grounded, and integrative.

The “essay” format itself is intended to get the writer to explore a topic by beginning with a question or idea and then going out into the larger world of the topic and finding relevant, authoritative sources to help develop, test, and explore that idea.

Authoritative sources do more than just back up the ideas we already have. They challenge us to dive deeper into the topic we are exploring to address their full complexity and broad application. And perhaps, even change our minds entirely.

BEST: When the writer uses relevant, authoritative sources to enhance a dialogue with the audience and themselves around the significant issues the essay addresses. Most effective when they are blended carefully and properly into an honest and focused exploration of the topic that is lead by the writer but open to where the relevant source material can take the discussion.

A strong essay will include enough relevant, authoritative, and reliable sources to help develop and explore the topic and thesis. The exact level of what constitutes “enough” will largely depend on the weight and scope of the thesis and the particulars of a given topic or assignment.

Try to include a variety of sources from various academic, professional and popular institutions to provide a wide array of perspectives on the topic and thesis under discussion. But, a good essay doesn’t JUST report what the source material says. A strong essay will also effectively blend sources into a focused, academic conversation by integrating them into the larger topic, allowing them to “talk to one another,” and commenting on them in ways that stay true to their original intent but also include your thoughtful responses. Ultimately, the writer is directing the course of the discussion. But the sources should be, in turn, leading the writer.


“Paper notes” by Mediamodifier, Pixabay is in the Public Domain, CC0

MLA Format

Essays in Humanities classes are formatted according to Modern Language Association (MLA) guidelines. Formatting can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. But there are many tools and tricks to help you through the weeds.

Stay calm and focused and learn how to use the tools that will assist you in proper MLA formatting. If something doesn’t make sense, ask for help. Do this at the end of the process, during your “local editing” phase. MLA involves three primary components when getting your essay into proper format:

    1. Formatting of the first page of your essay.
    2. Proper use of “in-text” citations (citing sources you use in the body of the text of your essay).
    3. Properly formatted “Works Cited” or “Works Consulted” page.

BEST: When an essay is properly crafted and formatted, the reader is able to clearly and easily follow the ideas and trace outside information to its original sources.

On the MLA Style Guides site there is a section called “Citation Builders” which will help put sources into proper format for you. Note also that in most newer versions of Microsoft Word there is an MLA template you can select to automatically put your document into MLA format.

Sources taken from the MHCC Library Databases will already be listed at the bottom of the article in MLA format. Simply copy and paste the citation from the database entry to your Works Cited page (making sure the entry is: in proper alphabetical position, bold type, double-spaced, and in proper “hanging” format”).

Lastly, although most essays in Writing and Humanities classes will be formatted according to the Modern Language Association (MLA) guidelines, many other classes will use alternative formats such as APA, Chicago and ASA documentation styles. Use this link to assist in the construction of these alternative formats.

As always, when in doubt…reach out!


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Composition in Cultural Contexts Copyright © 2021 by Andy Gurevich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book