An Introduction to Documentation


Hollins University Writing Center







This packet was prepared by Marcy Trianosky, Director of the Writing Center, and members of the Writing Center staff (please see the Acknowledgements page at the end of this document). It is a general introduction to the principles of documentation, with an emphasis on MLA (parenthetical) and Turabian (footnoted) styles.


We invite you to come to the Writing Center for further instruction on documentation and/or help with any stage of your writing project. We will not edit your paper for you, but we will help you identify your trouble spots as well as your strengths. Our goal is to help you improve your ability and confidence as a writer.


The Writing Center is located on the first floor of East dorm. We’re open Monday through Thursday including evenings, with some hours on Friday mornings and Sunday evenings. Exact hours are posted on the door of the Writing Center, and you can also call our voice mail on ext. 6387 for a list of hours. Many students schedule appointments but walk-ins are always welcome. We encourage you to plan ahead during peak times of the semester (near mid-terms and finals). Please call us with your questions at ext. 6387.


See you in the Writing Center!


                                                                        Marcy Trianosky, Director





Documentation is the process of citing the various sources from which you gather ideas, information, or wording for use in your own research. Documentation is required by the laws of the United States, as well as the policies of every accredited school in the U.S.; failure to document is called “plagiarism,” from the Latin word meaning “kidnap.” These laws were established to protect authors and artists from having their work and ideas kidnapped.


For college students and college graduates, this is reason enough to be scrupulous about documentation. But there are several other, more self-serving reasons.


Some students think that to include other author’s ideas and/or wording somehow weakens the force or the originality of his/her work. Just the opposite is true. Using borrowed sources gives your work substance; citing these sources gives your work credibility. It proves that you’ve done your homework—taken the time to find out what others have to say about your topic. It also reveals your ability to build your argument by your choice of quotes or paraphrases. Well-chosen paraphrases and occasional quotations, woven into your own writing, improve your paper and your thesis. Originality comes from the way you choose to use borrowed material, the quality of the borrowings, and their arrangement in the paper.




Documentation is tedious work, but there are ways to save yourself time and frustration. Avoid backtracking by collecting the following information as you read each source:


1)     The full name(s) of the author(s).

2)     The full title of the book. If there is a subtitle, include that after the main title, preceded by a colon. If you’re using a magazine, include the full title of the article AND the magazine or journal. Record the volume and number of the journal and the exact date of a magazine.

3)     The date of publication.

4)     The city of publication.

5)     The page number where you found useful material. If you forget to record a page number, it will be difficult to find it again. Not only that, if you don’t have the page number, you can’t use the material and document it properly.


When you’re in the process of reading a source, you usually take notes in the form of a paraphrase, rewording the idea into your own words. Even as you do this, jot down the page number and the author’s name in your notes. It’s very easy to forget which is your observation and which is another writer’s. If a paraphrase of another person’s ideas gets worked into your paper without proper acknowledgement, it could be mistaken for your own. Unintentional plagiarism is a common problem for college students, but by careful note-taking you can avoid this pitfall.


As you continue your research, you might find two or more books by the same author. Remember to distinguish that in your notes, too! Keep up this process as you make drafts of your paper so nothing gets lost in the shuffle. This also lets you see just how much borrowing you’re doing, and where and when you have too much or too little.




This booklet will discuss two styles of documentation. MLA (a parenthetical style) and Turabian (a footnote/endnote style). You should  be aware, however, that many different styles of documentation exist which have been developed for different disciplines. Pleas be sure and ask your professor what documentation style he or she prefers. You may also consult our handout, How to Choose a Style.


Your final draft is the one prepared for the public. In this draft, your documentation must be both accurate AND in a particular form. So, now that you’ve got all those dates, names, and places, here are the specifics about where they’ll need to go.


The information you have gathered will be used in one of three areas: as part of your Attribution, as part of your Borrowing, or as part of your Citation. These are the ABC’s of documentation—remember to include all three parts in each reference you create. Notice where these three different parts appear in the following example.


            A                                             B                                            

            Jane Doe, a noted historian, states, “the first settlers were rigorous in their


religious practices” (124).


Attribution  (Click here for a more detailed handout on Attributions)


All styles of documentation require you to attribute the source before you quote or paraphrase. To introduce a paraphrase or quote, use variations on the following phrases:


            According to Carol Karlsen the first settlers were…


            Karlsen, in her most recent article, asserts that “only the first settlers”…


            Karlsen agrees that…


            Elsewhere, Karlsen argues that…


Karlsen contradicts herself, however, when she writes that “only the first settlers”…


Of course, these are not the only introductory phrases you can use. Be sure to vary your style by using many different kinds of attribution phrases. You will certainly discover your own ways of introducing a quote or paraphrase as you develop your writing abilities.

Borrowing  (Click here for a more detailed handout on Paraphrasing)


This is the actual quote or paraphrase. As you know, quotations begin and end with quotation marks, making it easy to identify where this type of borrowing begins. In paraphrasing, however, things get a little trickier. Paraphrasing is when you restate an author’s ideas in your own words, so the quotation marks will be omitted. This means that it is your responsibility to make it clear to the reader where your paraphrase begins. The attribution phrases we discussed above become particularly important when you are paraphrasing, so that the reader always knows when you begin discussing another person’s ideas instead of your own.


Plagiarism most often occurs because students either omit the proper attribution or use too many of the author’s words (instead of their own) when writing the paraphrase. Be careful! Unintentional plagiarism can be just as damaging to your grade as intentional plagiarism. Ask lots of questions of your instructor, your fellow students and the tutors in the Writing Center if you feel unsure about the correctness of your paraphrasing.


The reader needs some kind of cue to recognize when you are finished citing a borrowed passage. In the case of quotations, the closing quotation mark cues the end of the borrowing. For paraphrased borrowings, the parenthetical reference or the footnote cues the end.


For a concise definition of plagiarism, click here: Definition of Plagiarism.

For practice in recognizing plagiarism, click here: Plagiarism Worksheet.


Citation  (Click here for a more detailed handout on MLA and Turabian Citations)


Your citation will appear at the end of each borrowed passage. End cues for paraphrased borrowings appear differently in different documentation styles.


1)     MLA Style


MLA is a parenthetical style of citation that includes some basic information about the reference in parentheses immediately following the borrowed material. These parentheses are the “end cues” for MLA. Usually, the citation will include at least the author’s name and the page number. A title is included in some instances, as discussed in example #3 below.


            If you choose not to state the author’s name in the attribution, include his/her last name in the citation like this:




According to one historian, the first settlers were rigorous in their religious practices (Lesh 47).


Notice that the author’s name, Lesh, appears in the parentheses. The number following the name is a page number. Notice that there is NO comma between them.


You may choose to include the author’s name in the attribution: Then only the page number will appear in the parentheses:




According to Mariah Lesh, the first settlers were rigorous in their religious practices (47).


If you’re using two or more books by the same author in the same paper, you need to include the titles in your citation so the reader will know which book you are referring to. Here’s an example:




According to Mariah Lesh, the first settlers were rigorous in their religious practices (Frontier Women 47). Lesh did extensive research on this topic which described in detail the daily life of the settlers and their strict religious observances (Religion on the Frontier 105-110).


Notice that the names of both books are included in the citations, to distinguish between the two books by Mariah Lesh being referred to by the writer.


In all these examples, the period goes at the very end of the citation, outside the parentheses.


2)     Turabian Style


Turabian calls for either footnotes or endnotes. As you might expect, footnotes go at the bottom of the page where the borrowing appears while endnotes are placed on a separate sheet at the very end of the paper. Some examples appear below.


            EXAMPLE #1


One historian contradicts herself, however, when she writes that women in Virginia were never subservient. [1]




Mariah Lesh agrees that Virginians were “rigorously religious.”[2]




In her book, Virginia: The Settlement Years, Joellen Smith claims that “to be a woman in that era required the faith of Job.”[3]




Notice that much more information is included in the citation for this particular style. Also, the author’s name is always part of the footnote or endnote, even if the name had already been mentioned in the attribution phrase.


In these examples, is it easy to tell where the attribution begins for each? Can you easily identify the three parts of documentation, A, B, and C, for each example?


Of course, as you begin to write more complex papers, you will find more sophisticated ways of introducing and paraphrasing your work. The best way to learn is to look carefully at the reference works for the paper you’re working on and observe how their authors cite sources.




At the end of your paper, you will list your sources. MLA style requires a list of Works Cited while Turabian requires a Bibliography. Your MLA Works Cited page gives information about only the sources you quoted or paraphrased in your paper. The Turabian Bibliography lists all works consulted in the research process, even the ones you didn’t borrow from. Please take a look at the next two pages for examples of how different kinds of works are cited.




To cite or not to cite, that is the question. You may be saying to yourself: “But I didn’t know anything about this subject when I began. Do I document every sentence?” No, of course not. It’s difficult to come up with iron-clad rules about when to document, because there are so many exceptions. Here are some general guidelines:


Things you don’t need to document:


-        Personal notes

-        Your thesis statement

-        Your topic sentences

-        Your analysis of an idea

-        Factual instances that are common knowledge or that recur in source after source. One rule of thumb is: If it appears in five or more sources, you don’t have to document it. (Check with your professor to determine his or her preferences.)


Things you DO need to document:


-        An original idea derived from a source, whether quoted or parahrased

-        Your summary of ideas from a source

-        Factual information that is not considered common knowledge (see the rule of thumb mentioned above)

-        Exact wording copied from a source (quotation)


There are many different styles of documentation, and we have only touched on the basics of two types – MLA and Turabian. Although they all serve the same purpose, they may look quite different. An explanation of different forms of documentation can be found in handbooks available in the library, the bookstore, and the Writing Center. Your professor will let you know what style he or she prefers. If you’re not sure, ask!



Works Cited


Buscaglia, Leo F. Personhood. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1978.

---, The Way of the Bull. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1976.

Lazard, Naomi. “In Answer to Your Query.” The Norton Book of Light Verse.

Ed. Russell Baker. New York: Norton, 1986. 52-53.

Leighton, Isabel. The Aspiring Age. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976.

Lever, Janet. “Sex Differences in the Games Children Play.” Social Problems 23

(1976): 478-87.

Stein, Harry. “Living with Lies.” Esquire Dec. 1981:23



-     Notice that MLA requires double-spacing both within and between entries


-        Dashes indicate that the same author’s name is repeated (see entries for Buscaglia).


-        Notice the differences between the citation for an article taken from a scholarly

journal (Social Problems) and one taken from a popular magazine (Esquire).


-        How is the entry for Naomi Lazard different from the one for Janet Lever? How are they similar?







Dalke, Anne. “ ‘The House of Band’ : The Education of Men in Little Women.College English 47 (October 1985): 571-578.


Lodge, Eleanor C. Sully, Colbert, and Turgot. New York: Burt Franklin, 1971.


Nony, Julie. “Why Those Fad Diets Don’t Work.” Tennis, March 1986, pp. 72-76.


North, Douglas C., and Thomas, Robert Paul. The Rise of the Western World: A New

Economic History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1973.


Wilson, Charles, and Parker, Geoffrey, eds. An Introduction to the Sources of European

Economic History 1500-1800. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1997.






- Notice that Turabian style single spaces within an entry, but double-spaces between entries





            A number of people are acknowledged here in appreciation of their contributions to this booklet.



The following individuals are responsible for developing the original concept of this booklet and for writing the first version, which was used in presentations to first-year students at Hollins in 1992-93:


Margaret K. Woodworth, Director of the Writing Center, 1987-1993


Mary Markle ’94, tutor in the Writing Center, 1990-1992


Many other former tutors who contributed their time and energy to this project and whose names are too numerous to mention here.


This booklet was edited and re-designed during the 1993-94 and 1994-95 academic years. Acknowledgements for help in that process are due to:


Melissa Midgett ’95, who re-wrote many sections and tightened others, and


All the other tutors on the Writing Center staff in 93-94 and 94-95, who edited and commented on all or part of this document.



[1] Alison Johnson, Early Settlements: Virginia (New York: Holiday Press, 1986), 104.


[2] Mariah Lesh, Jamestown Dames (London: Oxford, 1987), 65.


[3] Joellen Smith, Virginia: The Settlement Years (New York: Harbrace, 1991), 21.