The Writing Center
Frequently Asked Questions for Writers
How do I get help from The USC Upstate Writing Center?
Call 864-503-5883 or drop by HPAC 136 during regular hours to schedule an appointment.
What should I bring to my appointment in the Writing Center?
Bring a copy of your writing assignment instructions and a draft of your paper to discuss with your Writing Center tutor.
Is it ok to use Wikipedia when I am doing research?
In some cases Wikipedia is a good place to get started finding out background information, but in most cases Wikipedia is not an appropriate for formal research and research-based writing because 1. it is an encyclopedia; 2. it is written by its users, not by experts in the field; and 3. there is no single expert authority who edits and vouches for the information. Wikipedia is big, it's free, it's easy to use, but it's not very credible. For a complete policy statement about appropriate use of Wikipedia in a University setting, see Alan Liu's "Student Wikipedia Use Policy" at http://www.english.ucsb.edu/faculty/ayliu/courses/wikipedia-policy.html.
When do I cite?
Any time you paraphrase or quote directly from a source, you need a citation at the end of the sentence. In MLA Style, this means including the author's last name or title of article, if there is no author, and the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence.
- If you use the exact words you found in your source, then the quoted passage needs to be in quotation marks and cited at the end of the sentence that contains the quote.
- If you use the basic idea of the source, but restate it in your own words, voice, and style, then you have paraphrased, and you need to cite your source at the end of the sentence. Be aware that simply rearranging the author’s words or phrases, or replacing single words, is sometimes called patchwriting. This is considered plagiarism because you are relying too heavily on the author’s sentence structure. You are also not demonstrating that you understand the author’s point.
- If you paraphrase most of a sentence, but use a few of the source's exact words, a memorable phrase or a particular way of wording an idea, you should put the quoted phrase in quotation marks, leave the rest of the sentence as a paraphrase, and cite the source at the end of the sentence that contains the quote.
- If you summarize a source by explaining the overall ideas of the source completely in your own words and usually reducing the length of the information from the source, you may refer to your source in a signal phrase (e.g. "According to xxx,") at the start of the summary. If this summary extends longer than a sentence or two, you should continue to refer to the source to let readers know when the summary ends and your own ideas begin again.
- You do not need to cite common knowledge, like an historical fact (e.g. the date Columbus landed in the New World, or the name of the first president of Russia after the end of the Soviet Union). However, if you quote a sentence about an historical fact, you must place the quote in quotation marks and cite your source at the end of the sentence with the quote.
- Remember you must include any source you refer to in the body of your paper in your Works Cited or References at the end of your paper.
- For more examples, see http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/QPA_plagiarism.html or http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/2/.
How do I avoid unintentional plagiarism?
Be aware of your use of any sources, including Internet, television, film, images, conventional articles and books. Know what counts as someone else's intellectual property (their words, their ideas, their graphics), and cite them properly whenever you use another's work. See the guide to different types of plagiarism at Plagiarism.org for a list of common errors.
How do I format my Works Cited without using tabs?
Use Microsoft Word formatting options to create a hanging indent for your MLA Works Cited page. Once you enter your Works Cited entries, highlight them all, then press Ctrl-T.
In Pages for Mac, you may use the Bibliography Section Template to generate a new section at the end of your paper, already formatted with hanging indents. You may also highlight the items in your Works Cited, then click Inspector on the Toolbar. Press the T for the Text Inspector. Then click Tabs. Set First Line to zero and then set Left to 0.5 inches.
In both Pages and in Word, you can set indents by dragging the margin and first line markers on the ruler on the top of your document. Highlight the paragraphs of your Works Cited page, then slide the left margin marker to 0.5 inches and the First Line marker to zero.
How do I format block quotes without using tabs?
Use Microsoft Word formatting options to set the left margin at one inch for your block quotes. You may move the left margin for that paragraph using the ruler at the top of your page, or by clicking twice on the increase indent button. Remember, in MLA style, block quotes start one inch away from the left margin and extend all the way to the right margin of your page. Also try to limit the number of block quotes in your papers. Your ideas should take center stage.
How do I cite unconventional sources?
For traditional sources, such as books, articles, Web pages, films, reviews, and government documents, see a writing handbook like Rules for Writers or an online style guide like Research and Documentation Online. Select the style required for your class (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago, CSE).
Some unconventional sources found by our students include the following:
- A book published before 1900. In MLA style, omit the name of the publisher and use a comma instead of a colon after the place of publication:
Brome, Richard. The Dramatic Works of Richard Brome. 3 vols. London, 1873. Print.
- Part or all of a film, television or radio program accessed online or through CD/DVD. In MLA style, combine rules for citing television/radio programs with rules for citing from online or electronic sources:
"Audio Commentary: The Director and Writers." The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Narr. Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Fran Walsh. Dir. Peter Jackson. 2001. Special Extended DVD. New Line, 2002.
Chase, David. "Peter Bogdanovich Interviews David Chase." The Sopranos: The Complete First Season. DVD. HBO-Time-Warner, 2000.
Keillor, Garrison. A Prairie Home Companion. With Ledward Ka'apana and Owana Salazar. 12 Oct. 2002. Minnesota Public Radio. 18 Oct. 2002 <http://phc.mpr.org/ri/smil/021012.ram>.
"Visualizing the Story." The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Dir. Peter Jackson. 2001. Appendices Part I, Special Extended DVD. New Line, 2002.
- Downloaded Computer Software. In MLA style, include title, version, and date information:
MacCase. Vers. 1.0. 1 Aug. 1998 <ftp://ftp.adfa.oz.au/pub/mac/MacCASE/>.
TACT: Text-Analysis Computing Tools. Vers. 2.1. 24 Sept. 2002 <http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/cch/tact.html>.
How do I alphabetize my Works Cited if some sources do not have authors?
Alphabetize your Works Cited entries by the first word (skip "The" or "A") in each list item. Often this word will be the author's last name, but sometimes this may be the name of an organization or government, or it may be the title of an article, Web page or computer program. See the example under unconventional sources above for proper alphabetizing. In the example, "Audio Commentary" comes before Chase, David.
How do I do writing assignments in my life sciences courses, like biology lab reports or scientific research papers?
Like all writing, the expectations and format of your writing changes depending on your audience. When your audience is a group of life scientists, they have specific expectations for evidence, organization, and writing voice. The Harvard University "A Student's Guide to Writing in the Life Sciences" (available online at http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic649702.files/Life_Sciences.pdf) offers great tips and examples to help you approach writing assignments in science courses.
How do I write a personal statement for my graduate school application?
Be sure to write a draft of the statement and discuss it with your advisor or other professors before you submit your application. For suggestions on writing a statement, see the University of California-Berkeley tips for graduate school statements and the Washington University guide to "Writing a Statement of Purpose." Drew and Karen Appleby list several tips for avoiding application mistakes in "Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process," published in Teaching of Psychology 33.1 (2006): 19-24. Several online communities also offer advice and serve as a sounding board for students applying to graduate school.
Web Links for Information about APA, MLA, Chicago and Plagiarism
Diana Hacker's Research and Documentation Online (http://www.dianahacker.com/resdoc) provides a comprehensive set of models in MLA (Humanities), APA (Social Sciences), Chicago Manual of Style or Turabian (History), and CSE (Natural/Life Sciences) documentation styles; includes current updated editions of manuals. Models from the new 7th edition MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers are available. The site also includes a guide to finding sources and documenting sources in the humanities, social sciences, history, and natural/life sciences.
The American Psychological Association's APA Style guide (http://www.apastyle.org) includes information on the newly released Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 6th edition. A free tutorial, "What's New in the Sixth Edition" is available. Please note changes especially to the reference citation format for articles retrieved online or from databases. "Digital Object Identifiers" (DOIs), when available, are now required.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center provides a guide to using Chicago Manual of Style or Turabian (http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/DocChicago.html) for documentation of history sources.
Penn State University's library provides a "Quick Guide" to using American Chemical Society (ACS) citation style (http://www.libraries.psu.edu/content/dam/psul/up/pams/documents/QuickGuideACS.pdf) for documentation of chemistry and other natural science sources.
Simon Fraser University's guide to Plagiarism (http://www.lib.sfu.ca/help/writing/plagiarism) provides a comprehensive tutorial (with periodic quizzes) to help students understand appropriate quoting, paraphrasing and documentation methods.