Writing About Literature

When writing a literary analysis, many students focus heavily on their chosen interpretation of the literary work(s), their unique thesis, and/or finding and using appropriate sources to support their arguments. And that is absolutely what they should be doing.

However, because those are big tasks and students are almost always taking at least one other course and working at the same time (some are even raising children, working full time, running businesses, or dealing with big family or personal health concerns), it’s very easy to overlook the tiny details that professors expect into a college-level literary essay. Here’s a quick list that will help you stay in the grade range your argument deserves rather than lose you points due to the “important small stuff.”

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Example Paraphrase/Summary Citation

This post provides direction and best practices about properly incorporating MLA Style paraphrase and summary citation for ENG 1001 and ENG 1002 source-based essays. First there’s an example of how to incorporate a paraphrase/summary citation using proper MLA formatting and Citation Sandwich body paragraph structure. After that, you’ll find a description of “Paraphrase Best Practice” and a “Strong vs. Weak Example” of a paraphrase/summary citation.

More detailed information can be found in the “Paraphrasing from Sources” page the IVCC Stylebook.

Example Paraphrase/Summary with Citation Sandwich Steps

A paraphrase or summary citation happens when you describe all or part of an article/text/source in your own words rather than using word-for-word language from a source. Because a paraphrase uses your own language, it does not need quotation marks, but it should be incorporated into your body paragraph only after you provide a topic sentence and begin your paragraph’s claim.

Topic sentence of body paragraph. 2-3 sentences that set-up or build the paragraph’s claim. According to the article “Kids, Gender, and the Complexity of Social Gender Norms” from The Atlantic, gender expectations can be established as early as toddler years. Researchers have seen children as young as two years choosing gendered toys when given the option. The article also makes the claim that children brought up in gender neutral environments do not show a marked difference in their choice of toys (Stevens). It is easy to claim that parents are responsible for teaching a young girl to like pink or dolls or a young boy to like blue and trucks; however, the evidence it showing that parents can make all the effort at home to provide a neutral environment with little impact. Until the outside social exposure that children receive via television, grocery stores, day care providers, and the like becomes less gendered, there is little lasting impact parents will have. 

Things to note about this example:

  1. The parenthetical documentation formatting of this source tells readers this article is by 1 author with the last name of Stevens. On the Works Cited page, this entry would begin with the authors last name, comma first.
  2. The use of the introductory signal phrase as well as the continued reference back to the source helps show readers where the paraphrase begins and where it ends as well as the source in which the info/idea originally comes.
  3. The explanation or context provided by you, the student, is nearly as long as the paraphrase citation, making your voice just as strong (or stronger) than the voice of the citation. 

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Building an MLA Works Cited Page

Here is a list of core elements required in the eight edition MLA style guidelines (from the IVCC Stylebook) as well citation resource links, citation generation links, and a sample works cited page.

Core Elements of Work Cited Entries 

Click the name of the core element for more information on it.
1.    Author.
2.    Title of source.
3.    Title of container,
4.    Other contributors,
5.    Version,
6.    Number,
7.    Publisher,
8.    Publication date,
9.    Location.

Sample Works Cited Page, from IVCC Stylebook

MLA Works Cited Page Resources

IVCC Stylebook Works Cited Page link, includes examples and links to core elements
Jacob’s Library citation page

Purdue OWL Writing Lab Works Cited page
IVCC MLA 8th Edition PowerPoint

Citation Generation Tools

Useful MLA Links

The IVCC Stylebook MLA section.

Purdue OWL Writing Lab MLA Formatting and Style Guide.

NoodleTools citation generator. If you’re accessing this off campus, use your full 14-digit IVCC ID card # and your last name to unlock NoodleTools. 14-digit will be: 24611 + purple student number + 01. Or you can type the entire number (black and purple) at the bottom of your IVCC student ID card.

Directions for citing Gale library database resources online.

MLA Header vs. Heading

Both your header and your heading need to be correct to receive full MLA style points, and many instructors will refuse to accept upper-level essays with incorrect MLA style document formatting. Even those using APA or Chicago style can benefit from learning MLA style heading and header formatting as many style use similar expectations and it will instill the instinct to check or double-check your header and heading formatting, especially when switching between MLA and APA course/essay expectations.

sample first page of an MLA style essay


  • appears on the top left of the first page of your ESSAY
  • includes your first and last name, the class, your instructor’s name, the assignment name, and the date (month, date, year order)
  • double-spaced in the upper left-hand side of your document
  • only on the first page
  • here is an example document: Example Header and Heading


  • appears in the upper right-side of your essay–on all pages, including the first page and the Work Cited page
  • includes your last name and the page number of your document

 How to Add a Header, MS Word Directions:

  1. select the “insert” tab of your Word document–at the top left
  2. hover over the “page number” square (it “feels like” you should select “header” since that is what you’re trying to insert, but then you won’t have a page number) 
  3. from the drop-down menu, select the option that shows the number in the top, right side of the document
  4. type in your last name, hit the space bar
  5. double-click below the blue/gray dotted line
  6. you’re done with the header! but if you need to edit the header, double-click on it and it’ll “allow” you to change it. Then double-click below the blue dotted line again to “get back to your document”

How to Add a Header, OpenOffice Directions:

  1. go to “insert” and choose “header”
  2. type your last name in the header and while still in the header
  3. go to “insert” and choose “fields” and then choose “page number”