Final Check: Self-editing tips for your final draft



MLA Formatting

**MLA has recently made some changes to how things are formatted and cited. Make sure you know if you are to follow the old or new edition. The following are suggestions from the old edition, as most instructors will not change over mid-term.

Include 1” margins on all sides.

Double-space all lines (no extra spaces between header and title and title and text).

Center title. Do not bold, italicize, or enlarge font.

Single space after periods or other end punctuation.

Tab all indents; spacing 5 times is not the same!

Insert a paginated right header. This means to insert your last name only, followed by a space, then the page number. Your instructor may ask that you remove this from the first page, as you’ll have your left header here.

Works Cited should be numbered consecutively after the last page of essay.

Insert 4-line left header on first page only.

Block quotes should be indented one inch with no quotation marks.

All other direct quotes should have quotation marks and in-text citation, followed by period (note: period comes after the citation).


All outside research or sources should be followed with an in-text citation, whether they are a direct quote, paraphrase, or summary.

Direct quotes should have attributive or author tags.

If a source doesn’t have an author, give the title or website.

The in-text citation should match the FIRST WORD the source is listed under on the Works Cited page.

Avoid giving dictionary definitions of a word as an “outside source.” That’s not research.

Always use italics when referring to a book or website; use quotation marks for small works (article or short story) in a larger work (book or newspaper).

Works Cited


The title, Works Cited, should be centered at the top of the final page. Do not bold, italicize or enlarge font.

Works Cited should also be double spaced. NO EXTRA SPACES BETWEEN ENTRIES.

Works Cited should be alphabetized by author’s last name. If no author, alphabetize by the title or website. See Purdue Owl for other listings.

Each entry should have a hanging indent (the opposite of a regular line indent).

Include URL only if instructor requires it, or if the source cannot be found without it.

When using electronic sources, always include the date you accessed the source.

Other Tips

In Microsoft WORD, the default for paragraphs is set to insert an extra line space when you hit ENTER to move to a new paragraph. You must reset this to avoid triple-spacing the header, paragraphs, and Works Cited entries. To do this, go to the PARAGRAPH tab on the toolbar, clicking on the icon that has up and down arrows with five lines, just to the right of the 4 justification icons. Click the arrow on the right to open the tab, and scroll down to the bottom line that says “Add Space After Paragraph”; click this so that it says “Remove Space After Paragraph.” If you have already completed your essay and have triple spaces, highlight the entire text, follow these steps, and it should remove the extra lines.

The default font in Word is usually Calibri 11. MLA is Times New Roman 12, unless otherwise instructed. Make sure you have changed the font to follow MLA. 

This list is a very abbreviated editing checklist, and your instructor might have different directives, which we refer to as “instructor preference.” Always follow your instructor guidelines and ask for specifics if you are unsure of anything. 

This is only an abbreviated list of editing steps to take to make your essay a perfect as it can be. Hopefully, you’ve read your essay over carefully and had a peer read it as well. Don’t trust Spellcheck! Once you’ve done all you can do, turn it in and let it go. If you’ve followed your instructor’s guidelines and instruction and edited carefully, you should feel confident you’ve done your best work.






MLA Updates: What’s New

MLA has recently released the new 8th Edition of the MLA Handbook, which includes several updates. Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) explains the changes in the following article:

MLA Eighth Edition: What’s New and Different

[Contributors:Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Purdue OWL Staff]

In April 2016, MLA replaced its seventh edition resources with a new eighth edition. This updated version reflects the ways in which digital publication has changed how writers and researchers document sources. Therefore, the new edition includes significant shifts in the approach to source documentation in academic writing. While earlier editions emphasized the importance of following specific guidelines for formatting, the eighth edition focuses on the practice and process of scholarly documentation. The logic here is basic: a style guide should offer a method that is widely applicable. Rather than insisting that writers follow strict citation formulas, this handbook outlines the principles of MLA documentation and explains how writers can use them in many different situations.

For this reason, the new edition focuses on the writer’s strategy and individual decisions. Not all scholarly prose is the same, and every writer should evaluate her/his readers and determine how to best engage them. The writer’s goal should be to provide a document and list of sources that is easy for readers to use, so that the reading experience is informative and enjoyable.

Like earlier editions, this handbook includes information on evaluating sources, avoiding plagiarism, using quotations, constructing abbreviations, and other topics important to the scholarly writer. But what is different about the eighth edition is that it recommends a universal set of guidelines that writers can apply to any source, in any field. In the past, writers would create an entry in a works cited list by looking at MLA’s instructions for how to cite a specific type of source. For example, if you needed to cite a film, you would consult the handbook to see the proper format for documenting film. In this new edition, MLA explains that this method is no longer practical, since types of sources are sometimes undefinable, or accessible in more than one way (for instance, a YouTube clip from a film is not the same as the original film itself). Therefore, the eighth edition offers a new model for entries in a works cited list, so that rather than consulting the handbook for the proper way to document a specific type of source, the writer creates entries by consulting MLA’s list of core elements and compiling them in the recommended order.

Core elements are those basic pieces of information that should be common to all sources, from books to articles, from lectures to tweets. The MLA core elements are as follows:

Author Number
Title of source Publisher
Title of container Publication date
Other contributors Location

If you have included these elements and assembled them in a way that makes sense to your readers, then your works cited entries will be consistent and thorough.

Look for updates to OWLs resources and more detailed information about changes to MLA guidelines coming soon.


Since the eighth edition focuses on the principles of documenting sources, rather than on strict adherence to a particular format for each source, citations in this new edition vary only slightly from the old ways. When comparing works cited entries in the new eighth edition with the former seventh edition, see that differences in citation style are minimal; punctuation is streamlined, volume and issue numbers are identified as such, and there is no excess information such as city of publication or media type.

Note the differences in citing a print book with one author:

Eighth edition (the new way):

Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford UP, 2011.

In this version, only the most essential information is included (author’s name, book title, publisher, and date). Note that the city of publication is not needed, and the medium of publication is eliminated.

Seventh edition (the old way):

Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.

This version includes the city of publication (Oxford) and the medium (print), which the new eighth edition does not require.

The differences in citing an article from a scholarly journal:

Eighth edition:

Kincaid, Jamaica. “In History.” Callaloo, vol. 24, no. 2, Spring 2001, pp. 620-26.

This version identifies the volume (24), the number (2), and the page numbers (620-26) of the scholarly journal, rather than leaving those numbers without clear explanation. This helps readers best make sense of your citation and allows them to locate your source without getting bogged down with extra information or references that can be difficult to decipher. Also note that punctuation is simple; only commas separate the journal title, volume, number, date, and page numbers.

Seventh edition:

Kinkaid, Jamaica. “In History.” Callaloo 24.2 (Spring 2001): 620-26. Web.

This version includes the volume and number (24.2), and page numbers (620-26) of the journal, but does not explain those references. The seventh edition emphasized following a strict punctuation formula, such as parentheses around the date and the colon, while the new eighth edition focuses on providing this information in a more streamlined manner by using only commas to separate each component.


If you are already familiar with traditional MLA citation methods, continue to use them in a more simplified form. Since the eighth edition emphasizes the writer’s freedom to create references based on the expectations of the audience, consider what your readers need to know if they want to find your source.

  • Think of MLA style principles as flexible guides, rather than rules. Part of your responsibility as a writer is to evaluate your readers and decide what your particular audience needs to know about your sources.
  • Your goal is to inform, persuade, and otherwise connect with your audience; error-free writing, along with trustworthy documentation, allows readers to focus on your ideas.
  • In-text citations should look consistent throughout your paper. The principles behind in-text citations have changed very little from the seventh to the eighth editions.
  • List of works cited/works consulted needs to include basic core information, such as author’s name, title of source, publication date, and other information, depending on the type of source. Each entry should be uniform and simple, but should give enough information so that your readers can locate your sources.
  • These updated MLA guidelines are based on a simple theory: once you know the basic principles of style and citation, you can apply that knowledge widely, and generate useful documentation for any type of publication, in any field.


For more information on MLA changes, visit

Integrating Direct Quotations into your Research Paper


When writing academic research papers, it is important to find reliable sources to support your argument. Sometimes, however, once you find the best sources to use, integrating them effectively to make the most of them becomes a challenge.

Research papers require you to not only “research,” but to synthesize or blend together your own words and ideas with those of other people. You don’t want to go to all the work of finding awesome sources, only to have the quotes fall flat once they are incorporated into the paper. You need to maintain a coherent flow, meaning your paper should read, once outside source material is incorporated, as a unified piece of writing. Unfortunately it’s quite common for a paper to go from a focused piece of writing to a jumble of competing voices.

The Three-Step Model

It’s not enough simply to find a good source; the real work comes as you incorporate it into your paragraph. With quotations, it’s not enough just to insert the quote inside the research. One easy-to-remember and popular technique is the 3-step model of integration, described below. By following these three easy steps, your research will flow smoothly and appear seamless. The three steps will ask you to

1.    Introduce the quote.
2.    Present the quote.
3.    Comment on or analyze the quote’s significance.

Step 1: Introduce the Quote

Introducing the quote can be challenging. Quotations must be taken from their original context and smoothly integrated into their new textual surroundings, and the first step is to introduce the source. Sticking a quote in your paper without telling your audience who is speaking is like asking someone out without introducing yourself; most likely you’ll be turned down. Begin integrating a quote by introducing the source’s full name:

Dr. Robin Write, author of, The Doritos Diet, states, “QUOTE” (page #).

Notice that the example above introduces the source, gives a brief bit of info on the source, then offers the quote – all within the same sentence.


For example, it would be incorrect to integrate the source without introducing the author, as in the example below:

“The Doritos Diet will help you lose ten pounds in ten days.”

You want to know the person who made this claim, right? This is referred to as a dangling or hanging quote. It is hanging without other support, creating a disconnection between the quote and the rest of the paragraph. It is, in essence, “stuck in,” the middle of a paragraph and creates a lack of cohesion.

As you write your paper, you’ll also want to vary the way you introduce the sources. It would become tedious to read “Dr. X states . . .” every time you incorporate a quote. Utilize different language and word order, as in the examples below:

In his article _______, Dr. Write suggests that “_________.”

Dr. Write agrees, when he says, “_________.”

Notice in the former example, the word “that” is not followed by a comma, as it isn’t necessary because “that” integrates the quotation with the main clause of the sentence (instead of creating an independent and dependent clause).

Other verbs that can introduce quotations include

Believes                  Argues                       Thinks
Adds                         Compares                Reasons
Suggests                 Asserts                      Insists
Empathizes          Denies                       Questions
Submits                  Observes                  Notes

Below are three examples of the same quote, integrated differently. Note the first example is introduced with an independent clause, which requires the use of a colon. Any other introduction requires a comma, or no punctuation:

Shelley held a bold view: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World” (794).

Shelley thought poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the World” (794).

 “Poets,” according to Shelley, “are the unacknowledged legislators of the World” (794).
(from MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers)

Step 2. Present the Quote

Obviously, you have to present the quote, but don’t get ahead of yourself; it’s too easy to make a mistake in this step. Make sure you have transcribed the quote correctly. Changes should never be made of direct quotes; the accuracy of direct quotes is extremely important, including capitalization and punctuation.

Sometimes you may find the quote might be unclear without inserting more information. For instance, you might need to insert a pronoun to clarify a name:

According to Maher, “She [Austin] believes a woman’s place is in the home.”

The use of square brackets indicates the name “Austin” is the writer’s addition and not part of the original quote. Without the name, the pronoun “she” would leave a question in the reader’s minds who she is.

It’s also quite common, especially in the internet era, to find misspellings in research. But the rule holds that you must not change even the misspellings of direct quotes, so to identify you know a word is spelled incorrectly, insert in square brackets the word [sic], in italics, as in the example below:

Shaw admitted, “Nothing can extinguish my interest in Shakespear” [sic].

Sic, Latin for “thus,” or “so,” indicates the quote is as originally written, and not your error.

Step 3: Comment on Quote

Commenting on quotes is often the most overlooked step in the integration process. All quotations need explanation to completely integrate them. Think of your quotes as needing a hug; they need arms to wrap around them to make them feel loved. On the front side, they have their author tag “arm,” and on the back side, they need their comment or analysis “arm” to complete their hug.

Below is an example from A Student Guide to Writing at UCI. First, you’ll notice the author tag where the source is introduced, followed by the direct quote. The remainder of the paragraph, the research quoted is commented on and analyzed by the writer:

With reference to a study by the U.S. Labor Department, William A. Henry reports that “about 20% of all college graduates toil in fields not requiring a  degree” (353). Henry cites this statistic to reinforce his argument that a college degree is less valuable today than some might think. In presenting this information, however, he fails to make his case convincing because, aside from the fact that 20% is a relatively low percentage, he relies on a false assumption, namely that the value of a college education depends upon whether or not graduates apply their degree toward their occupation.

Some other useful ways to incorporate comments are shown below:

In other words, X asserts __________. 

In arguing this claim, X argues that __________. 

X is insisting that _________. 

What X really means is that ____________.

The basis of X’s argument is that ___________.
(from Purdue Owl Online).

Some instructors teach to never begin or end a paragraph with a quote. If a paragraph ends with a direct quote, the writer has obviously failed to comment on the research.

Final Thoughts

Integrating outside research is challenging, but following a simple plan will help you incorporate quotations so they fit seamlessly in your paper. Remember that quoting should be done only sparingly, and the majority of the paper should be in your own words. Instructors often require students to write a draft of their argument before they begin the research phase, therefore minimizing the risk for competing outside voices taking over the paper. However you choose to incorporate your research, remember the most important voice is your own.

For more help on integrating source material, visit

Who That? Rules of Usage (and other myths)


When referring to a person in writing, most of us were taught to use “who,” as in She was the girl who wore the red dress. In this sentence, who is referring to a person, she. So you would not use “that” to reference a person, as in, She was the girl that wore the red dress. Makes sense, right?

However, the rule gets more complicated when referring to a class or group of people. Which of the following sentences is correct?

  1. Men who buy sports cars receive more speeding tickets.
  2. Men that buy sports cars receive more speeding tickets.

If you guessed #1 you would be correct.
But if you guessed #2, you would also be correct.

According to any number of style guides, it is perfectly acceptable to use that when referring to a group or class of people. The use of “who” is, as the English language goes, a relatively recent occurrence. The Grammar Girl, my personal hero, says that Chaucer and Shakespeare used “that” to refer to people, and the “who” rule didn’t creep into our sometimes mythical rules until the early 1900s.

Note, however, that in the previous example, “Men” refers to a class of people, an indeterminate, general group of men, not a specific man or men. If it read, The man that drove the sports car received a speeding ticket, it would still be okay, but according to style guides, less common. To be on the safe side, in this instance, refer to the specific man as “who.”


The reason there might be confusion as to the correct use of “who” or “that” is that our most commonly used style guides, MLA and APA, have conflicting guidelines. MLA says that when referring to general groups of people, both “that” and “who” can be used. In the following examples, either use would be acceptable in MLA:

She is the kind of person who/that is always cheerful.

I would like to find a husband who/that is a good cook.

However, when a specific person is referred to in formal writing, the preferred use is “who”:

The boy who lives next door plays football.

The woman who drives the school bus is a jazz singer.

However, if you are using APA style guide in your writing, APA requires the use of “who” when referring to people. For APA, “that” is only used for nonhumans and things:

She is the kind of person who/that is always cheerful.

I would like to find a husband who/that is a good cook.

The rats that completed the task successfully were rewarded. (Rats = nonhuman.)

Final Thoughts

Through the centuries, the English language has often adapted to common usage, and with the advent of style guides for academic writing, rules were put in place to suit different fields of study and styles of writing. But remember, rules and styles are two different things. What may be a rule in one mode of writing may be different in another. Sometimes, rules are a myth, and sometimes rules are simply a preference or trend. When writing for high school or college, if in doubt, always ask your instructor for their preference. In my book, the person who is grading is always right.

(image from Oxford Dictionary Online)