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The Library Research Paper

by William W. Watt

What is research? In recent years the word has filtered out of the ivory tower and spread like an epidemic in the marketplace. Loose popular usage has worn the sharp edges from its meaning and threatened to deface its value. To many people research refers loosely to the act of looking up or checking up on anything, anywhere, in any way. Political polls, television ratings, the detection of factual errors in unpublished magazine articles, traffic counts at intersections, questionnaires on consumer habits, comparison shopping to price silk stockings—all are called research. The transitive verb (“I'll research it for you”) appears to be catching up with the noun in popularity, and the well-drilled team is crowding out the lonely adventurer.

Though the weakening of a noble word may be disturbing, it is a useful reminder that the natural human passion for discovering, recording, and evaluating data is not—and never was—the special province of the academic expert in the library, laboratory, museum, geological quarry, or archaeological digging. The scholar's methods may be more systematic and his conclusions more profound. He may have a more sincere faith in the freedom that lies in the pursuit of truth for its own sake—in “pure” research. But he has no monopoly on the activity of research.

Of the infinite varieties, none is more generally useful than the experience that begins as a hunting expedition in a library and ends when the last period is typed on the finished paper. The library research paper is an inevitable academic assignment. Commonly known as the term paper, it regularly serves as a sort of commencement exercise at the end of the course or year. For the secondary school student who goes on to college, or for the college undergraduate who proceeds to graduate professional school, there is always another commencement, another beginning of a new research paper. But though the project may become increasingly ambitious and the process more complex, the essential discipline does not change with academic advancement. The basic rules remain the same. The student who forms scholarly habits of research in school will find them invaluable later, whether under the discipline of further formal education or the self-discipline of his vocation, his avocation, or a civic activity. Because the responsible adult is a student all his life, the word student will have no chronological limits in this article.

The experience of writing even a single research paper pays educational dividends to any serious student. It encourages him to develop a personal interest in a subject of his own choice. It offers an opportunity for genuine independent study. It introduces him to the resources of whatever library he is privileged to use. It shows him the excitement of tracking down knowledge that is not neatly packaged in a textbook or on a blackboard. It offers him the satisfaction of completing a task more thorough than any routine writing assignment. (The word re-search suggests thoroughness: a searching again, checking and double-checking.)

The task demands discriminating reading at various speeds and levels, accurate note-taking, intelligent summarizing, honest and systematic acknowledgement of intellectual indebtedness, and a more intricate organization than is ever required on a short composition. The process of separating truth from error and facts from judgments, of compiling and selecting evidence to support a credible conclusion, is a general application of scientific method; the problem of organizing the results on paper so that they will instruct and even intrigue a reader belongs to the province of art. In first-rate research the “two cultures” meet.

Ideally, then, the library research paper is the product of both critical thinking and creative writing. It should reflect the enthusiasm of an alert mind, not the methodological digging of a reluctant mole. But the most talented and enthusiastic student cannot even approach the ideal unless he is aware from the start that rigorous scholarly method (not pedantic methodology) is the foundation of success. To present an elementary understanding of that method is the purpose of this article.

Finding and Limiting a Subject

Unless the student has a specific assignment thrust upon him by a teacher, his first problem is to choose a subject for investigation. (He is luckier, of course, if the subject has chosen him.) Selecting a suitable subject should not be a haphazard process like rolling dice at random until the right combination pays off. As soon as the writer knows that he is faced with a research deadline—usually a comfortable number of weeks away—he should do some preliminary prowling in the library, along the open stacks if that is permitted, to see what, if anything, it contains within his spheres of general interest. If a teacher has restricted the choice to the limits of a single course, he should be on the alert for clues in the unfinished business of the required reading or class discussion. A good discussion in class is full of loose ends that need to be tied together or of questions that require more time and information to answer. A good teacher will always start more game than he can bring to earth; few mortals irritate him more than the student who, after weeks of classroom suggestions, both explicit and implicit (“This would make a good subject for a research paper”) comes staggering toward the deadline still fumbling around for “something to write about.”

The first rule for finding a subject is hallowed by age. Two thousand years ago the Roman poet Horace put it this way: “Choose a subject, ye who write, suited to your strength.” This does not mean that a student should regard a research assignment only as another chance to ride a familiar hobby. It means that the beginner's reach should not so far exceed his grasp that he will quickly become bogged down in learned technicalities that defy translation.

The second rule is that even a subject well suited to the writer's taste and talent should be strictly limited in accordance with the proposed or required length of the paper. Overly ambitious intentions usually lead to unsuccessful research papers because the student cannot possibly treat his subject adequately within the allotted space and time.

The tentative choice of a subject may be nothing more than a general idea of the territory to be explored, but before the student has ventured far he should become aware of the boundaries so that he won't waste precious hours wandering off limits. Sometimes during the early stages of research a large, nebulous subject will rapdily assume a clearly defined shape, if only because of the limitations of a particular library. More often the reverse is true: a general topic divides and subdivides and the student, who thought he had focused on a subject, finds himself helplessly confused. It is best to limit the subject in advance and avoid this predicament, especially when there is a deadline to meet.

The problem of limiting a subject for research is no different in kind from the routine dilemma of channeling an ambitious idea into a short composition. The same writer who struggles to capture the significance of “Love” or “Ambition” or “The Beat Generation” in 500 words is just as likely to propose a research paper of 3,000 on “The Poetry of Robert Browning” or “The History of Television.” Certainly “Browning's Dramatic Monologues” or “Educational Television” would be preferable. Making the necessary allowances for the experience of the writer and the resources of the library, “Browning's Dramatic Monologues on Renaissance Painters” or “Closed Circuit Television in the High School Science Class” would be even better. Nothing more quickly betrays the limitations of a writer's knowledge than his inability to limit his subject.

A more specific way of limiting is to begin with a definite thesis—a proposition to prove, perhaps even a side to defend in a hypothetical pro and con debate: to presume to show, for example, that Browning's failure to achieve success in the theater was largely the fault of the Victorian audience, or that classroom television costs more money than it's worth. Such a proposition gives direction to the research and provides a convenient mold for the paper. But the pre-fabricated thesis has caused many dangerous detours from the truth. When a writer has flown effortlessly to a conclusion, it is hard for him to persuade himself that he ought to go back and trudge over the land on foot. It is a human weakness, even among scholars, to warp the truth to accommodate a foregone conclusion, casually ignoring the stubborn facts that won't conform. Moreover, many useful subjects for research do not lend themselves to a thesis statement: they involve explanation, narrative, analysis, or revelation—but not necessarily proof. On the whole, unless a writer is already something of an expert on his subject at the start, he should postpone the choice of a thesis until he has done most of the digging.

He might, like a scientist, begin with a working hypothesis, a tentative proposition to serve as a guidepost. But he should always be careful not to mistake a hunch for a fact, or a prejudice for an opinion. Objectivity is at the heart of genuine scholarship. Any researcher would do well to remember Thomas Henry Huxley's definition of a tragedy: “the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

Whatever the subject, there should be no misconceptions about the requirements of the job. Though no two subjects require identical treatment, the final paper should make it clear that the writer has reflected on the material and marshaled it as evidence to support one or more convincing conclusions. Many beginners honestly believe that research is only an exercise in genteel plagiarism: tracking down information and transferring it—in great chunks or little snippets—from print to typescript by way of hastily jotted notes—producing a result that could have been achieved more efficiently with a Gillette blade and a roll of Scotch tape. Many failing papers are little more than anthologies of unfamiliar quotations or patchwork quilts of paraphrase. To be sure, the novice is not required to aim at the goal of the ideal Ph.D. dissertation: “an original contribution to knowledge.” He is not expected to be an authority on his subject and should not presume to be. Most of his material will have been carefully sifted by more experienced hands, but this does not exempt him from the duty of critical thinking. If he understands this from the start, he will not arbitrarily divide his labor into a physical act of compilation and a mental act of composition. From the first visit to the library he will be reflecting carefully upon the material, not just thoughtlessly jotting down notes. The final product will be a transfusion, not a series of transplants.

Using the Library

Because no two libraries are identical, no general instruction on “how to use the library” is custom-tailored to the individual in Azusa or Zanesville. The best way for a reader to get familiar with the machinery of a particular library is to make himself at home there. He should not stride directly to the delivery desk and say to whoever is in charge: “Do you have any books on closed circuit television?” Though the librarian—especially a trained reference librarian—may provide indispensable help at a later stage of the investigation, the student should begin with a declaration of independence. Given the run of the stacks in a small or middle-sized library, he can get off to a good start by going at once to the general territory of his subject (he can find English Literature or American History on a chart without memorizing the Dewey Decimal System). Wandering up and down the aisles from A to Z, he can get a preliminary view of the land by merely scanning the backbones of books.

But such freedom is not usually permitted in a large library, where the student may have to spend many minutes at the delivery desk waiting to receive the books he has requested. Moreover, a good research paper is not the end-product of aimless browsing. The student will save both himself and the librarian time and trouble by learning the names of the standard reference guides, where to find them, and how to use them. To do this is to practice one of the fundamental principles of research: Always take pains in the present to avoid panic in the future.

Regardless of the subject, three reference guides will probably prove indispensable: (1) the card catalogue; (2) a comprehensive encyclopedia: and (3) the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature.

The Card Catalogue

The proper use of a card catalogue requires both imagination and persistence. (Serendipity—the ability to discover treasures that you are not looking for—is probably more of a reward for alertness and patience than a native gift.) In a complete catalogue any book in the library may be listed alphabetically on at least three cards:


by subject, author (last name first), and title. Other cards serve as cross-references.

For example, a student planning a paper on “Closed Circuit Television in the High School Science Class” might begin by looking up “Television.” He should find a number of subject cards with this label at the top (probably typed in red), each alphabetically arranged by author. As he shuffles further, he should find other cards with more specific subject labels. “Television—apparatus and supplies” may interest him; “Television—law and legislation” may not. A group of books catalogued under “Television in education” certainly will. The student is on his way.

A single card, like a single dictionary entry, contains a wealth of information, some of which is essential for a bibliography. Consider the scope of the data on a typical subject card of the kind disseminated throughout the country by the Library of Congress (above).

A Comprehensive Encyclopedia

The reader digging for a research paper should ordinarily regard a complete encyclopedia as an indispensable guide, not an ultimate goal. The writer whose footnotes and bibliography show that he has quarried his material from a half dozen competing encyclopedias—however reputable—is easily identified as an explorer who has never left his safe home in the reference room.

For the conscientious student a good encyclopedia article has two main virtues: (1) it provides an authoritative and comprehensive view of a general subject, probably one in which he has staked out a more restricted claim; (2) it supplies bibliographical references which the student may not have discovered in the card catalogue. Let us take one possible example. The 1963 printing of the Encyclopaedia Britannica has an article on “Television” that runs to 19 large double-column pages, complete with photographs and diagrams. As the key to the contributors' initials reveals in the index volume, it is an authoritative article written by the Director of the Research Division of the Philco Corporation. But less than half a column is devoted to the applications of closed circuit TV in education. On the other hand, the article is followed by a list of six more extensive treatments of the general subject, any one of which might find a place in the student's final bibliography. Moreover, if the reader turns to “television” in the index volume, he will find other references to “educational television” that do not appear in the general entry. By consulting several good encyclopedias on a subject the student may choose one which he feels will best help him construct a firm foundation for a research paper.

The Reader's Guide

Neither the card catalogue nor the most complete encyclopedia can pretend to give a comprehensive listing of magazine articles that have not been corralled in a book. Even in these days of prolific publishing, many interesting subjects of limited appeal have never been fully treated in book form. New developments, especially in science, are arriving and changing with such speed that even an encyclopedia publishing an annual supplement can never be completely up-to-date. On almost any subject of general interest the first place to hunt for magazine articles is the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature.

The Reader's Guide has been indexing current contributions to the best-known American magazines since 1901 and now includes references to more than 125 publications. The semi-monthly issues (monthly in July and August) are conveniently bound in volumes that cover periods of one to four years. Articles are listed by author and subject. If a student's chosen subject relates to a specific event since 1901 (“The Hamlet of John Barry-more,” “The Attack on Pearl Harbor”), he can begin at that date and work toward the present. If not, especially if he has no clues to authors, he should start with the subject entries in the most recent issues and hunt backward through the bound volumes. On looking up “Television,” for example, in the volume for March 1963–February 1964, he would find three articles listed under “TELEVISION, Closed circuit” and twenty-one under “TELEVISION in education.” (Any abbreviations in the entries can be understood easily by referring to a key at the front of the volume.) And these would be only a selection of the articles for one year in popular magazines: a glance at the Education Index (see below) would uncover many more in professional journals. It is no wonder that teachers turn gray when students report that they “can't find any material” on an obvious subject in an adequate library.

The reader with limited time and facilities cannot expect to locate every one of these articles. It is one of the inevitable frustrations of research to find that the article with the most promising title of all appears in a periodical to which the library does not subscribe. The reader should not compound the frustration by vainly wandering in the stacks. On turning to the list of periodicals at the front of each volume in the Reader's Guide, he may find that the ones on the premises have been ticked off in ink. If not, he should have easy access to a list of periodicals in the library without riffling through the card catalogue.

After consulting the card catalogue, several encyclopedias, and the Reader's Guide, the student may have enough clues to books and articles—depending always on the subject and scope of his research—to keep him busy for several weeks of digging. No amateur can be expected to play the scholar's game by all the rules—traveling for months, or even years, from library to library, borrowing books and articles at long distance through interlibrary loans, examining others on photostats or microfilms, tracking down the most infinitesimal detail to its final hiding place. But any reader can vicariously experience the excitement of such sleuthing on a smaller scale. Even the beginner should be familiar with more than three guides to research. Some of these tools can prove indispensable to him for detecting clues to possible sources of information on his topic.

Of the unnumerable research tools in a great library—including reference guides to reference books and bibliographies of bibliography—the following list contains only a generous sample.

Catalogues and Bibliographies

Books in Print (1948- ). An annual author and title index to the Publisher's Trade List Annual. Lists the books still available from more than 1,100 American publishers. Subject Guide to Books in Print (1957- ) lists them annually by subject.

Library of Congress Catalog (1942– ). A complete catalogue by authors, showing facsimiles of the cards in the great library in Washington, D.C. A similar catalogue arranges books by subject.

Periodical Indexes


Book Review Digest (1905– ). A monthly collection of excerpts from current book reviews indexed by author, subject, and title. It helps the reader to get a quick general picture of whether the first greetings were favorable, unfavorable, or lukewarm. More important, it directs him to reviews that he may want to read in toto.

International Index to Periodicals (1907– ). A key to articles in scholarly journals that are not indexed in the Reader's Guide, which is limited to more popular magazines.

New York Times Index (1913– ). A detailed index (now published twice a month) to a distinguished newspaper. Indispensable for a writer whose subject is related to any newsworthy event since the year before World War I. Even if the library does not have the complete file of the Times (now available in microfilm), he can make extensive use of the index to pin down exact dates, establish the chronological order of events, and find leads to news in any paper that may be available.

Poole's Index to Periodical Literature (1802–1906). Though much less thorough than the Reader's Guide, this annual subject index is a useful key to articles in English and American magazines in the nineteenth century.


Agricultural Index (1916– ).

Applied Science and Technology Index (1858– ).

Art Index (1929– ).

Dramatic Index (1909– ).

Education Index (1929– ).

Essay and General Literature Index (1900– ).

Industrial Arts Index (1913–1957).

Public Affairs Information Service (1915– ).

Short Story Index (1953– ).


Language (general)

Of all reference books, the general reader should be most familiar with his own desk dictionary, which to him may be “the dictionary.” But if he is writing a paper on some aspect of English or American usage, or trying to pin down an accurate or comprehensive definition of a particular term at a particular time, he will find more complete or specialized information in the following works:

Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles. 4 vois. Chicago, 1936–1944. Supplemented by A Dictionary of Americanisms, 1951. New “Standard” Dictionary. rev. ed. New York, 1959. A revision of an unabridged dictionary published by Funk and Wagnalls since 1913. Oxford English Dictionary. 12 vols. and supplement. London and New York, 1933. When a writer is summoning up remembrance of things past, few records are more suggestive than the changing history of a word's meaning through the years. The great OED supplies such a record by citing the use of words in passages of prose and poetry, arranged in chronological order from the earliest occurrences. Once published as the New English Dictionary (NED). Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Springfield, Mass., 1961. “Webster's Third” contains many new words and meanings not included in the second edition of the 1934 and illustrates them profusely in actual contexts. Based on recent linguistic theory, it records—often without restrictive labels—many usages that are widely frowned on.

Language (special)

Evans, Bergen and Cornelia. A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage. New York, 1957.

Fowler, H. W. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. London, 1926.

Nicholson, Margaret. A Dictionary of American-English Usage. New York, 1957. Based on Fowler.

Roget's International Thesaurus. 3rd ed., New York, 1962.

Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms. Springfield, Mass., 1942.


Dictionary of American Biography. 20 vols. and supplements. New York, 1928– . The DAB contains lives of dead Americans.

Dictionary of National Biography. 22 vols. and supplements. London, 1885– . The DNB has lives of dead Britons.

International Who's Who. London, 1936– . Annual.

Kunitz, Stanley J. and Howard Haycraft. Twentieth Century Authors. New York, 1942. Supplement, 1945.

Webster's Biographical Dictionary. Springfield, Mass., 1943.

Who's Who. London, 1849– . An annual dictionary of living Britons.

Who's Who in America. Chicago, 1899– . A biennial dictionary of living Americans.

Encyclopedias and Surveys


There are many good, comprehensive encyclopedias which are following an editorial program of constant revision. Any good library should have several such encyclopedias of recent copyright. These encyclopedia publishers also supply yearbooks or supplemental material to make the most recent information promptly available to the researcher.


Bailey, Liberty Hyde, ed. Cyclopedia of American Agriculture. 4 vols. New York, 1908–1909.

Baldwin, James M., and B. Rand, eds. Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology. new ed. 3 vols. New York, 1949.

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. 13th ed. Boston, 1955.

Blom, Eric, ed. Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 5th ed. 10 vols. London, 1954. Supplement, 1961.

Cambridge Ancient History. 17 vols., including plates. Cambridge, 1928–1939.

Cambridge Medieval History. 16 vols., including maps and plates. Cambridge, 1911–1936.

Cambridge Modern History. 2nd ed. 13 vols. and atlas. Cambridge, 1902–1926.

Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. 5 vols. Cambridge, 1941. Supplement 1957.

Cambridge History of American Literature. 4 vols. New York, 1917–1921.

Cambridge History of English Literature. 15 vols. Cambridge, 1907–1927.

Catholic Encyclopedia, rev. ed. 17 vols. New York, 1936–

Dictionary of American History. rev. ed. 5 vols. and index. New York, 1946.

Encyclopedia of World Art. New York, 1958– . In progress.

Feather, Leonard. Encyclopedia of Jazz. rev. ed. New York, 1960.

Fletcher, Sir Banister. A History of Architecture. 17th ed. New York, 1961.

Good, C. V. Dictionary of Education. 2nd ed. New York, 1959.

Harper's Encyclopedia of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1937. Re-issued as New Standard Encyclopedia of Art, 1939.

Hart, James D. Oxford Companion to American Literature. 3rd ed. New York, 1956.

Harvey, Sir Paul, ed. Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. 3rd ed. New York, 1956. Oxford Companion to English Literature. 3rd ed. New York, 1946.

Hastings, James, ed. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. new ed. 13 vols. New York, 1951.

Kirk, Raymond E., and Donald F. Othmer. Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. 15 vols. and supplements. New York, 1947–

Langer, William L., ed. Encyclopedia of World History. rev. ed. Boston, 1952.

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. 15 vols. New York, 1960.

McLaughlin, Andrew C., and A. B. Hart, eds. Cyclopedia of American Government. 3 vols. New York, 1914.

Monroe, Walter S., ed. Encyclopedia of Educational Research. 3rd ed. by Chester Harris, New York, 1960.

Munn, Glenn G. Encyclopedia of Banking and Finance. rev. ed. L. Garcia. Boston, 1962.

Oxford History of English Literature. 12 vols. projected. Oxford, 1947–

Sarton, George. Introduction to the History of Science. 3 vols. Baltimore, 1927–1948.

Seligman, Edwin R. Α., and A. Johnson, eds. Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 15 vols. New York, 1930–1935. Reissued in 8 vols., 1948.

Singer, Charles, ed. History of Technology. 5 vols. New York, 1956–1958.

Smith, Horatio, ed. Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature. New York, 1947.

Spiller, Robert E., ed. A Literary History of the United States. 3 vols. New York, 1948. rev. ed. 1 vol. 1953. Supplement by R. M. Ludwig, 1959.

Stevenson, Burton. The Home Book of Quotations. 9th ed. New York, 1959. Organized by subjects.

Thompson, Oscar, and N. Slonimsky, eds. International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians. new ed. 3 vols. New York, 1940.

Tweney, C. F., and L. E. C. Hughes, eds. Chamber's Technical Dictionary. 3rd rev. ed. New York, 1958.

Universal Jewish Encyclopedia. 10 vols. and index. New York, 1939–1944.

Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. New York, 1958.


In addition to the yearbooks made available by encyclopedia publishers, the following may be found useful.

American Year Book (1910– ).

The New International Year Book (1907– ).

Statesman's Year Book (1864– ).

World Almanac and Book of Facts (1868– ).

The Working Bibliography

At the very beginning of his search for materials the reader should be armed with a dependable pen and a supply of 3 × 5 index cards. (Pencils may smudge and encourage illegible scribbling; items jotted in notebooks or on miscellaneous scraps of paper are harder to organize and easier to overlook.) Though the search through the reference guides will turn up some material that will later prove unavailable or useless, it will pay at this stage to make a written record of every title that may conceivably bear on the chosen subject. When arranged in alphabetical form—with no more than one title on a card—these entries will form a tentative list of sources: a working bibliography. When the actual reading of sources begins, some of the cards will be jettisoned, and—as new references turn up in the reading—others will be added. The final bibliography, compiled after the paper is written, may have only a general family resemblance to its pioneering ancestor. But it is far less trouble to tear up a card that has not proved useful than to remember an unrecorded title or to return repeatedly to the reference guides.

To avoid trouble later on, the student should write down the same facts in the same form that will be required in the final bibliography. Authorities differ about the formal details, but if every researcher were permitted to follow his own fancy, whether through careless indifference or conscious resistance to tradition, the useful shorthand of scholarship would soon degenerate into chaos. The forms illustrated here for both bibliography and footnotes (pp. 1024–1026) are those recommended in The MLA Style Sheet (revised edition), compiled by William Riley Parker for the Modern Language Association after consulting with the editors of 109 journals and 34 university presses. No prudent beginner would ignore such an expert jury to accommodate his own whims. Accurate scholarly form demands the right facts in the right order with the right punctuation. Though the standard may seem pedantic to the novice, even the substitution of a semicolon for a colon is not acceptable.

Here are some sample entries for bibliography cards.

For a book with one author:

Galbraith, John K. The Affluent Society. Boston, 1958.

Notice that the entry contains four parts in the following order: (1) Author's name, last name first—for alphabetizing; (2) full title—underlined (italicized); (3) place of publication; (4) date of publication. Periods separate the parts except for the comma between place and date. A period also comes at the end of the entry. Unless a different form of an author's name is well known (Eliot T. S. or Maugham, W. Somerset), give the first name and any initials. Nobody wants to search through a large catalogue for Brown, J.

Some authorities insist on including the name of the publisher. It comes after the place of publication and is preceded by a colon and followed by a comma:

Galbraith, John K. The Affluent Society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958.

For a book with more than one author:

Sledd, James H., and Gwin J. Kolb. Dr. Johnson's Dictionary. Chicago, 1955.

Because the second name does not determine the alphabetical placing of the entry, it follows the normal order. If a book has more than two authors, it is sufficient to give the name of the first and add “and others.”

For a periodical article:

Lippmann, Walter. “Cuba and the Nuclear Risk,” Atlantic, CCXI (February 1963), 55–58.

The standard form has five parts in this order: (1) Author's name, last name first (the title comes first if the author is not known); (2) full title of article—in quotes; (3) name of periodical—underlined (italicized); (4) volume—in Roman numerals—and date—in parentheses; (5) page numbers. Except for the period after the author's name, the parts are separated by commas. Notice that this form differs from that of the Reader's Guide, where the entry reads:

Cuba and the nuclear risk. Atlan 211:55–8 F '63. Such an abbreviated form should not be copied onto bibliography cards.

For a newspaper article:

New York Times, December 28, 1964, p. 6.

The place of publication is not ordinarily underlined, and the page number is preceded by the standard abbreviation for page (lower case p.). If a newspaper has two or more sections with separate paging, the section number is included after the date:

New York Times, January 3, 1965, sec. 4, p. 7.

For an encyclopedia article:

Fink, Donald G. “Television,” Encyclopaedia Britannica (1963), XXI, 910A–913.

In addition to this minimum of information, the student should allow room in the upper left-hand corner of the card for the call number. This will save unnecessary trips to the card catalogue. If the library is large and unfamiliar and the stacks are open, it is helpful to add a further note about the location:

613.84Neuberger, Maurine B. Smoke Screen: Tobacco and the Public Welfare. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1963.
N478s (2nd floor, north stack)

Evaluating Sources

As soon as the student turns from the cards of his working bibliography to the actual pages of the sources, he can begin to evaluate the material. Often a quick glance at a book or article will assure him that it is not appropriate; the card, in this case, may be torn up at once. Though other sources will require more careful attention, the researcher should always be ready to change his reading pace, slowing down when the material is complicated or difficult, and speeding up when it is readily comprehensible. The independent reading for research will give him an incomparable opportunity to practice whatever he knows about the difference between skimming and thorough reading. Bacon's proverbial wisdom will become a practical reality: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. . . .” “A man,” said Samuel Johnson, “will turn over half a library to make one book.” But not, the Doctor might have added, if the man plods through all the reading at the same unchanging pace.

Only a seasoned expert in a field can know for certain what authors to respect as authorities or disregard as quacks. But even the beginner can show some intelligent discrimination. The inexperienced reader can learn to evaluate sources just as the scholar does, by asking a few questions based on external and internal evidence. For example:

External Evidence

Who wrote the book or article? What's in a name? To a conscientious scholar, a great deal. If a name turns up again and again during the investigation—especially if others explicitly refer to the owner as an authority— it is a reasonable, though not a foolproof, assumption that he is more dependable than an obscure author. If the author has a pedigree in one or more standard biographical dictionaries, so much the better, though it must not be forgotten that the elect compile their own pedigrees. A Civil War historian in a great university probably knows more about the battle of Gettysburg than a feature writer commemorating the anniversary for a small town newspaper. A professional folklorist should have a more accurate knowledge of the history of the popular ballad than an itinerant guitar strummer.

Who published it? Though it is risky to make odious comparisons in the mushrooming world of publishing, a reader with some experience will be safer in trusting a reputable imprint of long standing than a new and untested brand name. A scholarly book published by a university press is probably a safer, if duller, guide to a specialized subject than a popular best-seller concocted for the trade. A sober account in the New York Times should be fitter to quote than a sensational exposé in a cheap tabloid.

When was it written? Is the material first-hand, second or third? A newspaper extra printed on December 8, 1941 might capture the confused excitement of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but an unbiased study published ten years later would probably be a more reliable source for the facts. An estimate of Winston Churchill published in 1919 would lack the perspective of a book written after the Battle of Britain. A student writing on a subject that is changing as swiftly as “Space Travel” or “Jet Propulsion” will naturally look for the latest word; a scholar delving into the past will be eager to uncover the earliest. The investigator with limited time and experience will lack the scholar's opportunities for tracking down a subject to its primary sources—burrowing beyond the printed page to the original manuscript. But he can share the scholar's desire for getting as near as possible to the first-hand truth of an event, the actual wording of a text or document. If he is writing about Shakespeare's treatment of the theme of mercy, he doesn't have to summarize a paraphrase of Portia's speech from a student cram book when a reputable text of The Merchant of Venice is close at hand. Nor should he quote a critic from the Book Review Digest when the original review is on a nearby shelf.

Internal Evidence

What does the actual text of the book or article reveal about the reliability of the author? The experienced reader will find it easier to answer such a question than the novices but it does not take much sophistication to distinguish between critical thinking and slanted writing (is the author's manner analytical or emotional, are the words neutral or loaded?); or between a distintersted search on all sides of the truth and an argument that is mere propaganda; or between a thorough investigation leading to conclusions founded on facts and a superficial survey resulting in unsupported conjectures.

Considering the amount of piffle on paper, no experienced reader has an ingenuous faith in the sanctity of print for its own sake. But many a reader who ought to know better, eager to accumulate evidence to support a thesis, will gather material at random without the slightest attention to the quality or reliability of his sources. The true scholar does not snap up ill-considered trifles; he is a discriminating reader and a natural skeptic. He not only wants to be shown, he insists on being convinced.

Taking Notes

It is sometimes convenient to jot down a general note about a book or article on one of the 3 x 5 bibliography cards. “A comprehensive survey with no recent evidence on the subject.” “A jazzy sketch to amuse the reader, not inform him.” But more specific or extensive notes should be on separate cards. Because they will not be shuffled in the same deck with the bibliography, these note cards need not be of the same size. Most scholars recommend 4 x 6 note cards (or slips of paper); some prefer half sheets (5½ x 8). Here convenience is more important than tradition. Note cards should be small enough to sort handily, large enough to allow room for legible notes, but not so large as to invite wholesale transcribing.


Note taking is a useful art, whether in routine reading, lectures, class discussions, or meetings of clubs and committees. In research it assumes some of the dimensions of an exact science. The individual may eventually derive a personal method that suits him best. The following are some hints and warnings:

Do not take too many notes. Note-taking should be an aid to discriminating reading, not an opportunity for voluminous writing. The reader who postpones all his mental sorting until he begins to go through his note cards to write the paper is making his task unnecessarily difficult.

Restrict each note to one point on one side of the card. The definition of point is always arbitrary. It may be a sharp point like a brief direct quotation or a broad point like a short summary of a paragraph or a whole article. But do not clutter up a note with a miscellaneous scattering of quotations and reactions scribbled at random on both sides. The careful assignment of points to cards is another step in the winnowing process that accompanies research from start to finish. Organizing a research paper is not unlike playing a hand of bridge. If aces could not be quickly distinguished from deuces, or face-up cards from face-down, the game would be impossible.

Identify each card accurately at the top with a brief caption for the note and a key to the source, including the exact page number or numbers. If the complete information on that source appears as it should, on a bibliography card, all that is necessary on a note card is the author's name and the page—or, if he is responsible for more than one source, a short title: Muir, p. 61 or The Present Age, pp. 158–159. If a direct quotation extends from one page to another, carefully indicate the division with a slant line (/) at the appropriate point.

Taking notes with meticulous care. Note-taking is not jotting. Even when reading rapidly, come to a full stop at any important intersection. If necessary, look back and ahead to avoid the common distortion that comes from ripping a passage hastily out of its context. Remember that a careless glance may change psychology to physiology, and a single illegible word in a key quotation may later require an emergency trip to the library to revisit a book that somebody else has since withdrawn. Get it right the first time.

Take pains to distinguish between direct quotations and paraphrase and between the author's ideas and your own reactions to them. (The word paraphrase is used here in its general sense to mean any rewriting of another's material in your own words, whether it expands, contracts (summarizes), or keeps to the scale of the original.)

Nothing is more confusing and annoying to the reader of a research paper than the writer's failure to make these distinctions clear. Wholesale transgressions of this kind may represent conscious plagiarism. More often they result from ignorance of the meaning of research or of the rules of literary ethics. Because the problem sometimes arises at the writing stage, it is discussed in more detail on page 1024. But often a bad research paper—like a failing examination—can be traced back to poor or carelessly taken notes. Any passage taken word-for-word from the text, even a clause or unusual phrase, should appear in the notes in bold quotation marks. The student who “forgot to put in the quotes” is either dishonest, naive, or inexcusably careless. If the note-taker temporarily abandons direct quotations for paraphrase, he should carefully close the quotes and open them again when the paraphrase is finished. If he makes an independent comment of his own in the middle of a quotation or paraphrase, he should enclose it in square brackets [thus], not parentheses (thus). He might even go so far as to identify it with his own initials.

Take particular pains to copy quotations precisely. Any scholar will quote much more than he finally uses, but even at the note-taking stage, it is wise to limit direct quotations to short passages precisely transcribed. Precisely means word for word, spelling for spelling (except for obvious typographical errors), punctuation mark for punctuation mark. Any omission from a quotation should be carefully identified with three spaced periods (. . .) followed by the period at the end of the sentence where appropriate. Every theater-lover is familiar with the way a press agent can play fast and loose with a critic's review. The reviewer may write: “My final judgment is that, except for the acting, the play is brilliant.” With the dots carefully omitted, the advertisement reads: “My final judgment is that the play is brilliant.” The scholar's rule is not pedantry, but simple honesty.

Examine each of the sample note cards carefully. The first note, conceivably for a paper on “The Economics of American Poverty,” presents a brief summary of an entire chapter in John Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society. (The code number in the upper left-hand corner has presumably been supplied later when the cards were organized to match an outline for the paper.) Because the phrases “Social Balance” and “the truce on inequality” are, at least in this context, Galbraith's own, they are put in quotation marks. The reader's reaction is carefully segregated in square brackets.

A passage of direct quotation has been sandwiched between two short pieces of paraphrase in the second note. Notice the slant line marking the transition from page 258 to 259, the parentheses (Galbraith's, not the note-taker's), the line under minimum to represent Galbraith's italics, and the three spaced periods to mark an omission from the quotation. Were the omission at the end of a sentence, a fourth spaced period would follow (. . . .).

The Outline

When a student has made the last of his notes and carefully read them all through to get a bird's eye view of the land, he is finally ready to plan the actual writing of the paper. Teachers of writing differ about the value of a formal outline for a short composition, but for a research paper of 2,000 words or more, some sort of blueprint is indispensable. Even the liveliest argument can't move ahead in a straight line without a well-articulated skeleton.

Though the traditional outline form can at times become a strait jacket for a writer, it has a number of virtues: (1) It tells the writer where he has been, where he is, and where he is going; (2) It reminds the writer that the reader demands the same information, suggesting the need for topic sentences (expressed or implied) and adequate transitions; (3) It avoids unnecessary repetition; (4) It emphasizes the importance of symmetry and proportion; (5) It requires the writer to coordinate his main points, subordinate his subpoints, and relegate trivia to limbo.

A formal outline should follow the accepted method of subordination:









The writer should use either a topic outline (limited to words or phrases) or a sentence outline (with complete sentences). According to strict rule, the two types should not be mixed. The sentence outline has the advantage of requiring specific assertions (which may turn into topic sentences) instead of ambiguous catchall topics. But with many kinds of material, sustaining a sentence outline is an artificial struggle.

Common errors in outlining should be strictly avoided; examples of these are given below.

The meaningless category

“Introduction,” “Body,” and “Conclusion,” for example, are often too general to be useful. Oftentimes a writer can do better by ignoring the introduction entirely and plunging his pen right into the body.

Illogical coordination

I. Athletics

 A. Football

 B. Baseball

 C. Basketball

 D. Team sports

Improper subordination

Placing a topic under the wrong heading:

I. Athletics

 A. Football

 B. Baseball

 1. Good sportsmanship

 Or putting a main point in a subordinate position:

I. School life

 A. Athletics

 1. Major sports

 2. Minor sports

 B. Classroom activities

 1. Discussion

 2. Learning

Single subdivision

If I is divided at all, it should have at least two subheads, A and B. If A is divided, it should have at least two subheads, 1 and 2. And so forth. The temptation to use a single subhead can be resisted by following a heading with a colon and a qualifying phrase. A. Athletics: a cause of student failure.

Here is a topic outline displaying the organization of this article: (Because details can be tucked in place as the writing progresses, a practical working outline might be simpler than this. The small bones are supplied here to help the reader in studying and reviewing the article.)

The Library Research Paper

I. The meaning of research

 A. A fashionable word

 B. A popular human activity

 C. The value of the research paper

II. Choosing and limiting a subject

 A. How and where to look

 B. Over-sized subjects

 C. Ways of reducing

 1. From general to specific

 2. The thesis: use and abuse

 3. The working hypothesis

 D. Keeping the end in view

III. Using the library

 A. Browsing in the stacks

 B. Consulting reference works

 1. Three indispensable guides

 a. The card catalogue

 b. A comprehensive encyclopedia

 c. The Reader's Guide

 2. Other research tools

 a. Catalogues and bibliographies

 b. Periodical indexes

 c. Dictionaries

 d. Encyclopedias and surveys

 e. Yearbooks

IV. The working bibliography

 A. The value of cards and completeness

 B. The proper forms

 1. For a book

 2. For a periodical article

 3. For a newspaper article

 4. For an encyclopedia article

 C. Evaluating sources

 1. Shifting reading speed

 2. External evidence

 a. Who wrote it?

 b. Who published it?

 c. When was it written?

 3. Internal evidence: the necessity for skepticism

V. Taking notes

 A. Hints and warnings

 1. Taking too many

 2. One to a card

 3. Identifying cards

 4. Meticulous care

 5. Quotation, paraphrase, comment

 6. Precise copying

 B. Samples

VI. The outline

 A. The uses of outlining

 B. The accepted form

 1. Proper subordination

 2. Topic and sentence outlines

 C. Common errors

 1. The meaningless category

 2. Illogical coordination

 3. Improper subordination

 4. Single subdivision

 D. A sample

VII. Writing the paper

 A. Style: English vs. Academese

 B. Tone

 C. Quotation and paraphrase revisited

 1. Short quotation

 2. Long quotation

 3. Partial paraphrase

 4. Complete paraphrase

 5. Half-baked paraphrase

 D. Footnotes

 1. For a book

 2. For a periodical article

 3. For a newspaper article

 4. For an encyclopedia article

 5. Shortened footnotes

 E. Abbreviations

 F. The final bibliography

 G. The final draft

Writing the Paper

Except for the greater complexity of organization and the special problems of quotation, paraphrase, and proper acknowledgment, “writing up” the results of research is not essentially different from writing any other kind of paper. Whatever laws govern grammar and diction, spelling and punctuation, sentence and paragraph structure, none of them is suspended for research. The freedom to experiment with language may be more limited; the premium on clarity and accuracy is even higher. There is less room for the infinite riches of rhetoric: the drama and poetry of narrative and description are usually replaced by the humbler virtues of clear exposition. But good writing is good writing regardless of its habitat.

Illusions about research die hard. Even students who are convinced that the paper should be composed, not compiled, often assume that the art of composition requires a special style—freighted with Academese—and a special tone—impersonal, stuffy, and deadly dull.

Academese is only one kind of jargon. There is also Pedagese, the jargon of educationists, and Scientese, the jargon of would-be scientists, Legalese, Commercialese, and Officialese. All these dialects share the traits of jargon: involved sentence structure; unnecessary repetition and interminable circumlocution; a pseudotechnical vocabulary. Such writing has been called gobbledygook or—suggesting that it is often contrived to impress or even confuse—bafflegab. It might be better to revive the old-fashioned word crabbed—pronounced slowly with two syllables. A crabbed style suggests an animal that can move its imposing armaments forward only by slow, sideways slithering.

An expert talking to other experts will inevitably use the technical terms of his trade. Nobody writing on a technical subject, whether the propulsion of a rocket or the scansion of a poem, can entirely avoid technical language. But the problem is to explain it, not exploit it, to understand it, not merely parrot it. Genuine technical language is concise, concrete, and clear; it serves to identify and limit a phenomenon—a paramecium, not a wiggly beasty, iambic pentameter, not words with a regular beat. Pseudotechnical language is pulpy, abstract, and cryptic—the intellectual confrontation in an interpersonal situation instead of the meeting of human minds. The proliferation of such jargon by scholars does not make it scholarly.

The style and tone appropriate to a research paper will vary, of course, with the subject, the writer, and the intended reader. A style can be formal without being involved, or informal without being casual and careless. For the general writer who does not pretend to expert knowledge, the best advice on style is simply this: Relax but don't be lax; say simple things simply in your own language; do not write anything, even a quotation or a borrowed idea, in words that you do not understand yourself; be as concrete as possible; remember that, of all the virtues of good writing, the greatest is clarity.

The tone of a research paper can be serious without solemnity, dignified without stuffiness. The goal is not a charming personal essay; the reader is presumably interested in the subject, not the personality of the middle man. But the studied effort to be impersonal—and therefore ostensibly disinterested—often results in writing without either personality or interest. Though practice varies, it is better for a writer to use the first person, I, than to get tangled in the circumlocutions—the passive voice, for example—of the impersonal manner. Humor and irony may be useful if they grow naturally out of the subject instead of being thrust upon it. Irrelevant wisecracking is taboo. Jokes will not improve stale prose. The essential rule for tone is that all good writing more nearly reflects the living sound of a human voice, than the metallic chatter of a computer.

Quotation and Paraphrase Revisited

One special writing problem—anticipated in the discussion of note-taking—requires expansion here: the proper use of quotation and paraphrase. Make a careful comparison of the, following samples:

(1) Short quotation

Leo Stein once said this about composition: “Every personal letter one writes, every personal statement one makes, may be creative writing if one's interest is to make it such.”

(A short quotation in a research paper, as in any other paper, is introduced by a colon, or a comma, and carefully enclosed in quotation marks.)

(2) Long quotation

Talking about how to teach the proper use of language, Leo Stein said:

There is no difficulty in teaching them the routine of expression . . . but it is good to make them realize that there is no essential difference between them and those who write, except interest, use and purpose—that creativity in writing means nothing more than fitting words accurately and specifically to what one specifically and accurately intends. Shakespeare certainly intended more than most and had exceptional gifts, but anyone who has anything to say and wants to interest the receiver has a like object. Every personal letter one writes, every personal statement one makes, may be creative writing if one's interest is to make it such. Most people do not have this interest; what they write in ordinary communications is as dull as they can make it. They have never been taught to think of all writing as in its degree writing and all speaking speaking, and so they write in rubber stamps [clichés] and speak in the current routine of slang, as though writing and speaking were something reserved for the elect. (Because the quotation is long—meaning, according to a common rule, five lines or more of typescript—it is set off in a separate paragraph, indented, and typed single-space without quotation marks. The student has represented Stein's italics (writing, speaking) by underlining. The three spaced periods in the first sentence stand for a deletion by the writer of the paper, and the bracketed word [clichés] in his addition.)

(3) Partial paraphase

Leo Stein maintains that creative writing is “nothing more than fitting words accurately and specifically to what one specifically and accurately intends.” That Shakespeare had greater intentions and gifts does not, he insists, alter the rule. “Every personal letter one writers, every personal statement one makes, may be creative writing if one's interest is to make it such.” A person who has no interest in writing or speaking, who mistakenly assumes that they are “reserved for the elect,” will inevitably settle for dullness couched in clichés.

(To compress Stein's passage while preserving some of the original flavor, the writer of the paper uses an acceptable blend of paraphrase and direct quotation. Restricting the paraphrase to his own words and carefully setting off Stein's exact words in quotation marks, he weaves the two into a single tapestry.)

(4) Complete paraphrase

Leo Stein argues that creativity is not a special gift awarded to writers and speakers and denied to ordinary mortals. If he has something to say and is interested in saying it well, anyone, even in a personal letter, can be a creative writer.

(The summary, entirely in the student's own words, reproduces Stein's essential meaning but loses some of the flavor. It has the advantage of brevity.)

All four techniques are acceptable, depending on the purpose and scope of the paper. One unacceptable technique is far too common: a confusing mixture of the words of the source and the words of the student without proper distinction between them. It has been called half-baked paraphrase.

(5) Half-baked paraphrase

Stein says that students ought to be taught that people in general just don't bother to take advantage of their creativity, which only means in writing fitting words accurately and specifically to what one specifically and accurately intends. Shakespeare intended more than most and had exceptional gifts, but anyone who has anything to say and wants to interest the receiver has a like object. People in general are dull with words because they couldn't care less. They don't bother to think of all writing as in its degree writing and all speaking speaking, and so they use rubber stamps and slang.

(Though they are mixed clumsily with some comment of his own, the student has appropriated appreciable amounts of Stein's own wording without identifying it in quotation marks. A footnote or a bibliographical entry does not excuse this common practice. Whether it results from carelessness, laziness, or dishonesty, it is plagiarism.)

To quote or not to quote? No sacred formula answers the question. A historian working with original documents will resort to frequent quotation. A literary scholar cannot adequately analyze the work of a poet without reproducing excerpts from the poems, line by line, exactly as they appear in the original. But many inexperienced students quote too much: their research papers are merely collections of quotes loosely tethered by incidental interruptions. Generally speaking, direct quotation is useful to clinch an important point, to preserve some of the authentic flavor of the source, or to reproduce a passage that is particularly well written or peculiarly inept. A student should never quote at length unless the passage is especially important for his purpose.


Footnotes should be carefully supplied during the writing process, not superimposed later as an after thought. In the first draft they can be included temporarily in the text itself. Even in the final draft, short notes may be conveniently inserted in the text in parentheses (Hamlet III, ii. 61–64) if the source is clearly identified and they do not clutter up the page with too many interruptions. Otherwise, footnotes are usually placed at the bottom of the page, not at the end of the paper. They are keyed to the text with Arabic numerals—not asterisks or other symbols—and should be numbered consecutively throughout the paper. The number in the text should be raised slightly above the line, and placed after any mark of punctuation and at the end—not the beginning—of any quotation, long or short. The number should not be enclosed in parentheses or followed by a period, either in the text or at the bottom of the page. At the foot of the page each note should begin with a capital letter on a new line—with the number raised and indented—and end with a period.

Occasionally a footnote is useful to supply an interesting detail or incidental comment that does not fit conveniently into the text. But in a research paper most footnotes are supplied to acknowledge specific borrowings from sources. Unlike the bibliography, which is a general listing of sources, they usually provide exact page references. With that exception, a complete footnote furnishes the same essential information as a bibliographical entry, but with a different system of punctuation and in a slightly different order.

A footnote is always used to acknowledge a direct quotation unless its exact source is made clear in the text or is familiar (like the Gettysburg Address) to any educated reader. But in spite of a common illusion, the student's responsibility does not end there. He should also use a footnote (1) to acknowledge the use of another writer's idea or opinion even if it is completely paraphrased, and (2) as a receipt for the loan of any facts, statistics, or other illustrative material that he has not acquired by original observation.

Here is a representative group of complete footnotes: (Compare them with the bibliographical entries on page 7, observing the differences in punctuation and order of their parts.)

For a book with one author:

1John K. Galbraith, The Affluent Society (Boston, 1958), p. 23.

For a book with more than one author:

2James H. Sledd and Gwin J. Kolb, Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (Chicago, 1955), pp. 49–50.

For a periodical article:

3Walter Lippman, “Cuba and the Nuclear Risk,” Atlantic, CCXI (February 1963), 57.

For a newspaper article:

4New York Times, December 28, 1964, p. 6.

4New York Times, January 3, 1965, sec. 4, p. 7.

For an encyclopedia article:

5Donald G. Fink, “Television,” Encyclopaedia Britannica (1963), XXI, 912.

Whenever a source is used for the first time, the student should give a complete footnote even though most of the information will be repeated in the bibliography. If, however, some of the details appear in the text—the author's name, for example, or the title—it is unnecessary to repeat them at the foot of the page. After the first footnote, an abbreviated form may be used if the complete note is not buried too far back. The easiest short form is the author's last name:

6Galbraith, p. 29.

If previous notes refer to more than one work by the same author, a shortened title should be added:

7Galbraith, Affluent Society, p. 29.

The popularity of the following Latin abbreviations is on the wane, partly because they have led to widespread misunderstanding. Though the writer may never be required to use them, he should understand their meaning in the footnotes of others: (They are sometimes italicized because of their foreign origin.)

Ibid.short for ibidem, meaning “in the same place.” Refers to the same page of the same source cited in the footnote immediately preceding.
Ibid., p. 57.another page of the same source cited in the footnote immediately preceding.
Galbraith, op. cit., p. 59.short for opere citato, meaning “in the work cited.” Refers here to page 59 of the opus by Galbraith cited in a recent footnote. Obviously has no advantage over the use of the author's name alone or author and short title.
Op. cit., p. 59.may be used if the author's name is made clear in the text.
Loc. cit.short for loco citato, meaning “in the place cited”—that is, the same passage as in a recent footnote. Never used with a page number. Not used at all by many modern scholars.

Because documentation is intended to help the reader, not impress or confuse him, discretion is the better part of valor. If, for example, a number of short quotations from the same source appear in one paragraph of the paper, or if the writer is indebted to one authority for a tissue of small facts, it is unnecessary to present the reader with a whole flock of ibids. On occasion a single covering note may be sufficient:

1My main authority for the facts about the charge of the Light Brigade is Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Reason Why (New York, 1953), pp. 207–257.

As Frank Sullivan once observed, if you give a footnote an inch it will take a foot.

The student may find the following abbreviations useful in either footnotes or bibliography:

Abbreviations Commonly Used in Footnotes and Bibliographies


c. or ca.—from Latin circa, meaning “about.” Used with approximate dates (c. 1340).

cf.—compare (cf. p. 47). Should not be used interchangeably with see (see p. 79).

ch., chs., chap., chaps.—chapter(s)

col., cols.—column(s)

ed., eds.—editor(s), edition(s)

f., ff.—and the following page(s) or line(s). 76f. or 76ff. 76–78 and 76–87 are more exact.

l., ll.—line(s)

n., nn.—note(s). For example, p. 69, n. 3 refers to the third footnote on page 69. Also p. 69n (italicized without the period).

n.d.—no date. Inserted in square brackets when date of publication is not given.

no., nos.—number(s)

par., pars.—paragraph(s)

passim—here and there throughout the work


rev.—review, reviewed (by), revised (by), revision

sc.—scene in a play. Unnecessary in short notes if acts are put in large Roman numerals, scenes in small Roman numerals, lines in Arabic (IV.iii.27–46).

sic—Latin for “thus” or “so.” Inserted in square brackets to make a succinct comment on something in a quotation such as an error in logic or spelling [sic].

vol., vols.—volume(s)

The Final Bibliography

If exact indebtedness to sources is carefully acknowledged throughout the footnotes, a final bibliography may not be required. In scholarly publishing, a full-length book is usually supplied with one, an article is not. A teacher will often insist on a bibliography as an exercise in formal acknowledgment and a convenient map of the ground actually covered in preparing the paper. Ordinarily it should be no more than a selected bibliography. A complete inventory of all the discoverable sources may be useful to a specialist, but only an ingenuous student would expect extra credit for his ability to transcribe the card catalogue and the Reader's Guide. A selected bibliography contains only those items on the bibliography cards that have proved useful in writing the paper. The length of the list is roughly proportionate to the paper's scope. In a long list it may be convenient to have two or more groupings, separating books from articles, or sources of special importance from sources of general interest. For most research papers a single alphabetical listing is sufficient. Note that each entry in the following specimen contains the same information in the same order as on a bibliography card. If a book or article does not have an author, it is usually listed alphabetically under the first important word of the title.

Selected Bibliography

Ashworth, John. “Olivier, Freud, and Hamlet,” Atlantic, CLXXXIII (May 1949), 30–33.

Brown, John R., “Theatrical Research and the Criticism of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries,” Shakespeare Quarterly, XIII (1962), 451–461.

Hankins, John E. “Caliban the Bestial Man,” PMLA, LXII (September 1947), 793–801.

Knight, G. Wilson. “The Embassy of Death: An Essay on Hamlet,” The Wheel of Fire (London, 1949), 17–30.

Littleton, Taylor, and Robert R. Rea, eds. To Prove a Villain: The Case of King Richard III. New York, 1964.

Raysor, Thomas M., ed. Coleridge's Shakespearean Criticism. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass. 1930.

“Shakespeare at 400,” Life, LVI (April 24, 1964), 58–99.

Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works, ed. George Lyman Kittredge. Boston, 1936.

Tillyard, E. M. W. The Elizabethan World Picture. London, 1943.

Traversi, D. A. An Approach to Shakespeare, 2nd rev. ed. New York, 1956.

The Final Draft

The final draft of the research paper should be typed—double-spaced—on one side of heavy white paper (not onion skin) 8½ x 11 inches and unlined. Footnotes and long indented quotations should be single-spaced. Two spaces should appear between footnotes and three between the text and the first note. The pages should be numbered with Arabic numerals, either centered at the top or in the upper right-hand corner. Whether held in a binder or merely with a paper clip, the pages should be kept flat, not folded as in a shorter composition. Margins should be at least an inch wide all around. The title should appear on both the first page (about two inches from the top) and on a separate title page, which should also include the author's name, the date, and the name of the course, if any. Corrections in the final draft should be strictly limited, preferably made by neat erasing and retyping. A sloppy paper inevitably suggests a sloppy mind. Besides, it is absurd for the writer to stumble in haste over the final barrier after he has taken so long to come so far.

Phrases starting with the letter: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z