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Keeping Track of Works Cited While Writing an Essay

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 1/12/2012

One of the easiest-to-fix mistakes that students make when writing essays that include references is to create a works cited page and cite sources as the last writing step. This article offers tips on how to keep track of references during the note taking and writing process while writing a paper.

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    Listing References

    Image 1: Sample References List The first step for efficiently keeping track of essay references is to create a list of possible sources before ever writing a single sentence. For example, while writing an essay on English phrasal verbs for a graduate-level class, I found the following three books in the library that I thought might be useful sources: Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs by Rosemary Courtney, Modern English Structures: Form, Function, and Positiion by Bernard O'Dwyer, and The Semantics of English Prepositions: Spatial Scenes, Embodied Meaning and Cognition by Andrea Tyler and Vyvyan Evans.

    Before I began writing my essay and even before I began taking notes, I created a works cited page for the books I had found. Since my professor indicated in the assignment description that the papers should be written following the LSA (Linguistic Society of America) style sheet, I formatted my list of possible references accordingly (see Image 1: Sample References List). Always check with your teacher for the citation style you should follow. For example, many courses in the social sciences require APA (American Psychological Association) style while other social sciences and history courses prefer Chicago style. And, while almost all English and language classes follow MLA (Modern Language Association) style, papers written on linguistic topics often cite sources following the LSA style sheet.

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    Taking Notes

    Image 2: Sample Notes The second step for keeping track of cited sources while writing an essay is to record parenthetical citations or footnotes during the note taking process. Parenthetical citations are shortened citations that appear within the text of an essay and that refer the reader to the full citation in the works cited page. Footnotes similarly use numbers to refer readers to a list of citations or notes at the end of the text. For example, I included parenthetical citations that included the last name of the author, the publication year of the book, and the page from which I found the information for my notes about phrasal verbs (see Image 2: Sample Notes). The MLA, APA, and LSA style sheets require parenthetical citations while Chicago style uses footnotes.

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    Writing the Essay

    Image 3: Sample Essay The third step for keeping track of cited essay references is to write the essay while keeping the parenthetical citations or footnotes attached to the notes taken from the sources (see Image 3: Sample Essay). For example, for my essay on phrasal verbs, I used the notes "phrasal verbs – "fall through" (Courtney 1983: 178, "squirrel away" (Courtney 1983: 178)" to form the sentence "As exemplified by Rosemary Courtney in the Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs (1983: 178, 602), phrasal verbs such as fall through and squirrel away are also forms of periphrasis in the English language."

    By keeping track of the sources I cited from the beginning of the writing process, I efficiently created a works cited page as well as cited the sources I used within the text of my essay without having to try to figure out from which book I found my information after I wrote the entire paper. All writers can ensure the accuracy of their references both in their essays and in their references pages while saving time by following these three simple steps.

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    Citation Styles Resources

    • MLA: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/557/01/
    • APA: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/
    • LSA: http://www.lsadc.org/info/pubs-lang-style.cfm
    • Chicago: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/717/01/