The proper citation of sources is fundamental to literary study. It encourages intellectual exchange by ensuring that everyone gets credit for his or her ideas and allows writers to make use of each other’s ideas without committing plagiarism.
You need to cite your source every time you use language or ideas that distinctively belong to someone else. This rule applies not only to direct quotations of someone else’s words but also to paraphrases and summaries of someone else’s ideas. You don’t need to cite a source when referring to common knowledge or generally accepted facts, including facts that are generally accepted within particular disciplines or communities. In a Northwestern English class, you can assume that a fact is generally accepted if many or most of your classmates recognize it as self-evidently true. When researching a paper or presentation, you can assume that a fact is generally accepted if it appears without citation in at least three reputable sources.
When citing a source, you need to give your reader the information he or she needs to find the lines or page or chapter or website to which you are referring. Essays on literary subjects generally use one of two basic systems of citation: MLA style or Chicago style. Unless your professor specifies otherwise, it’s generally fine to use either one for your papers. Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) hosts an excellent guide to MLA style and formatting. There is an online edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, though it is restricted to users of the Northwestern network. The Quick Guide is very useful for formatting footnotes and bibliography entries and the like.
If you are unsure how to handle a particular source, remember that it’s better to err on the side of citing rather than not citing. And if you have questions about citation practices beyond the very basic information offered here, please talk to your professor or TA during office hours.
If you need help with a paper, your first stop should be your instructor’s office hours for help in honing your ideas and developing a viable argument. You also have the option of working with a peer writing consultant at The Writing Place. This service is especially valuable for revising and editing paper drafts, and is particularly recommended to students who are struggling with sentence construction, word choice, and similar issues.
For quick questions of grammar and usage, this searchable version of The Elements of Style, by W. Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, is an excellent resource.
If you need help getting started on a research project, your first step should be a visit to your professor’s office hours. He or she has a deep knowledge of the field, and can often save you a lot of time by directing you to appropriate sources.
Northwestern University Library also offers a range of research assistance services, ranging from a quick telephone conversation with a reference librarian to an in-depth research consultation with a subject specialist.
The library's English: Getting Started page also offers a guide to dictionaries, databases, and other resources for literary research.
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Sample Grading Rubric
One of the advantages of taking literature classes in the Northwestern English Department is the wide range of critical assignments you’ll encounter, from analytical essays to sonnet imitations to “PechaKucha” multimedia presentations to web pages to exit interviews. Each type of assignment helps you to develop your critical acumen in different ways, and is appropriately evaluated according to different criteria.
The attached grading rubric, then, should not be understood as superseding the announced grading criteria for any particular assignment. Rather, it is intended as a general guide to the characteristics of strong, proficient, marginal, and unacceptable work for English Department courses, with particular emphasis on the analytical essay.Back to top