Why Writing Works

Disciplinary Approaches to Composing Texts

Documentation in Literary Studies

by Dr. Eric Doise

In literary studies, documentation is crucial. Readers need to be able to locate passages paraphrased and quoted in order to follow up on research with minimal work finding the passages discussed.

MLA is the most common form of documentation, especially in the US, although APA and Chicago are sometimes used in literary studies. The ability to use MLA skillfully establishes credibility in the field.


Documentation enacts the tenets of the field

The MLA style guide reflects what information is important to experts in the field—the requirement to provide specific page numbers, for example, comes from and reinforces the importance of attention to detail—and what information is not as crucial—the exclusion of the year of publication from in-text citations, for example, communicates that this information is not as important to literary studies as, say, psychology. The newest edition also uses language that is more in keeping with guidelines than rules, which is in keeping with the field’s perspective that what “text” means and which elements of a text are most important is in flux. This fluctuation is always there, but it is especially important to the field right now given the impact of new communication technologies.