Using Endnotes in MLA Style to Express Complex or Unusual Indebtedness

        Ordinary scholarly indebtedness, as when you summarize a source's reasoning or borrow a quoted evaluation, usually is acknowledged with a parenthetical author-page reference in MLA style, like the one at the end of this sentence for a handbook overview of parenthetical citation use (Rosen123-28).  If your paper benefited more extensively from the ideas of others, as when you follow for several of your own paragraphs or pages a single source for an overview of an industry or a quick history of a person or thing, a parenthetical citation for every sentence of your summary or paraphrase would be awkward.  A footnote acknowledging this kind of complex indebtedness actually occurs on the first page of many of the scholarly articles you will encounter.    Many paragraphs, or even pages, can follow the line of thinking suggested by a good source.  However, if you find yourself referring very frequently to the same source, for pages at a time in a relatively short paper (e.g., three or four references per page over almost all of five pages total), you may be in danger of being too dependent on a single source.  Especially if your citations follow the source's order of presentation, listing pages in sequence as you read them, you have become only a vehicle for transmitting the source's ideas, and you will have to revise heavily to pull away from that source to a more independent position.  This condition happens when students fall under the spell of a single author's version of reality, but it is something professionals resist violently.  They are not trying to find a single "Authority" to believe in, but rather they want to establish their own authority in relationship to many other authoritative sources. Click on this link for advice about how to retune a "dependent" paper to emphasize your original contribution to the ongoing discussion of the topic.

        Though scholars shun heavy dependence upon single authorities, they seek contact between their thinking and the ongoing "conversation" that scholars have been having in print.  For students, this "scholarly conversation" usually begins in the classroom or the Writing Center.  You also can use endnotes to document the unusual kinds of indebtedness resulting from help you received from other students or from Writing Center tutors, or from other kinds of "fuzzy" places or on imprecisely documented occasions .

1) This paper benefited from conversations in Professor Marx's Political Science 231 course, especially from Edith Piaf's comments on poverty and arts funding. I also thank my Writing Center tutor, Nancy Atwell, whose conferences helped me define my thesis about Ginsberg's struggles to write in poverty.

This note protects its author from violation of the Honor Code, helping to explain how it might be that Edith's paper may contain similar ideas about poverty and the arts, or that another writer who talked with Nancy Atwell had a similar thesis about Ginsberg. Remember, collaboration on a paper, when it is authorized by the teacher, as in acknowledged prewriting collaboration at the Writing Center, is not plagiarism unless your teacher has told you specifically not to collaborate (e.g., on a take-home exam).