Writing a Winning Term Paper: Style & Format

While coming up with a sound thesis and good arguments for your term paper should take up the bulk of your time, it is also important to know how to present your writing in a professional manner. Details such as grammar, quotations, citations, and bibliography are essential to a well-written term paper and should not be neglected. The following are a few stylistic guidelines that may be helpful when preparing a term paper about Boccaccio's Decameron. It may be helpful to look at Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, which is accessible online for more information on general writing style, common grammatical errors, and guidelines for a clear and authoritative writing style.

Citing the Decameron:

When citing a story within the Decameron, it is generally simplest to refer to it by its numerical placement within the text, rather than using page numbers, which will vary from edition to edition. The first time you cite a novella, you should enclose in parentheses the number of the day in Roman numerals followed by the number of the novella. For example: "Many literary critics have focused on the theme of the hound within the tale of Nastagio degli Onesti (V.8)."

Including Quotations:

Any term paper about the Decameron should include a few well-chosen, succinct quotations from the text; when possible, it is best to choose brief but meaningful quotes rather than long or overly detailed explanations. While the individual novellas are fairly short, Boccaccio's often uses long sentences to imitate the classical Latin style, making it, at times, difficult to find concise quotes on the topic of your choice. Quotes that are less than four lines long can be included within the text of your essay using traditional quotation marks; those citations that are four lines or over should be set in a separate single-spaced paragraph, indented an extra half-inch on either side, without quotation marks.

In-Text Citations, Footnotes, and Endnotes:

There are three ways to cite sources in your term paper (ask your professor which he/she prefers). The first and simplest style, recommended by the MLA, is to cite the author and page number in parentheses within your text: "Millicent Marcus argues that, in the tale of Alatiel (II.7), language works to control and to temper the power of passion (Marcus, 14)." With in-text citations, you must also include a bibliography with full citations at the end of your paper. If your bibliography includes two or more works by the same author, you should include the year of the referenced work in your in-text citation so as to differentiate between the two.

A second method of citing your sources is to have footnotes at the bottom of each page. The first time you cite a source in your footnotes, you should cite it in its entirety: "Joan M. Ferrante, "Narrative Patterns in the Decameron," Romance Philology 36:4 (1983): p. 521-539." Thereafter, you may simply refer to the same source by writing the author's last name and the page number, as in the in-text citations.

The final way to cite sources within a paper is to use endnotes; these are essentially the same as footnotes, but appear together on a separate page at the end of your paper. If you choose to use either endnotes or footnotes, a separate bibliography is not essential since you have already included full bibliographic information for every source the first time it was cited.

For more information on citing sources, including basic citation formats for books, periodicals, web pages, and reference sources, see The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. While MLA citation formats are not available online, some academic and university library sites provide examples of MLA citation styles. A basic listing of citation formats is also provided below.

Basic MLA Citation Formats:

Minnis, A. J. Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988. (Basic book)

Clements, Robert J. and Joseph Gibaldi. Anatomy of the Novella: The European Tale Collection from Boccaccio and Chaucer to Cervantes. New York: NYU Press, 1977. (Book with two authors)

Ricci, Lucia Battaglia, ed. Novelle italiane. Il Duecento. Il Trecento. Milano: Garzanti, 1982. (Book with an editor)

Salisbury, Joyce E. "Gendered Sexuality." Handbook of Medieval Sexuality. Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage, eds. New York: Garland, 1996. pp. 81-102. (Article or chapter within an edited book or anthology)

Luther, Susan. "The Lost Garden of Coleridge." The Wordsworth Circle 22:1 (1991): 24-30. (Article in a scholarly journal)