Teaching Documentation with Confidence

May 17, 2021 | Posted by Jennifer


For those of you who have an older version of the Student Resource Packet (SRP) and have updated to the most recent edition, you may have noticed that we no longer include bibliography information in it. In addition to discussing the change, this post will hopefully help you feel more confident about various ways students can document their research.

A bibliography (sometimes called a “Works Consulted” page) is a list of all of the works consulted for a research paper, regardless of whether that information was incorporated into the essay or not. Sometimes a bibliography stretches to several pages in length even though perhaps only a few sources are actually quoted. Works Cited pages, however, consist only of the works that were actually quoted, referenced, summarized, or paraphrased in the research paper itself. You may be thinking at this point, How do I know which documentation style to use? While there are some general rules, don’t worry about it. Each teacher has her own preference and will relay that to her class. The student should check with his instructor.

To further complicate the issue a bit, there are multiple approaches to documentation. Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), Associated Press (AP), the Chicago Manual of Style, and Turabian represent just a few of the various style guides. Each one of these methods differs from the other, even going so far as to name the page listing the research differently, for example “Works Cited,” “References,” or simply “Notes.” Furthermore, each of these documentation methods evolve and change over time. For example, the ninth edition of the MLA was recently released this April 2021. Another popular style, APA, updated to the seventh edition in October 2019. With the rapid rate of change within the various methods of documentation, it made sense to discontinue direct instruction in the SRP on how to document research.

So does IEW still teach documentation methods? Absolutely! MLA is our default style, and this is the style guide that we refer to in this post. IEW addresses these concepts within the Levels B and C Structure and Style for Students as well as in most of our theme-based writing programs. For example, in the Level A/B Ancient History-Based Writing Lessons theme-based book, students are taught how to document all of the works they consult. In a few of the Level B books, they are even introduced to the basics of in-text citation. This beginning step scaffolds well when they reach Level C, which is where the student learns to do in-text citations and write a Works Cited page.

Pages that document sources are important because they give credit where credit is due. Proper documentation keeps students from plagiarizing the material they have consulted. In-text citations are needed for facts and statistics that aren’t commonly known. Direct quotes also require citations. They are also required when students present someone else’s ideas in a paraphrase, in short, whenever they offer a thesis, analysis, or unique thought that is not originally theirs (not common knowledge). Teaching your students to determine which details need documentation and which don’t will help prepare your students for the rigors of college writing, so it is worth your time to invest the effort.

If you really want to dive deeply into documentation, you can also consult the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) or purchase the particular style guide for whichever method you wish to instruct your students in. Many English teachers have their students use MLA style, so you might consider purchasing the MLA Handbook. Both Structure and Style for Students and the Levels B and C theme-based books will provide your students with opportunities to practice their documentation skills so that when they move into future coursework, they will be amply prepared to write properly documented research papers.

Here is one more point to note: IEW teaches MLA style, but once students know one documentation system, making a switch to a different style guide is simply a matter of implementing the other rules. The underlying premise of when to credit an author doesn’t change. You can feel confident that you are undergirding your students with the foundational skills of how to document, which they can then apply to all of their coursework regardless of the required method.


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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