Essay Presentation

Written work in English studies observes certain conventions in its presentation. The purpose of these conventions is to ensure clarity and to provide the reader with information necessary for following and assessing the writer’s discussion. Their correct use is an important element in an essay, together with critical insight, knowledge of texts and areas of study, and cogency of argument.

Correct spelling and grammar and a readily legible presentation are also essential. Re-read your essay for mistakes in spelling or grammar and for weaknesses in expression. Run a spell check and grammar check, but remember that these often conform to US rather than Australian usage. They are a supplement to, not a substitute for, your own careful editing. Use one side of the paper (A4) only, leaving an adequate margin for comments. Use 12-point font, double spacing or 1.5 spacing for the body of the essay, and single spacing for longer indented quotations (as discussed below).

Be sure to observe the word limit for your essay. You can expect your marker to stop reading once the word limit is reached. Quotations from primary texts are not included in the word count, but quotations from secondary sources are included. Do not pad out your essay with quoted material; the relevance of your quotations is a factor in the assessment of your work.

There are many styles in referencing, but common sense should be an adequate guide. Think in terms of utility, economy, and consistency.
The following explanations and examples use Chicago style. Chicago uses footnotes rather than endnotes, and it is the style that the Department recommends. However, you may prefer to use another style, such as MLA or Harvard. (See Further Reading below).


The title of a book, play, film or periodical is put in italics; the title of a chapter, article or (in most cases) a poem is put in quotation marks.

  • The Wild Swans at Coole (the book of verse published by W. B. Yeats in 1919)
  • “The Wild Swans at Coole” (the first poem in the book)
  • the wild swans at Coole (the fifty-nine waterfowl that are the nominal subject of the poem).

The title of a poem is italicised if

  • it was originally published separately as a book (Paradise Lost; The Waste Land);
  • it is divided into books, cantos, etc. (The Rape of the Lock).


Double or single quotation marks should be used consistently throughout an essay for every purpose (quotations and titles).

(1) Brief quotations are enclosed in quotation marks:

Yeats remains at the centre tenacious, solid, a “marble triton among the streams.”

Longer quotations (more than three lines of prose or more than two lines of verse) are set off from the rest of the essay, indented (by 1-2 cm), and single spaced. Quotation marks are not used for indented material.

The most successful appearance of the meeting of sun and moon is in “The Tower” where Yeats writes:

O, may the moon and sunlight seem
One inextricable beam,
For if I triumph I must make men mad.

In neither case are quotations put in italics (unless, of course, the original is in italics).

(2) If words are omitted from a quotation, the omission is indicated by three dots:

“The Nellie, a cruising yawl … was at rest.”

If the omission precedes the end of a sentence, the full stop ending that sentence is included:

“The Sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us….”

(3) A quotation must be incorporated in such a way that the sentence of which it forms a part is grammatically correct.

Correct: The novel’s conclusion shows an apparent return to normality: “Queenie moved again, her feet began to clop-clop steadily again, and at once Ben hushed” (284). By now the reader recognizes that such a return can be only temporary.

Incorrect: The novel’s apparent return to normality: “Queenie moved again, her feet began to clop-clop steadily again, and at once Ben hushed.” (284) is recognized by the reader as only temporary.


References furnish the reader with details of the evidence on which critical discussion is based, and acknowledge the use of secondary sources.

Notes contain information or comment that is relevant to the discussion but that cannot be incorporated conveniently into the body of the essay (e.g., a parallel between a literary work under discussion and some other work).
References and notes are best placed at the foot of the page as a footnote. A superscript number in the text of the essay such as this1 and this2 refers the reader to the corresponding reference or note.

An essay must provide precise references to the literary works it discusses. Where passages or episodes too long for quotation are discussed, the reader must be able to look them up. Even where passages are quoted, the reader may still wish to check their accuracy or examine their context. References to secondary sources (works of criticism, reference, etc.) must be given in the following cases:

  1. Where the essay quotes or makes substantial use of the terminology, concepts, or arguments of other writers. Failure to acknowledge such borrowings is plagiarism.
  2. To document statements of fact, where these are not common knowledge or are not readily found in standard works of reference. Hence, “The diarist John Manningham saw a performance of Twelfth Night in London on 2 February 1602” requires documentation; “Heart of Darkness was published in 1899” does not.

Footnote references are given in the following form:

First, author’s name, with initials or first name preceding. If the author’s name or the title, or both, have been mentioned in the text, there is no need to repeat them in the note.

Second, title of book, article, or chapter. A lengthy title may be abbreviated, provided that the work is clearly recognisable.

Third, place, publisher, and date of publication (for books); name, volume, issue, and date of journal (for articles in journals); name of book and editors(s), and place, publisher, and date of publication (for chapters contributed to books, or articles reprinted in books); project or database title and URL (for electronic publications).

Fourth, reference to page (60), or pages (60, 66), or volume and page (i, 79); or paragraph of an electronic publication, if possible (§ 2); or act, scene, and line(s) of a play (The Tempest, 3.2.133); or (book and) line(s) of a poem (Paradise Lost, ix.781; “The Sunne Rising,” l. 4, or ll. 21-22).

Examples of first footnote references:

i.) a play
Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Stephen Orgel, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 3.3.53 [or III.iii.53].

ii.) a book. G. K. Hunter, English Drama 1586-1642 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 22.

iii.) a journal article
Burton Raffel, “Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Touchstone of the English Lyric Tradition,” Explorations in Renaissance Culture 26, no. 1 (2000), 22.

iv.) a chapter in a book
Margaret W. Ferguson, “Feathers and Flies: Aphra Behn and the Seventeenth-Century Trade in Exotica,” in Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture, ed. Margreta de Grazia, Maureen Quilligan, and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 248-49.

v.) a film
Stagecoach, dir. John Ford, perf. Claire Trevor and John Wayne, United Artists, 1939.

vi.) a webpage
Joyce Carol Oates, “The Magnanimity of Wuthering Heights,” Celestial Timepiece: A Joyce Carol Oates Home Page, 1983, accessed 24 Nov. 2008.
[It is often necessary to put the URL on a separate line, or to create a line break within it, which should be done only after a slash.]

vii.) an article from a database
Jonathan Gil Harris, “Shakespeare’s Hair: Staging the Object of Material Culture,” Shakespeare Quarterly 52, no. 4 (2001), (accessed 25 Nov. 2008)

Note the following:

  1. Subsequent footnote references to the same text should abbreviate the first citation, rather than use ibid. or op. cit. Example: Raffel, 22.
  2. When a text is referred to repeatedly in an essay, it is desirable to incorporate references into the body of the essay rather than multiply footnotes. In this case, a first reference is given in full, with the addition “All subsequent references to this edition are incorporated in the text.” References can thereafter be given in parentheses at the end of each quotation within the essay.
  3. References should as far as possible be convenient for readers using a different edition.

For a play, give act, scene, and line numbers, if possible, not page numbers, which differ widely between editions.
For a poem, give line numbers, for the same reason, though in a short poem line numbers are usually unnecessary.
For a novel, give page numbers: Heart of Darkness (New York: Norton, New York, 1988), 55.


Works consulted in the preparation of an essay are listed at the end, arranged alphabetically by authors’ surnames. Entries in the bibliography have a similar form to references, except that authors' surnames are given first, and the main components of each entry are separated by full stops. Reference is not made to the particular pages cited but to the whole book or article:

i.) a book
Hunter, G. K. British Drama 1586-1642. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

ii.) a journal article
Raffel, Burton. “Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Touchstone of the English Lyric Tradition,” Explorations in Renaissance Culture 26, no. 1 (2000): 1-22.

Further Reading

Carole Slade and Robert Perrin’s Form and Style (13th edn, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), provides an excellent overview of MLA and Chicago styles.

See also:

i.) Chicago style (Documentary Note; Humanities)
The Chicago Manual of Style (14th edition, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1993), “Documentation 1” style, pp.487-635. See also Kate Turabian, rev. John Grossman and Alice Bennett, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (6th edition, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996); and Slade and Perrin, ch.7.

ii.) MLA style (Works Cited)
The MLA Style Manual, comp. Joseph Gibaldi (2nd edition, New York: Modern Language Association, 1998). See also MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, comp. Joseph Gibaldi (6th edition, New York: Modern Language Association, 2003); and Slade and Perrin, ch. 8.

iii.) Harvard style (Author-Date; Name Year)
The Chicago Manual of Style (as above), “Documentation 2” style, pp.637-699, and in Scientific Style and Format (6th edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), ch.30, pp.617-76. See also Kate Turabian, rev. John Grossman and Alice Bennett, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (6th edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); and Slade, ch. 9.

Both the author-date and documentary note styles are also explained in the current 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (2003), but much less clearly than in the 14th edition