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Writing with Audio/Visual Texts


Incorporating quotation from audio/visual texts into your writing can enrich your argument and works much like integrating passages from printed texts. Just as when dealing with books, articles and other printed materials, quotations from audio/visual texts should be used selectively to support or illustrate your argument, but not to make it. An excellent strategy for the close reading of any quoted text is to introduce your quotation with a short description, and then repeat important elements of that description in your expanded discussion following the quotation. This strategy not only draws your audience's attention to the characteristics of the quotation that are important to your argument, but it also allows them to follow you as you switch roles from viewer/reader to critic. This is especially important when using key phrases and theoretical ideas: don't expect a quotation to speak for itself. You need to expand, explain, and fully discuss your clips, dialog, etc.

Clip Alternatives: When working with a short passage of dialog as the focus of a clip, incorporating the dialog as a written quotation, rather than as a clip, is also an effective way of presenting the information. Likewise, when close-reading static visual components of a scene (such as framing, camera position or mise-en-scène), a clip may be superfluous. Instead, capture a still from the film and integrate that image into your text.

Choosing an audio/visual clip to quote: Your quotations should be particularly demonstrative, interesting or unusual. As when selecting printed passages, keep in mind length as well as content.

Clip Length: Recommended clip length varies from professor to professor to handbook, and there is no definitive authority for this information. Clip length is therefore up to the discretion of the writer. In the sample papers, the video clips range from seven seconds to a minute and a half, demonstrating how clips of disparate lengths can work effectively in a paper. Keep in mind, however, that longer clips run the risk of dominating your original thoughts and discussion. Clips shorter than fifteen seconds are often effective, especially when looking closely at a specific aspect of a scene, song, etc.

Placing clips: Audio/visual quotations can be difficult to place within your text. It is most effective for the audience to have audio/visual quotations present early in your discussion. The writer’s impulse, however, is often to discuss the clip first. The best place for an audio/visual quotation is following a short description and before the expanded argument: stage the argument but wait until after the quotation to make it. The reader can always refer back to a clip once it has been presented. In presenting clips on a CD, refer your reader to the CD clips with typed cues that correspond to the name of the appropriate clip. This convention works well whether the clips are linked to the paper on the same CD or if the paper is a separate printed document from the clip CD.

Example: To see how this works in a sample paper, refer to the annotation in the second paragraph of page three in "The Little Engine that Could: Constructing Progress in the General."


Keeping track of sources is always important, and there are a couple of effective ways to cite audio/visual sources within your text.

Typed quotations: Quotations typed directly from the dialog of a film or television program do not require parenthetical citation, but you must introduce these quotations with the title and date of the text with which you are working.

Printed sources: All printed sources still require parenthetical citations.

Naming clips: In order to cite audio/visual clips within your text, you must adopt a consistent naming convention. Clips can be named numerically, in the order in which they appear in the paper, or thematic ally. An example of numerical names would be "" This convention works well with clips that have many thematic similarities and would be difficult for your reader to differentiate by content. Examples of thematic names would be "fightmov" or "," names that use any salient characteristic of content or technique and will distinguish the one clip from the others. When working with two or more movies, add an abbreviated title at the beginning of the name (ex: "" or "").

Works Cited: Writing a Works Cited page for audio/visual texts can be complicated.

Film entries usually begin with the underlined title of the film, and include the director, distributor and the year of its release, but may include writers, performers, etc. between the title and the distribution information. An example would be as follows:

Two for the Road. Dir. Stanley Donen. 20th Century Fox, 1966.

Two for the Road. Dir. Stanley Donen. Perf. Audrey Hepburn, and Albert Finney. 20th Century Fox, 1966.

When discussing the contribution of a particular director, writer, performer, etc., begin with that person's name as you would if discussing the contribution of an editor for a printed text:

Spielberg, Steven, dir. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Perf. Harrison Ford and Karen Alien. Lucasfilm Ltd., 1981.

Videocassettes, DVD s and filmstrips are considered different sources, and are therefore somewhat different to cite, than the film itself. The original release date and the medium of its current release now come before the name of the distributor:

Two for the Road. Dir. Stanley Donen. Perf. Audrey Hepbum, and Albert Finney. 1966. Videocassette. 20th Century Fox, 1993.

Television and radio programs work similarly to films, but include much more information. The title of an episode or program appear in quotation marks, like an article or essay, followed by the underlined title of the program (then the title of the series, if any, not underlined), the name of the network, call letters and city of the local station, and broadcast date. Here is an example of an entry for a television program:

Martin Chuzzlewit. By Charles Dickens. Adapt. David Lodge. Perf. Paul Scofield, Tom Wilkinson, Emma Chambers, Julia Sawalha, Pete Postlethwaite, Keith Alien, Maggie Steen, John Mills and Elizabeth Spriggs. 5 episodes. Masterpiece Theatre. Introd. Russell Baker. PBS. WGBH, Boston. 26 Mar.- 23 Apr. 1995.

Sound recordings are cited by composer, conductor, or performer first (depending on emphasis). The song title follows in quotation marks, then the underlined title of the recording, the artist(s), the manufacturer, and the year of issue. You only have to specify medium when working with something other than CD (audiocassette, audiotape, LP, etc.), and this information precedes information of manufacture, just as the medium did distribution information when working with film. Here are two sample sound recording entries:

Goldenthal, Eliot. "Pickled Heads." Titus: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Sony Classical, 2000.

Orff, Carl. Carmina Burana. Perf. Thomas Alien, Sheila Armstrong, Gerald English. London Symphony Orch. and Chorus. Cond. André Previn. Angel Classics, 1999.

These citation conventions are culled from the pages of The MLA Style Manual, where they are explored in much more detail. This manual, and the other books contained in the following bibliography, are good resources for more information on writing, both in general and with audio/visual texts.


Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2001.

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. 2nd ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1998.

---. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th ed. New York: The Modem Language Association of America, 1999.

Prepared by Gretchen Hitt '03, Fall 2002

Prepared by Nora Gully and Gretchen Hitt '03, Fall 2002.