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Changes to the MLA citation style

MLA publishing and citation guides

2008 has seen the release of the 3rd edition of the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, and 2009 the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, both published by the Modern Languages Association.  Chapter seven of the Style Guide and chapter five of the Handbook focus on formulating citations.

Needless to say, the years that have passed since the publication of the 2nd edition of the Style Manual have seen multiple changes in the way in which people think about sourcing previously published literature.  The Style Guide has accordingly made multiple changes to the way in which MLA-style citations are formatted -- primarily though not exclusively within the realm of sourcing Internet-based media.

This guide outlines the different changes that have occurred with the release of the 3rd and 7th editions of the Style Manual and Handbook:

  • They present a new list of media formats identifying how information is recorded for inclusion in citations
  • They change to the rules about how to present the title of a work as well as a sub-component of the work
  • For Web publications include a URL only when you think a reader would need it in order to find the work cited of if your instructor requests it
  • All journal citations use an issue number, regardless of how they are paginated.  Journal citations also use a volume number when available, again regardless of how they are paginated.  These rules are, however, not applied to newpaper articles.

Each of these categories of information is considered in the tabs above.

In addition, the abbreviations n.p., n.d., and n.pag., indicating instances when a document has no publisher, no place of publication, no date of publication, or no page numbers, are extended to Web documents as well.  The text documenting the use of these abbreviations is unchanged between the 2nd edition of the Style Manual (section 6.6.25, p. 181) and the 7th edition of the Handbook (section 5.5.24, p. 179), however the 7th edition of the Handbook applies the abbreviations to Web-based examples.

A note from the MLA

Even the MLA acknowledges that they can't and don't offer an example of a citation for every last type of work in every last medium.  Section 5.3 (page 129) of the handbook offers the following note:

While it is tempting to think that every source has only one complete and correct format for its erntry in a list of works cited, in truth there are often several options for recording the key features of a work... You may need to improvise when the type of scholarly project or the publication medium of a source is not anticipated by this handbook.  Be consistent in your formatting throughout your work.  Choose the format that is appropriate to your research paper and that will satisfy your readers' needs.

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