MLA 8th Edition: Setting a (New?) Standard

I taught high school English for 9 years, have served as a librarian for 11, and have been a teacher for 20 years. The number of times I have talked about citing sources is…well, I don’t really want to count. Games, jigsaws, hands-on practice, even MLA songs have been a part of my yearly instructional practice – all for the same goal: reminding students to cite their sources.

With this instruction came a lot of frustration (both from students and educators). “Why is it that way?” “Why do you need the city?” “I don’t get it!” – and those are the teacher comments. If the enduring understanding is that we need to credit the source of a fact or quote or piece of information, then having a standard that would match any resource would be helpful.

So when I learned that MLA 8 was arriving, I groaned a little. As did most of my colleagues who felt they just achieved citation nirvana with their students. I ordered a copy of the manual and started skimming. Then I decided to read it. Okay, skim read – but the introduction and preface really caught my attention. The surprisingly slim volume of the style manual has a tone of flexibility and forward-thinking. This passage caught my eye:

With the eighth edition, we shift our focus from a prescriptive list of formats to the overarching purpose of source documentation: enabling readers to participate fully in the conversations between writers and their sources. Such participation requires the presentation of reliable information in a clear, consistent structure, but we believe that if we concentrate on the principles undergirding MLA style and on the ways they can be applied in a  broad range of cases, we can craft a truly flexible documentation practice that will continue to serve writers well in a changing environment. (xii)

I love that. Creating a flexible, living documentation style that will allow for new types of sources – regardless of the format.

MLA help template

“MLA Practice Template.” MLA Handbook. Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

The manual goes to describe the principles of MLA style (which may not be a new feature, but caught my attention this time – mainly because I was actually reading the text, not scanning for the format of an email citation). The three guiding principles are  (3-4):

  • Cite simple traits shared by most works.
  • Remember that there is often more than one correct way to document a source.
  • Make your documentation useful to readers.

As a fan of Understanding by Design, these come across as enduring understandings rather than tasks or rules. Frankly – I love it. The rest of the manual is worth a thoughtful read, as even the back cover will tell you it is a new MLA style. It will appear similar, but the underlying tone is different. Make citations useful to the situation and reader. A place to begin is using the guiding questions that MLA provides researchers for creating their citations. 5 questions that are meant to work with any type of source:

  • Who is the author of the source?
  • What is the title of the source?
  • How was the source published?
  • Where did you find the source?
  • When was the source published?

Now, on to the good stuff. Here are some the changes I’ve noticed in the eighth edition.

Books:

  • Omit city of publication (optional element to add, but not required)
  • Original date of publication is (still?) optional
  • Omit medium of publication (unless it’s unusual or unexpected, like “Transcript” or “Address”)

Web:

  • Omit date of access (optional to include)
    • Note: If you do include it, add “Accessed” before the date, so “Title.” Site, Publisher, date, URL. Accessed Date.
    • Note: include date of access if original publication date is not available
    • Note: Omit Publisher/Sponsor if it is the same as the title of the web site
  • So, most website entries would look like this:
  • Options (including publisher, as it is different from the site):
  • Option (including date accessed, since no publication date exists)

MLA notes that the optional list is not exhaustive and that people “should carefully consider the source [they] are documenting and judge whether other kinds of information might help your reader” (53). MLA provides templates and resources to help student construct Works Cited pages, both online  (coming soon) and in the manual.

Those are my thoughts. Curious to see what anyone else thinks about this direction of MLA style.

Add, of course, here is my own citation. 🙂

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2016. Print.

Oops – MLA 8 version:

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook. Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

 

 

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About @mr_snyderman

Technology Integration Specialist for Lake Washington School District, NCCE President, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and Master Trainer, world-traveller, and Montana native. #tlchat #ncce #istelib
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One Response to MLA 8th Edition: Setting a (New?) Standard

  1. Danielle Graham says:

    Yes! I experienced the same emotional ride–From “Oh NO!” to “Okay…maybe…” to “Wow. This makes a lot of sense.”

    I also appreciated the pages they devoted to teaching students how to avoid plagiarism (and why) and also the visual explanations on where to find documentation information in digital sources. Pictures are helpful! Those two pieces plus the simplified format guidelines and practice template provided in the back of the book are why I will order this text for my students next year rather than make my typical “quick reference” handouts.

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