Crafting Citations through Principles, Not Rules: MLA Style, Eighth Edition

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Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

As a student of the humanities, I worked with Modern Language Association (MLA) style long before I became aware of the other styles. So it’s big news to me and generations of scholars that the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook, published in April, breaks from a rule-based format to one that focuses on the principles for crafting useful citations.

Because the universal methodology does not hinge on the medium, MLA style now accommodates all new media.

Half the length of the prior edition, the eighth edition explains the reasoning behind the new approach, centering on the core elements common to most works, such as author and title, rather than publication format, such as book and website. Because the universal methodology does not hinge on the medium, MLA style now accommodates all new media, the migration of publications from medium to medium, nested sources, and special circumstances.



This approach underscores the importance of logic, flexibility, and audience in knowing which details are relevant and in what order to arrange them. Therefore, you can document the same source in multiple ways by including, omitting, and ordering information depending on context and purpose. By teaching the overarching philosophy, the handbook encourages users to think critically.

Editors who cross over to other style guides in search of solutions can find concrete examples for handling new media, including online usernames, comments on an online forum, email messages, tweets, and YouTube content. Also, the MLA Handbook’s streamlined citations are ideal for authors who find other styles overly complicated.

By teaching the overarching philosophy, the handbook encourages users to think critically.

To help the transition, The MLA Style Center has a Q&A section, examples, and a practice template. The clearer our understanding of the role of citations in propelling academic conversation and insight, the easier it will be to craft citations that are useful to your readers.

Note: The eighth edition replaces the discontinued MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, also published by the MLA.

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