It’s been about a year since they rolled out the 8th edition of Modern Language Association’s update to its citation system and I read the book cover to cover. Based on questions we’ve gotten I felt it was time to give a clarification. MLA made some changes to the details of the system (although they didn’t change some of the things I would have if they wanted to meet their stated goal of making the system easier). The biggest change was their philosophy behind citations and how they should be built and used.
New Philosophy – There Are Multiple Ways To Be Correct
One of the most important ideas behind the revision for the 8th edition is that there are different ways to cite the same thing and still be correct. If you can make an argument for how a source you’re citing fits a particular category and why you are using that particular form in meeting the requirements of author, title, container, etc. MLA itself would be perfectly fine with it.
The handbook specifically talks about there being different ways to create a citation that would be correct (p. xii). For instance, there might be a simpler version of a given citation that was right for high school students and a more complex version for people writing a thesis, one version for someone talking to generalists and a different version when aiming at other members of a very specialized research group (p. 4). Also, for example with a film or TV show, you would include actors if you’re talking about the acting, the screen writer if you’re talking about the writing, and the director if you’re talking about directing, but you don’t necessarily include all those people even if you have all that information (p.24) So, except in the most general terms, there really isn’t one right way any more. They no longer want to be “a prescriptive list of formats”, but want to be a flexible system that combines common elements “to create appropriate documentation for any source” and for its intended reader (pp.xii-xiii).
Unfortunately MLA didn’t try to get buy in with instructors, publishers, etc. and still puts out examples of right ways themselves, so it really isn’t yet a widely accepted philosophy but that’s their idea. It’s an idea they hope will become more accepted as time goes on.
To find more information on this new system, check out:
- Our circulating copy of the MLA Handbook 8th edition (808.02 M685 2016)
- Our MLA information page (particularly handout version 1 for more examples & handout version 2 for more background on how the philosophy is applied)
- MLA Style Website where they answer questions and give examples