MLA 8 Citation: What You Should Know About the Changes

The MLA 8th edition, which was introduced in 2016, brought some significant changes in the approach to MLA formatting. The most noticeable differences pertain to citations, and the way that resources are treated, offering researchers a way to cite their sources in a manner that is more consistent. Instead of offering guidelines that are based on an exact format of a source to determine how to cite it, the new addition offers an approach that is decidedly more universal.

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One truly telling indication of the changes can immediately be noticed by observing the length of the 8th edition handbook. Whereas the 7th edition consisted of 300 pages, the new edition cuts it nearly in half. The main reason is that the new guidelines allow for more flexibility. Ultimately, the MLA recognizes that the world has changed and it is necessary to change with it. When a researcher is looking for sources for their paper, they are no longer limited to scouring the library or using hard-bound journals. Today we have access to information right at our fingertips on our computers, tablets and smartphones. With all the methods of collecting information, MLA adapted their guidelines in a way that takes this into account. But before we focus on the changes, let’s review the guidelines that remain unchanged.

MLA 8 In-text Citation

Whenever your project contains previous research and other works, you will either quote the material directly or paraphrase. With direct quotes, you are stating the information word-for-word and placing it between quotation marks. When paraphrasing, you are expressing the information in your own words. In either case, you will need to give credit to the authors. Like previous editions, MLA 8t in-text citation follows these guidelines:

  • “Direct quote” or paraphrase (author’s last name, one space, page number)

A study on the link between sleep and high school achievement found that, “One extra hour of sleep leads to a statistically significant increase in grade point average” (Longley 13).

In-text citations in the 8th edition haven’t changed per se, but several new details have been included or clarified:

  • For videos and other forms of media that are time-based, times are now cited in the text.
  • The inclusion of my trans. when identifying the author’s translation of a non-English quotation.
  • Suggestions are given for shortening long titles when they need to be included in a parenthetical citation.
  • The punctuation used when several items are combined in one parenthetical citation is highlighted.
  • Suggestions for formatting citations in research projects beyond traditional papers, such as PowerPoint slides, videos and web-based projects.
  • Previously, the use of et al. was reserved for when the source contained four or more authors. But under the new guidelines, it is used for three or more.

MLA Cover Page

Although a cover page is not mandatory for MLA formatted papers, professors often require them when the paper is of a certain length as it makes them look more organized. Here is how to do it:

  • Use double-spacing and center the words.
  • Type the name of the college or university one inch from the top of the paper.
  • Around 1/3 down the page, provide the title of the paper and if applicable the subtitle below it.
  • Press enter a few times and type your name, the course title, and number, the name of your professor/instructor, and the due date of your assignment.

MLA Format Header

In MLA format, the header simply consists of the student’s last and the page number. It should be aligned right and set at ½ inch from the top of the paper. The content of the paper should be set at one-inch margins all around.

MLA Font Guidelines

In this format, your paper should be 12 pt font size using a legible font style. Times New Roman is the recommended font style used, although professors will sometimes accept an alternative such as Arial.

MLA 7 vs. MLA 8

Writing a research paper is already time-consuming enough. There is a need to develop a relevant thesis, gather sources, read books and articles, conduct research experiments, collect data, and put it all into a document that is expected to impress the professor. But beyond that, there is the need to strictly follow formatting style guidelines. This has often been a struggle in and of itself, but thankfully the process is easier than ever. Previously in MLA 7, as students wrote their research papers they had to constantly look up the proper way to cite each particular type of source in the MLA handbook since the arrangements differed based on whether it was a book, magazine, movie, or online source.

However, now that students have begun to move towards digital-based resources, it became imperative that MLA 8th edition change with the times. This meant creating a universal, overarching format without regard to where the source came from. However, many of the changes are rather subtle rather than dramatically different. Punctuation has been streamlined while volume and issue numbers remain identified as such, but it is no longer necessarily to list the city where the publisher is located or distinguish between media types.

MLA 8th Edition Work Cited Page

The MLA 8th edition handbook features updated guidelines for entries in the works-cited list, based on recent changes in how sources are published and consulted. In past editions, the author entered the source according to the format (i.e., magazine, blu-ray, Web page).

But these days it no longer makes sense to put emphasis on any individual format since publication can either be impossible to define or come from multiple formats. For instance, the author could have found a song on YouTube which in turn could have originally come from a record album released decades back.

MLA 8 uses a new approach whereby the publication format is no longer considered relevant. Thus, the student researcher would no longer ask, “How do I cite a magazine (or blu-ray or Web page)?” Instead, the focus would be on who the author is and what the title is. Each source entry is created according to the MLA’s list of elements that are universal to almost every source. The order of these universal elements is as follows:

  1. Author.
  2. Source.
  3. Title of Container,
  4. Other contributors,
  5. Version,
  6. Number,
  7. Publisher,
  8. Publication Date,

Twitter – which wasn’t even a thing a decade ago – is a prime example of how MLA guidelines have evolved to reflect the digital age. In the case of a tweet, the entire tweet is cited as the source. Thus it would be entered on the Work-cited page like this:

@BarackObama (Barack Obama). “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…” Twitter, 13 August 2017, 2:06 a.m. https://twitter.com/BarackObama/status/896523232098078720.

If the source is an article that originally appeared in a magazine, but the author accessed it via an online database, 3 through 9 are repeated:

Phillips, Kristine. “Obama Response to Charlottesville among Most Popular for Twitter” The Washington Post, 16 August 2016. Questia, https://www.questia.com/article/1P4-1929134820/obama-response-to-charlottesville-among-most-popular

Online names

Another noticeable change that reflects the Internet age is in the use of screen names and Twitter handles. Even if the legal name of the source’s author is known, MLA guidelines require that the screen name is listed first followed by the legal name. In essence, the screen name or Twitter handle becomes the proper way to cite the author while the author’s actual name is secondary.

Abbreviations, inclusions, and exclusions

In the 7th edition of the MLA handbook, abbreviations such as volume and number were no longer included. But they have made their return in MLA 8 citations in order to provide clarity. For instance, if you were citing an article in volume 14, number 3 of National Geographic, it would have been written like this based on the 7th edition guidelines:

Sampson, Blake. “Penguins of the Arctic.” National Geographic, 14.3, Summer 1969, pp. 124-32.

In the 8th edition, it would look like this:

Sampson, Blake. “Penguins of the Arctic.” National Geographic, vol. 14, no. 3, Summer 1969, pp. 124-32.

Page numbers can be abbreviated as either p. or pp. Also, common-used words in the works-cited list such as editor, edited by, translator, and review of are no longer abbreviated.

Based on MLA 8 guidelines, the URL or the digital object identifiers (DOI) must be included for online-based sources. These aren’t placed in angle brackets, but are included as basic information for online sources. Making a note of the date consulted is no longer required.

When the title of a publication includes an article (a, an, or the), that article is no longer omitted from the title. It should be capitalized, italicized and placed within the parenthesis. For example, “The Wall Street Journal.”

Another noticeable change is that n.d. (no date) is no longer needed when the author is unable to determine the date.

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