New MLA Style

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The new third edition of the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing recommends a number of changes to MLA citation style, particularly for electronic resources. Like the new APA guidelines, MLA no longer distinguishes between journals paginated by volume and journals paginated by issue. It's now much simpler to explain to students: Include the volume and issue when available for all journals, electronic and print.

The other changes are more involved. MLA now recommends including the "medium of publication"  (i.e., print, web) for all entries. This translates into "medium of reception" for multimedia materials (radio, television, film). The most radical change is the recommendation to eliminate all URLs from entries for electronic resources, except when "the reader probably cannot locate the source without it."

MLA's rationale for this change is that URLs may not be particularly useful; they change quickly, and the user's access may depend on subscriptions, etc. MLA suggests that the reader can more easily find the source by searching for the title or other information rather than by typing (or mis-typing) the URL into a browser.

The new guidelines for citing articles from subscription databases seem to me to be more straightforward. MLA recommends including the title of the database, the medium of publication consulted (web), and the date of access, following the basic publication info. This seems much simpler, and more intuitive, than the old way, which included the name of the institution from which the database was accessed, and the URL of the service (i.e. The URL of the service is really no use to anyone since the article must be accessed through an institution with a subscription, and always seemed to me like another mysterious and possibly pointless detail to explain to students.

Including the name of the database is still a bit tricky, since students may use a multi-search service to find their articles, and really have no idea which database the article came from. Anyway, The reader could more easily find the article by using citation linker, or looking up the journal name in the library's e-journal list.

But, on the whole, these new guidelines should simplify the citation process, and the process of teaching citations, for students and librarians. The elimination of URLs is surprising, and may be confusing to students who were trained the old way. Of course, individual instructors may choose to require the URLs for open web sources, so they can easily check the sources if their students are submitting papers electronically.

More info about the new guidelines and examples will be available on the Libraries MLA Quick Citation Guide when I have updated it.

Example of citation for an article from ProQuest using the new guidelines:

Poe, Marshall. "The Hive." Atlantic Monthly Sept. 2006: 86-95. ProQuest. Web. 7 July 2008.


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      I am a reference and instruction librarian at Penn State University Libraries in Library Learning Services and Education and Behavioral Sciences.       

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