Connect With Me

Twitter Button StumbleUpon Button Delicious Button RSS Feed Button

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

MLA Citation Format Changes in 2009


For those of you who don't keep up with the newest revisions in the world of citation styles, this month the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook was released and with it come a LOT of changes.

Paper formatting in general (page margins, headings, etc.) and in-text citations will remain the same as in the 6th edition of the handbook. What will change are the entries on the Works Cited page.

What follows is a short list of the more noticeable changes (this will grow as I delve more into the new handbook). Drum roll, please!

  • No more underlining. MLA now requires italicizing the titles of independently published works (e.g. books, films, websites, and poems published independently -think Beowulf)

  • No more URLs. Unless a website is not easily found by searching for it on a search engine or the publisher requires that all citations list the web address, the URL (e.g. is no longer required as part of an online work's citation.

  • Identification of the publication medium. Now the end of every citation will include a word describing its format (except citations for web pages, which will end with their date of access). Some examples include Print, CD, TV, and Web.

  • More abbreviations. Instead of writing nothing when citing a source that has no publisher, date published, or page numbers, you now write n.p. (for no publisher), n.d. (for no date), and n.pag. (for no pagination).

Examples of the new format:

Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. Print.

Munroe, Randall. "Swine Flu." xkcd. 26 April 2009. Web. 28 April 2009.

I have mixed feelings about these changes. Eliminating URLs from citation entries is placing a burden on the reader to search for and (hopefully) find the website's address. Citations are supposed to make finding a particular source as simple as possible and I just don't see how not supplying the URL for a site accomplishes that.

On the other hand, I do like the added abbreviations. Now instead of hoping your reader understands that the lack of a date or publisher listed in the Works Cited entry means you couldn't find the information (and not that you forgot or were too lazy to supply it), you can let them know directly.

A note to students: Use the MLA citation format that is recommended by your university's grammar handbook. The 7th edition of the MLA Handbook is still so new that it will take at least another year for these changes to become incorporated in textbooks and for their use to become widespread.

Expect to see more posts with examples that will hopefully shed more light on what has changed.

Here's a link to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 7th Edition on Amazon, for those who plan on buying the new handbook. Since it's so new, I recommend you first see whether or not you'll actually be using the 7th edition rules in your classes at all before you decide to invest in the book.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

On Appearances

Today as I was passing by the geology professor’s cubicle, I noticed that he was once again dressed as one about to go on an expedition to collect rocks in some exotic, remote location.   His slightly faded jeans had that worn-in look that went perfectly with his hiking boots.  He even carries his class materials around in one of those rugged looking backpacks that has more pockets and clips than a person could reasonably put to use.

In short, he looked like a geologist.

That got me to thinking about myself and what exactly a “writing specialist” looks like.  How exactly could I accessorize my garb so that any passerby could look at me and think “By golly, that lady  looks like a composition instructor”?

I’m thinking I could start tucking pencils behind my ears and occasionally scribble excitedly in a notebook that I carry around with me everywhere. 



Photo credit: gordmckenna

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How and When to Use Parentheses

Parentheses are most commonly seen these days as the lower half of emoticons. They're good for much more than just being the smile in a smiley face, though. Learning how to properly use the crescents atop your 9 and 0 keys can add a whole new dimension to your writing. The following is as comprehensive a list as of parenthetical uses as I could come up with. If I'm missing one, be sure to let me know!

Use Parentheses to Enclose Numbers or Letters in a Series

There is no hard-set rule for using parentheses to set off items in a series. That's good news for you because that means you have quite a few options from which to choose. Get creative and choose one of the following options that best represents your style. Notice I said ONE of the following. Consistency is best in that it makes your writing cohesive and doesn't confuse your readers. So even if you think mixing up all the different styles of setting off items with parentheses looks so cool, restrain yourself for your readers' sake.

  • Three elements to a story include (1)characters, (2)setting, and (3)plot.
  • Three elements to a story include 1)characters, 2)setting, and 3)plot.
  • Three elements to a story include 1.)characters, 2.)setting, and 3.)plot
  • Three elements to a story include (a)characters, (b)setting, and (c)plot.
  • Three elements to a story include a)characters, b)setting, and c)plot.
  • Three elements to a story include a.)characters, b.)setting, and c.)plot.

Use Parentheses to Enclose Supplemental Information

This "supplemental information" includes asides, tangents, and afterthoughts. In general, anything that can be removed from the sentence without altering its meaning can be enclosed in parentheses. Take a look at the following examples to get a better idea of what counts as extraneous material.

For the last five years (some say longer), the house on the hill has been haunted.

We read Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" (one of my favorite stories) this semester in class.

Use Parentheses to Indicate the Plural of Nouns

Sometimes you may not know whether or not you are dealing with a noun that is singular or plural. At other times, you may actually try to hide from your audience how many (if any) of the nouns are present. If the idea of not knowing in advance how many of a thing you are writing about (or intentionally trying to hide that number) confuses you, just look at the following examples.

If anyone has any information about the person(s) who committed this crime, please call the sheriff's office.

In the following section of the exam, circle the grammatical error(s) in each of the sentences.

Use Parentheses to Indicate an Acronym

When writing, it is often much easier to substitute an abbreviation for an unwieldy word (or set of words). It's convention to write whatever it is that will be abbreviated out in full at least once in a document and to indicate  next to it enclosed in parentheses the acronym that will thereafter be used to refer to it. In MLA style, it's actually required to do so.

President Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958.

The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is to stop drunk driving altogether.

Use Parentheses to Enclose Dates

When including the dates for a person or event, place them in parentheses immediately to the right of the person or event they refer to.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) is one of my favorite poets.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) is an inspiration to aspiring authors everywhere.

Use Parentheses to Enclose Citations

I will go into much further detail about citation styles in following posts. For now, it's enough to say that parentheses play a huge part in executing in-text citations (a.k.a. parenthetical citations).

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" is one of the most well-known quotes in literature, even among those who have never read A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens).
Whew! For such unobtrusive marks of punctuation, you can sure get quite a bit of use out of parentheses. One last word of warning: as with all things in life, use parentheses only in moderation. Even the most tolerant of readers can become irritated by a set of parentheses every other word.

Photo credit: theilr

Monday, April 6, 2009

Which Words to Capitalize in a Title

As if it’s not difficult enough coming up with a relevant, attention-grabbing title that stops readers in their tracks, figuring out how to format it is another hurdle altogether. Part of what makes this task so difficult is that there is no universally recognized standard for choosing which words in a title should be capitalized.

Pick up two different newspapers and you’ll see we don’t even have a national standard for titles.

Just look at the following examples:
“Obama Says U.S. Is Not at War With Islam” (The New York Times)
“Boeing would be hit hard by defense cuts” (The Seattle Times)
This lack of an all-encompassing standard leaves you with the following two options:

1) Choose a Style Used Commonly by Others

There are only so many generally accepted ways you can capitalize titles. In fact, I’d say the following 4 possibilities are all that are available in common usage.
  • Capitalize The First Letter Of Each Word In The Title
  • Capitalize only the first word in the title
  • Capitalize Principal Words and Words Longer Than Three Letters in the Title

Choose whichever of the above options you like and title away! The choice itself isn't important. What's important is staying consistent with whatever format you do choose.

2) Capitalize Titles According to a Specific Citation Style

If you're still in academia, then this option is the one for you. Depending on the class, chances are your instructor is expecting your writing to conform to a particular style guide. In general, classes that are considered part of the liberal arts use MLA style while classes that are considered part of the sciences use APA style.

MLA Style Guidelines
  • Capitalize the first, last, and principal words of the title (including those that follow hyphens in compound words)
  • Do not underline the title or put it in quotation marks (unless your title includes the title of another work that must be placed in quotation marks or underlined)
Principal words include: Nouns, Pronouns, Verbs, Adjectives, Adverbs, and Coordinating Conjunctions.

That's all there is to it! Now you can title your essays, secure in the knowledge that you are conforming to the accepted standard.

Photo credit: Observe the Banana

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy April Fool's Day!

Hopefully you all are having a better experience with April Fool's Day than one of my students who came to class crying. Apparently, her history professor told her class on Monday that there would be a very important, very difficult test on Wednesday (today) and then posted a note on the door of the classroom today wishing everyone a happy April Fool's Day.

As insensitive as this professor's joke was, it has me questioning more than just his sensitivity to students' feelings. The fact that he started the prank two days before April 1st has me wondering if it still qualifies as an April Fool's Day joke. For some reason I feel like he wasn't playing "fair"...

Is there some unwritten rule for playing an April Fool's Day joke that it must begin and end on April Fool's Day?

On a lighter note, here's an April Fool's post from Jeff Vandermeer* that cracked me up: Bookdeath (via Dr. Wicked)

*I, for one, can't wait for Vandermeer's Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer to come out in print. You can pre-order it from Amazon here (I did!).

Photo credit: Spinster