by Carol A. Fritzsche
The 7th edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, recently released, has been updated to reflect more of the electronic world in which we live. Most of the changes included in the handbook are related in one way or another to the recognition that today’s writers rely on electronic sources and use electronic means to create their documents.
In keeping with the spirit of the electronic age, included with the purchase of the handbook is free access to the official MLA Handbook Web site. Inside the back cover (underneath a silver scratch-off label) is a code that grants the purchaser free and “continuous access throughout the life of the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook” (MLA xxi). This site includes “enhanced ways of consulting, learning, and searching the contents of the MLA Handbook” as well as more than 200 examples of entries not in the print volume (MLA xxi). In addition, the FAQs include a list of changes and corrections for the 7th edition.
This list offers an overview of the major changes. Please be aware that other changes may be included that I may have missed.
1. Works versus Books. (see MLA 5.3.4-5)
Throughout the handbook, readers will note that when discussing preparation of the list of Works Cited, the headings now refer to “two or more works [emphasis added] by the same author” instead of books by the same author (MLA 133). This is in recognition of the fact that print is no longer the default medium.
2. No longer a default medium in Works Cited list. (see Preface xvii)
In the past, print media were considered to be the default medium. In today’s electronic world, this is no longer true. Therefore, in the list of Works Cited, the medium always is included. Insert this information after the publication information. Refer to MLA Chapter 5 for specific examples.
Example for a book:
Smith, John. Title of My Book. Anycity, ST: Publisher, 2009. Print.
The word Print is now added at the end of an entry for any printed medium, including books and journals. Every entry will have a similar designation, based on its medium.
3. Italics instead of underlining. (MLA 3.3)
Yes, those are italics in the example above. The MLA editors now recognize that since most people no longer use typewriters but use computer programs to create their papers, italics are now an acceptable format for anything that used to be underlined. (The underlining of the past was used to represent which words should be italicized if the article were going to be published.)
4. Including URLs in works-cited-list entries. (MLA 5.6)
The new guideline is that including exact URLs is no longer required if the reader will be able to find the information easily on a Web site. These entries are now also referred to as Web publications, not electronic publications. Refer to section 5.6.2 for specific examples of what should be included for each entry type, but generally, the entry now includes the word Web prior to the access date. Here is what the editors have stated in the manual regarding URLs:
In the past, this handbook recommended including URLs of Web sources in works-cited-list entries. Inclusion of URLs has proven to have limited value, however, for they often change, can be specific to a subscriber or a session of use, and can be so long and complex that typing them into a browser is cumbersome and prone to transcription errors. Readers are now more likely to find resources on the Web by searching for titles and authors’ names than by typing URLs. (MLA 182)
They go on to state that including URLs is acceptable if the reader may not be able to easily find the document or if this information is required by an instructor. If including this information, the format has not changed: insert the URL at the end of the entry (after the date of access) inside angle brackets (<>), followed by a period.
Smith, John, ed. Name of the Web Page. Publisher, date of publication. Web. Date of access.
5. Include both volume and issue number for articles from scholarly journals. (MLA 5.4.1)
The new instructions now include both volume and issue number for journal publications, inserting them after the journal title and using a period between the volume and issue number. This does not apply to newspapers or magazines.
Smith, John. “Article Title.” Name of Journal 12.2 (2009): 123-45. Print.
In this example, this is volume 12, issue 2 of the journal, published in 2009, and the article appears on pages 123 through 145. This change is recommended because research is often carried out using electronic databases, and having both volume and issue number can make the searching easier.
The above are the major changes that most affect editors and are discussed in the preface of the new handbook. Several other changes are noted, but generally appear to be geared more to the writers of papers, such as Chapter 4 that addresses the format of the paper (i.e., no longer includes a discussion of handwritten papers). Also, the editor mentions in the preface new instructions for tables and illustrations, but in comparing the 6th edition to the 7th, I saw only one minor difference: if the source of the table or figure is provided in the notes to the table or figure that source does not need to be included in the Works Cited. A list of suggested writing manuals and guides is now included in Appendix A instead of section 1.11. Also, Appendix B now includes only a list of specialized style manuals instead of examples of other systems.
The new edition is approximately 70 pages shorter than the 6th edition. Some of this is because of the changes mentioned above (i.e., a discussion about handwritten papers is no longer included); however, this is mostly due to the removal of Appendix A: Selected Reference Works by Field and Appendix B: Other Systems of Documentation, which included samples using notes instead of in-text citations, as well as the list of specialized style manuals.
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed. New York: MLA, 2009. Print.