MLA Updates: What’s New

MLA has recently released the new 8th Edition of the MLA Handbook, which includes several updates. Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) explains the changes in the following article:

MLA Eighth Edition: What’s New and Different

[Contributors:Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Purdue OWL Staff]

In April 2016, MLA replaced its seventh edition resources with a new eighth edition. This updated version reflects the ways in which digital publication has changed how writers and researchers document sources. Therefore, the new edition includes significant shifts in the approach to source documentation in academic writing. While earlier editions emphasized the importance of following specific guidelines for formatting, the eighth edition focuses on the practice and process of scholarly documentation. The logic here is basic: a style guide should offer a method that is widely applicable. Rather than insisting that writers follow strict citation formulas, this handbook outlines the principles of MLA documentation and explains how writers can use them in many different situations.

For this reason, the new edition focuses on the writer’s strategy and individual decisions. Not all scholarly prose is the same, and every writer should evaluate her/his readers and determine how to best engage them. The writer’s goal should be to provide a document and list of sources that is easy for readers to use, so that the reading experience is informative and enjoyable.

Like earlier editions, this handbook includes information on evaluating sources, avoiding plagiarism, using quotations, constructing abbreviations, and other topics important to the scholarly writer. But what is different about the eighth edition is that it recommends a universal set of guidelines that writers can apply to any source, in any field. In the past, writers would create an entry in a works cited list by looking at MLA’s instructions for how to cite a specific type of source. For example, if you needed to cite a film, you would consult the handbook to see the proper format for documenting film. In this new edition, MLA explains that this method is no longer practical, since types of sources are sometimes undefinable, or accessible in more than one way (for instance, a YouTube clip from a film is not the same as the original film itself). Therefore, the eighth edition offers a new model for entries in a works cited list, so that rather than consulting the handbook for the proper way to document a specific type of source, the writer creates entries by consulting MLA’s list of core elements and compiling them in the recommended order.

Core elements are those basic pieces of information that should be common to all sources, from books to articles, from lectures to tweets. The MLA core elements are as follows:

Author Number
Title of source Publisher
Title of container Publication date
Other contributors Location

If you have included these elements and assembled them in a way that makes sense to your readers, then your works cited entries will be consistent and thorough.

Look for updates to OWLs resources and more detailed information about changes to MLA guidelines coming soon.


Since the eighth edition focuses on the principles of documenting sources, rather than on strict adherence to a particular format for each source, citations in this new edition vary only slightly from the old ways. When comparing works cited entries in the new eighth edition with the former seventh edition, see that differences in citation style are minimal; punctuation is streamlined, volume and issue numbers are identified as such, and there is no excess information such as city of publication or media type.

Note the differences in citing a print book with one author:

Eighth edition (the new way):

Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford UP, 2011.

In this version, only the most essential information is included (author’s name, book title, publisher, and date). Note that the city of publication is not needed, and the medium of publication is eliminated.

Seventh edition (the old way):

Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.

This version includes the city of publication (Oxford) and the medium (print), which the new eighth edition does not require.

The differences in citing an article from a scholarly journal:

Eighth edition:

Kincaid, Jamaica. “In History.” Callaloo, vol. 24, no. 2, Spring 2001, pp. 620-26.

This version identifies the volume (24), the number (2), and the page numbers (620-26) of the scholarly journal, rather than leaving those numbers without clear explanation. This helps readers best make sense of your citation and allows them to locate your source without getting bogged down with extra information or references that can be difficult to decipher. Also note that punctuation is simple; only commas separate the journal title, volume, number, date, and page numbers.

Seventh edition:

Kinkaid, Jamaica. “In History.” Callaloo 24.2 (Spring 2001): 620-26. Web.

This version includes the volume and number (24.2), and page numbers (620-26) of the journal, but does not explain those references. The seventh edition emphasized following a strict punctuation formula, such as parentheses around the date and the colon, while the new eighth edition focuses on providing this information in a more streamlined manner by using only commas to separate each component.


If you are already familiar with traditional MLA citation methods, continue to use them in a more simplified form. Since the eighth edition emphasizes the writer’s freedom to create references based on the expectations of the audience, consider what your readers need to know if they want to find your source.

  • Think of MLA style principles as flexible guides, rather than rules. Part of your responsibility as a writer is to evaluate your readers and decide what your particular audience needs to know about your sources.
  • Your goal is to inform, persuade, and otherwise connect with your audience; error-free writing, along with trustworthy documentation, allows readers to focus on your ideas.
  • In-text citations should look consistent throughout your paper. The principles behind in-text citations have changed very little from the seventh to the eighth editions.
  • List of works cited/works consulted needs to include basic core information, such as author’s name, title of source, publication date, and other information, depending on the type of source. Each entry should be uniform and simple, but should give enough information so that your readers can locate your sources.
  • These updated MLA guidelines are based on a simple theory: once you know the basic principles of style and citation, you can apply that knowledge widely, and generate useful documentation for any type of publication, in any field.


For more information on MLA changes, visit

MLA: It’s a Changing World


In the 1977 edition of the MLA Handbook, the guidelines, according to Rosemary Feal, Executive Director of the Modern Language Association, suggested that “fresh black ribbon and clean type are essential.” The instructions also advised against using “thin paper except for a carbon copy” (qtd. in MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 7th ed. xv). The titles of the previously mentioned books would not have been in italics, but underlined. That was a more recent change.

The first “MLA Style Sheet” was published in 1951 by the Modern Language Association, and through the years this style sheet has grown into an almost three-hundred-page handbook, now in its seventh edition, arguably the most-used resource for students in the liberal arts and humanities. Most students coming into college today, unless they are fans of Mad Men, would most likely have no idea what black ribbon or carbon copy refers to. I learned to type on a typewriter (yes, I’m old) and the only web I knew came from a spider. With the explosion of the internet in the last thirty years, changes to citation styles have been as rapid as the rise in hemlines. The returning non-traditional student who has been away from school for a few years may find many of the rules of MLA style they thought they knew have changed.

Ellipsis ( . . . )

OLD:   The old MLA Handbook recommended placing an ellipsis (three periods ( . . . ) with a space before each and a space after the last) in square brackets to a distinguish between an ellipsis  which the writer has added and an ellipsis that is actually in the original text:

Ex: “Smith […] found the outmoded research […] a hindrance to his formula” (Jones 55).

NEW: The current guidelines state to only use the ellipsis when omitting material; brackets are no longer suggested.  

Ex:  In an essay on urban legends, Jan Harold Brunvand notes that “some individuals make a point of learning every recent rumor or tale . . . and in a short time a lively exchange of details occurs” (78).

MLA notes to only use brackets if adding brackets would clarify your use of ellipses.

Underlining is Gone

OLD: Titles of larger works, such as books or magazines, have always been underlined.

Ex:      The Catcher in the Rye.

Ex:      Omaha World Herald.

NEW: Larger works are now italicized. No more underlining.

Ex: The Catcher in the Rye.

Ex: Omaha World Herald.

Database Research

Access Information

Lots of changes here. Thirty years ago, this type of entry didn’t even exist. Now, often the majority of student research is done on the web utilizing their college’s database system.

OLD:  Previously, an article originally published in print form that was retrieved from a library database, such as EBSCO or Lexis-Nexis, would always need to have the access information of the library name and location the writer retrieved it from.

 Ex: “Prophetic Criticism: Oscar Wilde and His Postmodern Heirs.”  Contemporary Literature.  25.2 (1984) : 250-259.  JSTOR.  Criss Lib., Omaha, 12 July 2006  http://www.jstor. org.

NEW: No more access information is necessary, other than your retrieval date. Only include the name of the database, and italicize. You’ll still need the date of access at the end of the entry:

Ex: Langhamer, Claire. “Love and Courtship in Mid-Twentieth-Century England.” Historical Journal 50.1 (2007): 173-96. ProQuest. Web. 27 May 2009.

Print or Web?

OLD: URLs were required when using web sources at the end of the entry:


NEW: URLS are no longer required. All web-based sources will simply state “Web” immediately before the date of access.

Ex: Junge, Wolfgang, and Nathan Nelson. “Nature’s Rotary Electromotors.” Science 29 Apr.  2005: 642-44. Science Online. Web. 5 Mar. 2009.

(*Note:  Some instructors argue that URLs are needed to more easily locate the web source; however, most web searchers now use search engines as opposed to typing in long, complicated URLs, which was the rationale for discontinuing their use. Always follow instructor preferences.  If your instructor requires the use of URLs, place in angle brackets after the date of access and break URLs only after slashes.)

Page Numbers and Publishing Information

OLD: When the only sources were print, page and publishing information were easily available. With the advent of the Web, publishing and page numbers aren’t as common.

NEW: Special abbreviations should be used to indicate page, date, or other information is not available. Use n.p. to indicate no publisher or publishing dates. Use n.d. when a Web page does not provide a publication date. When an entry requires that you provide a page but no pages are provided in the source (such as online-only resources), use the abbreviation n. pag.

Ex:      “Newborn Feeding.” Welcome to Gerber. Gerber Corporation. n.d. Web.  18 Oct. 2008.

Ex:      Dolby, Nadine. “Research in Youth Culture and Policy: Current Conditions and Future Directions.” Social Work and Society: The International Online-Only Journal 6.2 (2008): n. pag. Web. 20 May 2009.


With the rapid introduction of new technologies and the continued desire to simplify research, you can bet more changes are to come. But hold on to those old MLA Handbooks: I’ve heard the typewriter is making a comeback.


 (Some citation examples and other information taken from Purdue Online Writing Lab.)