What's New in the MLA 8th Edition?

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Evolving Formats of Document Citation

 The Modern Language Association (MLA) recently released the 8th edition of their style guide, which revises their previous standards to consider the changing needs of our digital age. In short, the prevalence of Internet sources is changing the way all sources are cited in MLA. In MLA 8, the citation process is streamlined, shifting the focus of Works Cited entries from the publication medium in which they’re produced to citing simple elements common to most sources.

Key Changes in MLA's 8th Edition

  • A single, standard citation format applicable to every source type. Previously, MLA citation format was based on the type of source being cited. Newspaper citations were formatted differently than book chapters and both were formatted differently if accessed via the web rather than in print. MLA 8 recognizes that the fluid nature of information availability and access fueled by the web makes individual citation formats unfeasible, so now there is one universal format for all source types.
  • Citations now include "containers." Just like it sounds, "containers" are what "hold" the source information. For example, if you read a short story in an anthology, the anthology is the container. Likewise, if you watch a television show on Hulu, Hulu is the container. In each instance, you should include the title of the source (the short story or television show) and its container (the anthology title or Hulu) in the citation.
  • The abbreviations, "vol." and "no." have been added to magazine and journal article citations to more clearly differentiate between volume and issue numbers.
  • MLA 8, like some of MLA’s previous editions, recommends the inclusion of URLs (web addresses) in citations. If your source provides a “permalink” or stable URL, or if it is associated with a digital object identifier (DOI), these should used in place of the general URL in your citation.
  • What has not changed? The overall principles of citing and plagiarism remain unchanged as do the use and format of in-text citations. Furthermore, the general rules for formatting an MLA style research paper remain unchanged.
    • Note: Inclusion of indicators such as “n.pg.” when your source lacks page numbers are no longer necessary. 

The Core Elements of MLA 8

MLA's 8th edition constructs Works Cited entries based on a set of simple core elements found in most source types, both digital and print. If a given element is not relevant to the type of source you're citing (e.g. page numbers on a web page) it should be omitted from your Works Cited entry. Each element is followed by the punctuation mark shown below, and the last element should be followed by a period.

(1)Author. (2)Title of Source. (3)Title of Container, (4)Other Contributors, (5)Version, (6)Number, (7)Publisher, (8)Publication Date, (9)Location.

(1) Author

The term "author" spans a range of possibilities in MLA 8. It refers to the person or group primarily responsible for producing the work or the aspect of the work you focus on in your research. The individual who fits the author role for your Works Cited entry, then, may actually be an editor, translator, performer, creator, adapter, director, illustrator, or narrator. The key question to consider when determining whom to list as your author is: "Who or what aspect in this work am I focusing on in my discussion?"

When a work has one author, begin the entry with the author's last name, followed by a comma and the rest of the name, followed by a period.

Greengard, Samuel. The Internet of Things. MIT, 2015.
Baron, Naomi S. “Redefining Reading: The Impact of Digital Communication Media.” PMLA, vol. 128, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 193-200.
Selby, Jan and Clemens Hoffman. Divided Environments: Rethinking Water Security, Climate Change and Conflict. Tauris, 2014.

If your source has three or more authors, include only the first name that appears followed by a comma and “et al.”

Burdick, Anne, et al. Digital_Humanities. MIT P, 2012.


Other "Authors"

As mentioned above, the contributor who fits the author role may not be the one responsible for writing the source content. For example, if you're discussing the choices made by a team of editors regarding what to include in an anthology, collection, or reader, you would list the editors in the author position as in the example below:

Mennuti, Rosemary B., et al., editors. Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions: A Handbook for Practice. Routledge, 2006.

Similarly when discussing works in translation, the author will depend on whether you're discussing the translation itself (in which case you would list the translator in the author position) or the actual work (in which case the translators appear as "Other Contributors"). Media productions such as film and television will also require creative consideration of the author element. Again, the person or people who fill the author role will depend on the aspect of media on which you focus in your research. If you're discussing Sarah Michelle Gellar's performance as Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you would list “Gellar, Sarah Michelle, performer” in the author element, but if you’re discussing the same television show as part of Joss Whedon's body of creative work, you would cite “Whedon, Joss, creator” as your author. Lastly, if you're writing about the series in general without focusing on its creator or a particular actor, you would exclude the author element and begin your entry with the title of the show or episode. 

Pseudonyms and online usernames or "handles" also fill the author element; however, the term, "author," does not have to refer to a person. Corporate authors such as government agencies or other organizations may have produced your source. In such cases, you would list that entity as your author.

Lastly, if a source does not include or refer to an author, simply skip the author element. Do not list the author as "Anonymous."


(2) Title of Source

The next element of your Works Cited entry is the title of your source. Include the full source title and any subtitles using a colon to separate the two and standard title capitalization. MLA 8 continues the practice of placing shorter works or parts of longer works such as book chapters, articles, and web pages in quotation marks while titles of longer, or "self contained," works such as whole books or web sites should be italicized. Likewise, titles of "container" works such as journals, magazines, and anthologies should be italicized. 

Variant Title Forms

If your source is untitled, provide a description, neither italicized nor in quotation marks, to fill the title element. Use sentence rather than title capitalization as in the example below:

Mackintosh, Charles Rennie. Chair of stained oak. 1897-1900, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Your description might contain the title of another work if it's commenting on or responding to that work. This will be the case if you wish to use comments on a blog post or other such interactions as sources as in this example:

Jeane. Comment on "The Reading Brain: Differences between Digital and Print." So Many Books, 25 Apr. 2013, 10:30 p.m., somanybooksblog.com/2013/04/25/the-reading-brain-differences-between-digital-and-print/#comment-83030.

Short untitled messages, such as Tweets, are cited by typing the full text of the message, without any changes, in the title element, enclosed in quotation marks.

@persiankiwi. "We have report of large street battles in east & west of Tehran now - #Iranelection." Twitter, 23 June 2009, 11:15 a.m., twitter.com/persionkiwi/status/2298106072.

To document an email, use the subject line as the title, and enclose it in quotation marks.

Boyle, Anthony T. "Re: Utopia." received by Daniel J. Cahill, 21 June 1997.


(3) Title of Container

If your source forms only a part of a larger whole, then that larger whole is considered the "container" that holds the source. The container title is usually italicized and it may be a book that is part of a larger collection, a periodical like a journal (as in the example below) or magazine, a television series, or a web site, among other things.

Arabian, Soheila, and Vida Rahiminezhad. Review of Americanah, “Journey and Return: Visiting Unbelonging and Otherness in Adichie’s Americanah.” Journal of UMP Social Sciences and Technology Management, vol. 3, no. 3, 2015, pp. 536-41.


"Nested" Containers

Sources often have more than one container, each smaller container "nested" within a larger one. This is often the case especially with online sources. Perhaps you located your journal article through JSTOR, read a book of short stories on Google Books, or watched a television show through Netflix. Each of these instances is an example of a source held by multiple containers. In your Works Cited, you should attempt to account for all the containers enclosing your source. To do this, you will simply add the core elements 3-9 (Title of Container through Location), omitting irrelevant or unavailable elements, to the end of the entry until all additional containers are accounted for.

Pavienko, Sonia, and Christina Bojan. “Exercising Democracy in Universities: The Gap between Words and Actions.” AUDEM: The International Journal of Higher Education and Democracy, vol. 4, 2015, pp. 26-37. Project Muse, muse.jhu.edu/article/557647.

In the above example, the first container is the journal, AUDEM, and the second is the journal database, Project Muse. Since the location is the last element in the first container, it is followed by a period. You'll note that, especially in the second container, many of the core elements are missing. Indeed, we only have the title and location for the second container, and this is fine. As noted above, simply omit those elements that are irrelevant to the container you're working with.

(4) Other Contributors

Like the author element, other contributors encompass a wide range of possible roles. These are some of the most common descriptions you will use for this element: 

  • adapted by
  • directed by
  • edited by
  • illustrated by
  • introduction by
  • narrated by
  • performance by
  • translated by
Chartier, Roger. The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries. translated by Lydia G. Cochrane, Stanford UP, 1994.

If your contributor can't be described by one of the above phrases, you can express the role as a noun followed by a comma. For example: general editor, or guest editor.

If a source has multiple contributors, as will often be the case with films and television shows, include the ones most relevant to your research. For example, if you're focusing on a particular episode of a television show as well as the performance of a key actor, you would cite your source as follows:

"Hush." Buffy the Vampire Slayer. created by Joss Whedon, performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar, season 4, episode 10, Mutant Enemy, 1999.


(5) Version

If your source indicates that it's one version of a work released in multiple forms, include reference to that version in your citation. Book editions will likely be the most common versions you'll find:

The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.
Miller, Casey, and Kate Swift. Words and Women. Updated ed., HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

Works in other media may also offer versions:

Scott, Ridley, director. Blade Runner. 1982. Performance by Harrison Ford, director's cut, Warner Bros., 1992.


(6) Number

If your source is part of a numbered sequence, like a volume in a collection of books or a journal, indicate the volume number: 

Gustafsson, Amanda. "Beware the Invisible." Papers from the Institute of Archeology, vol. 20, 2010, www.pia-journal.co.uk/articles/10.5334/pia.343/.

Often in the case of journals and other periodicals, issues are not only in volumes but also in numbers:

Baron, Naomi S. "Redefining Reading: The Impact of Digital Communication Media." PMLA, vol. 128, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 193-200.

Television series are also typically numbered by season and episode:

"Hush." Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar, season 4, episode 10, Mutant Enemy, 1999.


(7) Publisher

Publishers are the organizations primarily responsible for making a work available to the public. If your source lists more than one publisher, and they seem to be given equal importance, list them both, separated by a forward slash (/).

Films and television series are often produced by multiple companies, so you should cite the organization primarily responsible for producing it. Web sites, also, are often associated with multiple companies or organizations, but the key publisher's name can often be found at the bottom of the home page or on the "About" page if one is available on the site. Below are a few examples of the different types of publishers you might cite in your Works Cited list.

Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford UP, 2001.
Gogh, Vincent van. Cypresses. European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437980.


(8) Publication Date

Sources may be associated with more than one publication date, especially those published online. When you have multiple dates associated with your source, cite the one that is most meaningful or relevant to your research. If you consult a work online that is also available in print, the only date you should concern yourself with is the online publication date, since you did not consult the print source. For the most part, the amount of information you provide for your date should depend on the amount given in your source. If your source lists month, day, year, and time, you should include all of these elements in your citation.

Wheaton, Wil. “Hello, World.” WIL WHEATON Dot NET, 30 Sept. 2015, wilwheaton.net/2015/09/hello-world/.

As with all other elements in MLA 8, the key to determining what date you include in your citation is the aspect of the source you're exploring as well as the version you consult in your research. Especially in the case of film and television, you will need to use the date most closely associated with the version you consult. For example, if you consult an episode of a television series via the DVD set, your entry would look like this:

"Hush." 1999. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season, created by Joss Whedon, performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar, episode 10, Twentieth Century Fox, 2003, disc 3.

Note in the above examples how the version of the television show being consulted also affects the title of the container and the Publisher in comparison to how this source is cited in earlier examples. You’ll also notice the date of original publication, 1999, after the episode title. This is an optional element you can include, especially on works of art or in citations for sources used in research discussing the historical elements of a source, and it should always be placed immediately following the source title.

(9) Location

How you specify your source's location depends on the medium of publication. Some sources will have page numbers, some will note. Some sources will have web addresses, some will have Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), and some will not. Additionally, physical objects, such as a piece of art viewed in a museum, will exist in actual, physical locations which you will need to specify in your Works Cited.

In a print source or a PDF that offers page numbers, use "p." to indicate a single page and "pp." to indicate a range of pages. Provide URLs, permalinks, or DOIs for web sources unless your instructor prefers you leave these out. If you're citing a DVD or CD set, indicate the disc number in the location element. If you're viewing a physical object, such as a piece of art, in person, indicate the physical location of the piece (i.e. Museum of Modern Art, New York). Below are examples of each of these types of locations.

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. "On Monday of Last Week." The Thing around Your Neck, Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, pp. 74-94.
Visualizing Emancipation. Directed by Scott Nesbit and Edward Ayers, dsl.richmond.edu/emancipation/.
"Hush." Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season, created by Joss Whedon, performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar, episode 10, WB Television Network, 2003, disc 3.
Bearden, Romare. The Train. 1975, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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