Thursday, May 22, 2014

The New and Improved Style Manuals

Several years ago, the Modern Language Association issued a new edition of the MLA Handbook. The handbook, now in its seventh edition, was revised to better suit academic writing and research in a digital environment. But even though students now regularly write papers that rely entirely on online sources and incorporate a variety of electronic media, not all have started using the new citation styles.  

Here are just a few of the key updates in the seventh edition: 
  • Citations for online sources do not need to include a URL. The rest of the citation provides enough information that the reader will be able to find the source through a search engine or database. Moreover, URLs are not necessarily stable; a link that worked at the time of writing may be dead before a reader sees it. 
  • For in-text citations from online sources like Web sites, there's no need to use a paragraph or section number in place of a page number, unless the source itself is already numbered. 
  • Now that students have an incredible variety of media at their disposal, making the medium of publication clear is important. Students should indicate whether the source was Print, Web, Radio, Television, DVD, Film, PDF, etc.
  • Computer keyboards have made it much easier to italicize than underline. Anything that used to be underlined, such as book titles, should now be italicized.
MLA has always been the preferred style for scholarly writing in the humanities, but since it also provides highly detailed information about using and citing a wide variety of material, it's also appropriate for projects in which students are likely to draw from both traditional and nontraditional sources (even Twitter). For a more complete list of the changes in the seventh edition, click here to download a PDF compiled by Bedford/St. Martin's. 

The APA Publication Manual was also recently revised and published in a sixth edition. Like MLA, APA style now better supports writers working with online sources. (Click here for a brief overview.) Students writing in education, business, psychology, and other social sciences are likely to find APA style more useful, as well as the format used in much of the source material they will encounter in their research. 

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