Heads up: MLA – the Modern Language Association – is about to release the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook.
The MLA site says it will be available some time in April, but warns that the online version of the 7th edition will not be available after 31 March. Amazon.com, the American warehouse, gives a release date of March 14, 2016 (four days ago at time of writing) – but also states “This title has not yet been released.” Amazon.co.uk, the British warehouse, gives a release date of 30 April 2016.
Two things catch the eye immediately, the subtitle and the price.
The Amazon US site carries no sub-title at all.
The Amazon UK site gives the title as “MLA Handbook: Rethinking Documentation for the Digital Age (Mla Handbook for Writers of Research Ppapers).” Ignoring the typo and the punctuation of the bracketed instance of MLA, we see what is possibly a new approach: “rethinking documentation…“.
This notion of a new approach is borne out in the price, $11.42 in US and £10.50 in UK. That compares with $16.79 and £18.50 respectively for the still available 7th edition.
It is not necessarily generosity behind the reduction in price for the new edition. The 8th edition is 145 pages against the 292 pages of the 7th edition – the new edition is half the length of the current version!
Again, no word on the MLA site, but the blurb on the Amazon sites suggests how the reduction in length has been achieved:
Previous editions of the MLA Handbook provided separate instructions for each format, and additional instructions were required for new formats. In this groundbreaking new edition of its best-selling handbook, the MLA recommends instead one universal set of guidelines, which writers can apply to any type of source.
Radical rethinking, which might – or might not – make life easier for those students who find compiling references tedious, boring and perhaps even pointless.
Exactly what the new approach and the changes will entail remains unknown for the moment. We must wait for publication or publicity before we know.
I recall the consternation when the 7th edition was published. Questions included, Will we be expected to use it immediately? Will students be expected to use it immediately? Will examiners know of and be aware of the changes?
And changes there were. Among the biggest of the changes was the dropping of the requirement to include a URL when referencing websites; MLA7 made the requirement optional, arguing that since SEARCH was so much better than when earlier editions were published, statement of URLs was unnecessary and sometimes pointless, given the volatility and instability of many web page addresses.
That caused further consternation in academia. The International Baccalaureate (IB), for one, decreed that regardless of the advice given in any style guide, web addresses would (still) be required for material found online. Consternation and confusion – although perfectly acceptable: many style guides allow for flexibility and local or institutional requirements to adapt the recommended style. Such style guides are not set in stone.
Similarly the IB. As long as the minimum requirements for referencing sources are met, IB’s main concerns are the completeness of the reference and consistency of formatting. Any style is acceptable. Accurate formatting is NOT required – a wise consideration given that there are more than 6000 bibliographic referencing styles in use around the world (source: Endnote Output Styles), and students are not required to state which style they are using.
Has MLA gone the same way? That blurb again:
… the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook guides writers through the principles behind evaluating sources for their research. It then shows them how to cite sources in their writing and create useful entries for the works-cited list.
It is that notion, “create useful entries for the works-cited list” which excites me. It is the very rationale behind this blog. Citation and referencing are NOT, should not be, tedious, boring and pointless exercises. If our students find them so, then perhaps we are teaching in the wrong way, perhaps even teaching the wrong things? We surely do when we teach that the main purpose of citing and referencing is to avoid plagiarism?
That subtitle is intriguing: Rethinking Documentation for the Digital Age. How closely will this align with my own principles of (academic) writing :
Be honest: say what is your own and indicate clearly what is not your own, say where you got it from.
Be helpful: each element of a reference serves a purpose to help the reader know the who, when, what, where and how of your source; give as many details as necessary and as possible to help the reader track down the exact same source. *
Be consistent: record these details in consistent fashion, the better to help the reader understand the reference.
I suspect that, on publication, the 8th edition of the MLA handbook will endorse these notions wholesale. (How accurate a prediction this is, we shall soon see.)
As for those concerned questions when the 7th edition was published, raised again when the 6th edition of the APA Publications was published not long after, for IB assessments it should not matter. Completeness and consistency are key, not notional accuracy. Be honest, be helpful, be consistent. This should hold for MLA8 as well. Be honest, be helpful, be consistent.
There is a footnote to add, regarding the IB’s minimum requirements. It’s a long footnote, a post in itself. That is a blog post in the pipeline.
* Additional information in the citation in the text can help the reader even more. For example, stating the qualifications or other credentials of an author whose work you are using can lend authority and credibility to your statement. But this is a matter of writing and writing style rather than of citation (and referencing) pure.