What’s Important to Teach from the New MLA 8th?

new-picture-13The familiar MLA Handbook changed recently, taking a new approach to bibliographic citations. Are you prepared? In this installment of her column Adding Friction: How to Design Deliberate Thinking into the Research Process, Debbie Abilock tells you what you need to know about introducing MLA 8th to your students.

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The preface to the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook (MLA) argues that accurate citation is more important than ever. Writers owe their readers precise pointers to the sources they use since “documentation is the means through which scholarly conversations are recorded (MLA Handbook x).  Yet digital sources migrate, merge, and mutate. It has become increasingly difficult to identify “the” original—or if a copy is faithful. Nor is generic credit sufficient. Only precise documentation enables “a curious reader, viewer, or other user to track down your sources” and evaluate “whose work influenced yours” (MLA Handbook 126).

Hand in hand with this new emphasis on precision, the handbook proclaims new flexibility. Rather than continue MLA 7th’s prescriptive models which itemize distinctive citations for each source type, MLA 8th proposes a series of principles in Part 1 to guide writers in identifying the common elements (author, title, etc.) among sources, a framework which can accommodate future “modes of academic writing” (MLA Handbook xiii). MLA’s new mantra: capture the information available, rather than require information that is not. The result is Lego-like assembly of core content elements grouped into nested “containers” (e.g., a website, anthology, database aggregator, digital archive) that modularly build a “reliable data trail for future researchers” (MLA Handbook ix). Continue reading “What’s Important to Teach from the New MLA 8th?”