MLA Update 2009

I’m teaching “Writing about Literature” this fall, so I should be up on the new changes in MLA format.  (Via the Reeves Library blog.)

I like some of the changes in MLA 2009, including labeling the source of a publication (“Web” or “Print” or “DVD” or the like) and standardizing italics instead of underlining (which has become strongly associated with web hyperlinks).

I have mixed feelings about the de-emphasis of the URL, though, since it formulates the omission of information that could be very useful to future scholars. Here is how the Purdue OWL puts it:

No More URLs! While website entries will still include authors, article names, and website names, when available, MLA no longer requires URLs. Writers are, however, encouraged to provide a URL if the citation information does not lead readers to easily find the source. —Purdue OWL

URLs from databases, which generally end up crammed full of soon-to-expire session IDs and irrelevant search terms, are useless in a bibliography, so I won’t miss them.

But URLs of static pages can be very useful, particularly if the paper is submitted electronically.  The MLA is still very backwards when we compare our bibliographic procedures with the disciplines of math or engineering, which long ago standardized citation methods, so that whole bodies of papers can be slurped up into a database and the resulting data massaged endlessly.

There might be several different pages in a blog that contain the same information — such as the blog home page, another page that shows entries from the last month, a category list that shows the last 20 entries, and the permalink. So, a scholar may “easily find the source” on the day he or she looks it up, but weeks or months or years later, that same page may only appear in the static date-based archives and in the permalink.

2 thoughts on “MLA Update 2009

  1. The idea is that an online journal or newspaper will already have a search engine or at least an issue index, so a reader can find the information that way. Of course, that doesn’t work so well for internet flotsam and jetsam. Most disciplines won’t bother citing that sort of stuff because it’s not a reliable secondary source, but when it’s your primary source, it’s very important to cite it. (And the new guidelines do leave some wiggle room, so we won’t be outside our boundaries if we ask students to include URLs anyway.)

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