(tl;dr: MLA 8 makes some major changes, but they’re great and you should love them.)

WHY

When style guides were created writers used print sources almost exclusively. As types of sources have increased, so has the complexity of style guides. The 7th edition of MLA Guide for Writers of Research Papers weighed in at nearly 300 pages and was—frankly—woefully inadequate for citing 21st century media.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Associate Executive Director and Director of Scholarly Communication for MLA, puts it another way:

Writers need to know how to cite an ebook, how to cite a tweet, how to cite an Instagram image, how to cite — no, seriously, my office actually received this inquiry — a book that a player reads within the action of a video game. At some point, the process of developing and disseminating all of these citation formats runs the risk of creating a map that is larger and more complex than the terrain through which it attempts to guide writers and readers. And this is the point at which academic writers understandably begin to grumble about citations being outdated and unnecessary anyhow.

MLA 8 is a slim, trim 160 pages and takes a rather bold new approach to citation.

HOW

MLA 8 Core Elements

Core Elements of MLA 8

Instead of following a rigid formula, writers are asked to consider the source and apply a source-neutral method the MLA calls its “core elements” (“What’s New”).

The idea is that writers will be able to format any citation—regardless of the media source—for years to come. This allows some flexibility for authors and greater success for readers (and graders!) following citations and tracking down sources.

MAJOR KEYS IN MLA 8

🔑        One format for all sources–whether scholarly article or tweet.

🔑        URLs are back in. Where the 7th edition chopped the URL, MLA 8 asks for its inclusion.

🔑        No more city names for publishers.

🔑        You may cite an author’s pseudonym. This is especially important for social media sources.

WHY THIS IS EXCITING

This citation update requires more thinking from the writer. Rather than routinely following a prescribed formula in a book, students will be forced to wrestle with sources and—ideally—consider whether the “container” indicates that the source is reliable and scholarly.

FURTHER READING

MLA Style Center An excellent online resource for teachers and students alike

“MLA Eighth Edition: What’s New and Different” from Purdue OWL

“Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty” by MLA

“What’s New in the Eighth Edition” by MLA

“Shifting into 8th (On MLA’s new edition)” by Joyce Valenza from School Library Journal 

“The Future of Academic Style: Why Citations Still Matter in the Age of Google” by Kathleen Fitzpatrick in Los Angeles Review of Books

“MLA 7 vs. MLA 8” from EasyBib