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MLA Style Term Paper

Formatting the New MLA Style Paper: Digital Pith of the 8th Edition

With the 8th edition, the MLA Style has attained an unprecedented digital signature. Here is how the latest MLA style paper should be formatted.

The Modern Language Association formatting style has now released the eighth guide with a unique and unprecedented focus to the digital age. The manual provides a detailed formatting and citation guide for academic papers in the humanities and liberal arts. While most of the conventions (core elements) remain static since the first edition of the guide, the latest edition is unique in its focus on digitalized sources. The discussion below highlights the most significant of these changes, when formatting an MLA style paper.   

Retention of Core Elements

Several core elements or conventions have remained static through the eight editions of the MLA style. Whether in in-text citation or on the works cited page, these elements are mandatory for any MLA styled source. The elements include:

  • Author (surname followed by first name in full)
  • Title of the source (as either an individual publication or a component of a series)
  • Title of the container (if published as a part/component of a larger source such as a journal or series)
  • Other contributors besides the author, if any
  • Version of the publication
  • Number of the series of volume if published as a component of a larger source (i.e. journal issue and volume)
  • Publisher
  • Publication date (year of publication)
  • Location of the publishing office or publisher

Significantly, it is also important to note that the punctuation following each element listed above in critical in MLA, when formatting the works cited page. An MLA style paper, regardless of the edition, has very specific punctuation that always alternate between a full stop (.) and a comma (,). The full stop punctuation only follows the (a) author, (b) title of the source, and (c) location. The comma follows all the other elements of the source formatting, except the three followed by a full stop. As such, (a) container title, (b) contributors, (c) number, (d) publisher, (e) version, and (f) publication date are all followed by a comma.

Structural Outlay and Paper Format

Besides the core elements reviewed above, the MLA style paper has also retained its traditional paper format and outlay. Exclusively unique to the MLA style, is the absence of a title page, preferring to list the front-page content at the top-left corner of the first page followed by the introductory paragraph.  For the MLA paper, it is required that the paper:

  • Measures 8.5 by 11 inch (standard A4 dimensions)
  • Has a one-inch margin all around
  • Is double spaced in all pages and in all sections
  • Uses a legible font type most notably the Time New Roman font
  • Integrates italics and underlining styles for optimal legibility and format
  • Leaves only one blank space after any punctuation
  • A half-inch indention of the first sentence in a paragraph (can use the Tab key)
  • All page numbers are numbered progressively in Arabic numerals, and at the top-right header row half an inch from the top (although it might be omitted on the first page)
  • Has a header in the upper-right corner of the pages, half-inch from the top, and just before the page number (name of the student)
  • Endnotes, if any, come independently before a work cited page
  • An independent or separate works cited page (only listing all sources used)

Further, the first page of an MLA style paper provides several entries at the upper-left-hand corner, and which replace the need for a title page. The first entry on the first page of the paper, and before the introductory paragraph that immediately follows, are the element otherwise provided by a title page. As such, the first page of an MLA paper starts by identifying:

  • Student’s name
  • Instructor’s name
  • Name of the course
  • Date of submission

Digital Precedence in MLA  

Above the core elements and the conventional MLA style formatting, as noted in the introduction, one of the most notable features of the new MLA style guide is the incorporation of the digitalised sources. Given that almost all types of sources are now available or accessible online, MLA has incorporated a digital tracking component for all entries in the Works Cited Page. The ‘Works Cited Page’ of the MLA style paper, often referred to as the reference page in other formatting styles such as Harvard and APA, now acknowledges the arrival of the Digital Age.

Consequently, all traditional and new sources used in MLA now have a digital mapping or identity. The digital identity is primarily used to provide codes for online searches (to locate any of such sources), as well as to identify each source uniquely. Active links in the sources help a reader to simply click and follow through to a cited work, while still an MLA style paper. The following are examples of how the digital identity is engrained in the assorted MLA sources:

  • Online sources

The eighth MLA edition mandates that all online sources should be accompanied by active URLs. The URLs always denote the specific location of a source, and not its parent container (i.e. parent website). URLs are used to streamline the sources used for online identification and access, should a reader wish to review a source further.

  • Webpages

Use of webpages is now common in MLA. For a webpage entry in the Works Cited Page, the name of the webpage should be placed inside quotation marks, followed by the name of the parent website for the webpage (italicised), and then an active link for the webpage

  • Electronic Versions

Most containers, specifically peer-reviewed books and journals in such databases as JSTOR and Google books, have an electronic version of most sources. MLA now recommends the addition of URLs for such containers, with specific search mechanisms for the source in question. Most common sources with online versions include:

  • Works of art
  • Journal articles
  • Books
  • Presentations
  • Conference papers
  • Dictionary and reference books
  • Date of Access

Besides incorporating the URLs for sources available online, MLA now recommends addition of the date of access for any webpage used. The understanding behind the date of access is acknowledging that, unlike the traditional print-based publication, online publications often undergo changes in content, form, and location, progressively. Any citation should therefore be specific to the date accessed.

  • Matilda, Susan. “History of the Chinese Revolution.” Historicism, Accessed on 16 May 2019, at <www.historicism.com/china_history-revolutions.html>.
  • Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

All published sources, most notably books and journal articles, are now assigned a unique digital identifier (letters and numbers). The DOI helps in search, location, and identification of a source, even when the URL given may have changed since the time of access. Matilda, Susan. “History of the Chinese Revolution.” Historicism, Available at www.historicism.com/china_history-revolutions.html, DOI: 11.1181/rev.9981167.

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