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About the MLA Style

List of 7 frequently asked questions.

  • Q: Should I use underlining or italics?

    Most word-processing programs and computer printers permit the reproduction of italic type. In material that will be graded or edited for publication, however, the type style of every letter and punctuation mark must be easily recognizable. Italic type is sometimes not distinctive enough for this purpose. In printed material submitted for grading and editing, therefore, words that would be italicized in a publication are usually underlined to avoid ambiguity. If you wish to use italics rather than underlining, check your instructor’s or editor’s preferences. When preparing a manuscript for electronic publication, consult your editor on how to represent italicization.
  • Q: How many spaces should I leave after a period or other concluding mark of punctuation?

    Publications in the United States today usually have the same spacing after a punctuation mark as between words on the same line. Since word processors make available the same fonts used by typesetters for printed works, many writers, influenced by the look of typeset publications, now leave only one space after a concluding punctuation mark. In addition, most publishers’ guidelines for preparing a manuscript on disk ask authors to type only the spaces that are to appear in print.

    Because it is increasingly common for papers and manuscripts to be prepared with a single space after all punctuation marks, this spacing is shown in the examples in the MLA Handbook and the MLA Style Manual. As a practical matter, however, there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor or editor requests that you do otherwise.
  • Q: How do I document sources from the World Wide Web in my works-cited list?

    The MLA guidelines on documenting online sources are explained in detail in the fifth edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (1999) and in the second edition of the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (1998). What follows here is a summary of the guidelines that cover the World Wide Web. For the complete MLA recommendations on Web sources, please see one of the books mentioned above.

    Sources on the World Wide Web that students and scholars use in their research include scholarly projects, reference databases, the texts of books, articles in periodicals, and professional and personal sites. Entries in a works-cited list for such sources contain as many items from the list below as are relevant and available. Following this list are sample entries for some common kinds of Web sources.

    1. Name of the author, editor, compiler, or translator of the source (if available and relevant), reversed for alphabetizing and followed by an abbreviation, such as ed., if appropriate 2. Title of a poem, short story, article, or similar short work within a scholarly project, database, or periodical (in quotation marks); or title of a posting to a discussion list or forum (taken from the subject line and put in quotation marks), followed by the description Online posting 3. Title of a book (underlined [Should I use underlining or italics?]) 4. Name of the editor, compiler, or translator of the text (if relevant and if not cited earlier), preceded by the appropriate abbreviation, such as Ed. 5. Publication information for any print version of the source 6. Title of the scholarly project, database, periodical, or professional or personal site (underlined [Should I use underlining or italics?]); or, for a professional or personal site with no title, a description such as Home page 7. Name of the editor of the scholarly project or database (if available) 8. Version number of the source (if not part of the title) or, for a journal, the volume number, issue number, or other identifying number 9. Date of electronic publication, of the latest update, or of posting 10. For a work from a subscription service, the name of the service and–if a library is the subscriber–the name and city (and state abbreviation, if necessary) of the library 11. For a posting to a discussion list or forum, the name of the list or forum 12. The number range or total number of pages, paragraphs, or other sections, if they are numbered 13. Name of any institution or organization sponsoring or associated with the Web site 14. Date when the researcher accessed the source 15. Electronic address, or URL, of the source (in angle brackets); or, for a subscription service, the URL of the service’s main page (if known) or the keyword assigned by the service

    Scholarly Project

    Victorian Women Writers Project. Ed. Perry

    Willett. Apr. 1997. Indiana U. 26 Apr. 1997

    <http://www.indiana.edu/~letrs/vwwp/>.

    Professional Site

    Portuguese Language Page. U of Chicago. 1 May

    1997 <http://humanities.uchicago.edu/ romance/port/>.

    Personal Site

    Lancashire, Ian. Home page. 1 May 1997 <http:// www.chass.utoronto.ca:8080/~ian/ index.html>.

    Book

    Nesbit, E[dith]. Ballads and Lyrics of

    Socialism. London, 1908. Victorian Women

    Writers Project. Ed. Perry Willett. Apr.

    1997. Indiana U. 26 Apr. 1997 <http:// www.indiana.edu/~letrs/vwwp/nesbit/ ballsoc.html>.

    Poem

    Nesbit, E[dith]. “Marching Song.” Ballads and

    Lyrics of Socialism. London, 1908.

    Victorian Women Writers Project. Ed. Perry

    Willett. Apr. 1997. Indiana U. 26 Apr. 1997

    <http://www.indiana.edu/~letrs/vwwp/nesbit/ ballsoc.html#p9>.

    Article in a Reference Database

    “Fresco.” Britannica Online. Vers. 97.1.1. Mar.

    1997. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 29 Mar.

    1997 <http://www.eb.com:180>.

    Article in a Journal

    Flannagan, Roy. “Reflections on Milton and

    Ariosto.” Early Modern Literary Studies

    2.3 (1996): 16 pars. 22 Feb. 1997 <http:// unixg.ubc.ca:7001/O/e-sources/emls/02-3/ flanmilt.html>.

    Article in a Magazine

    Landsburg, Steven E. “Who Shall Inherit the

    Earth?” Slate 1 May 1997. 2 May 1997

    <http://www.slate.com/Economics/97-05-01/ Economics.asp>.

    Work from a Subscription Service

    Koretz, Gene. “Economic Trends: Uh-Oh, Warm

    Water.” Business Week 21 July 1997: 22.

    Electric Lib. Sam Barlow High School Lib.,

    Gresham, OR. 17 Oct. 1997 <http:// www.elibrary.com/>.

    “Table Tennis.” Compton’s Encyclopedia Online.

    Vers. 2.0. 1997. America Online. 4 July

    1998. Keyword: Compton’s.

    Posting to a Discussion List

    Merrian, Joanne. “Spinoff: Monsterpiece

    Theatre.” Online posting. 30 Apr. 1994.

    Shaksper: The Global Electronic Shakespeare

    Conf. 27 Aug. 1997 <http://www.arts.ubc.ca/ english/iemls/shak/MONSTERP_SPINOFF.txt>.

    In parenthetical references in the text, works on the World Wide Web are cited just like printed works. For any type of source, you must include information in your text that directs readers to the correct entry in the works-cited list (see the MLA Handbook, sec. 5.2). Web documents generally do not have fixed page numbers or any kind of section numbering. If your source lacks numbering, you have to omit numbers from your parenthetical references.

    If your source includes fixed page numbers or section numbering (such as numbering of paragraphs), cite the relevant numbers. Give the appropriate abbreviation before the numbers: “(Moulthrop, pars. 19-20).” (Pars. is the abbreviation for paragraphs. Common abbreviations are listed in the MLA Handbook, sec. 6.4.) For a document on the Web, the page numbers of a printout should normally not be cited, because the pagination may vary in different printouts.
  • Q: Why does the MLA recommend putting angle brackets around URLs in the works-cited list?

    When special symbols are placed before and after a URL (Internet address), readers are always certain about where it begins and ends. A URL without such markers could be misread, for several reasons. URLs may contain letters, numbers, and other marks used in documentation, including periods. A long URL may have to be divided at the end of the line in your text and continued on a new line, but no hyphen or other mark of division should be inserted at the break. Finally, in a works-cited list a URL is usually directly followed by the entry’s final period, which is not part of the URL.

    Angle brackets have been widely used to surround URLs and are recognized for this purpose by the Internet Engineering Task Force, a standards body for the Web. (See appendix E in this organization’s Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI): Generic Syntax.)
  • Q: My word processor omits angle brackets and turns URLs into links in my works-cited list. Is that OK?

    Some recent versions of word processors automatically turn network and e-mail addresses into hyperlinks, regardless of the document’s intended use. Hyperlinks may be useful for documents that are read on-screen. When a document is printed, however, the linking has no purpose. A research paper or manuscript that will be printed should be free of the irrelevant effects of hyperlinks.

    In Word 97 and Word 2000 you can turn off automatic hyperlinking by going to the menu “Tools” and choosing “AutoCorrect.” Then click on the tab “AutoFormat As You Type,” and remove the check mark next to “Internet and network paths with hyperlinks.” Alternatively, you can leave this function on but remove hyperlinking from each URL individually, by clicking with the right mouse button on the URL to bring up a shortcut menu. From this menu in Word 97, choose “Hyperlink” and then “Edit Hyperlink,” and click on the button “Remove Link”; in Word 2000, choose “Hyperlink” and then “Remove Hyperlink.” In Word 98 for the Macintosh, turn off automatic hyperlinking as described above. To remove hyperlinking from an individual URL in Word 98, highlight the URL, choose “Hyperlink” from the menu “Insert,” and click on the button “Remove Link.”
  • Q: I am using a source on the World Wide Web that has no page numbers. How do I cite it?

    In parenthetical references in the text, works on the World Wide Web are cited just like printed works. For any type of source, you must include information in your text that directs readers to the correct entry in the works-cited list (see the MLA Handbook, sec. 5.2). Web documents generally do not have fixed page numbers or any kind of section numbering. If your source lacks numbering, you have to omit numbers from your parenthetical references.

    If your source includes fixed page numbers or section numbering (such as numbering of paragraphs), cite the relevant numbers. Give the appropriate abbreviation before the numbers: “(Moulthrop, pars. 19-20).” (Pars. is the abbreviation for paragraphs. Common abbreviations are listed in the MLA Handbook, sec. 6.4.) For a document on the Web, the page numbers of a printout should normally not be cited, because the pagination may vary in different printouts.

    For more information, see Citing Electronic Sources.
  • Q: What is the difference between the MLA Handbook and the MLA Style Manual?

    The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is aimed at high school and undergraduate students. It contains chapters on preparing, writing, and formatting the research paper. The MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing is aimed at graduate students, scholars, and professional writers. It contains chapters on common practices among these groups and on legal issues in scholarly publishing. Each book also offers chapters on topics common to both student and scholarly writing–such as the mechanics of writing and the documentation of sources–but the discussion in each is appropriate to the intended audience. Both books fully explain MLA style.

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