The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers

13 12 2012

The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (1977; 7th ed., 2009) is a publication of the Modern Language Association of America, based on The MLA Style Manual (3rd ed., 2008). According to the MLA, since its first publication in 1985, the MLA Style Manual has been “the standard guide for graduate students, scholars, and professional writers” (“What Is MLA Style?”).

Like the MLA Style Manual, the MLA Handbook is an academic style guide widely used in the United StatesCanada, and other countries, providing guidelines for writing and documentation of research in the humanities, such as English studies (including the English languagewriting, and literaturewritten in English); the study of other modern languages and literatures, including comparative literatureliterary criticismmedia studiescultural studies; and related disciplines (“What Is MLA Style?”). Released in March 2009, the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook (like its previous editions) is addressed primarily to secondary-school and undergraduate college and university teachers and students (“What Is MLA Style?”). According to the MLA, “For over half a century, the MLA Handbook is the guide millions of writers have relied on,” and “It provides an authoritative presentation of MLA documentation style for use in student writing.”

According to the MLA book catalogue description and other information accessible from its website:

Widely adopted by universities, colleges, and secondary schools, the MLA Handbook gives step-by-step advice on every aspect of writing research papers, from selecting a topic to submitting the completed paper.
The seventh edition is a comprehensive, up-to-date guide to research and writing in the online environment. It provides an authoritative update of MLA documentation style for use in student writing, including simplified guidelines for citing works published on the Web and new recommendations for citing several kinds of works, such as digital files and graphic narratives.
Every copy of the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook comes with a code for accessing the accompanying Web site (

In addition to “Works Cited”, MLA style also provides other possible options for bibliographies, such as more-selective lists headed “Selected Bibliography” or “Works Consulted”.

In-text citations can vary depending on how many sources were used in the body of text. For example, if multiple sources are used in the paragraph, brief “Author-title” parenthetical citations, including the name or names of author(s) and/or short titles (as needed) and numbers of pages (as applicable), are used within the text. These are keyed to and direct readers to a work or works by author(s) or editor(s) and sometimes titles (if the works are anonymous), as they are presented on the list of works cited (in alphabetical order), and the page(s) of the item where the information is located (e.g. (Smith 107)refers the reader to page 107 of the cited work by an author whose surname is Smith). If there are more than one author of the same name and/or more than one title of works by that author or authors being cited, then a first name or initial and/or titles or short titles are also used within the text’s parenthetical references to avoid ambiguity. (No “p.” or “pp.” prefaces the page numbers and main words in titles appear in capital letters, following MLA style guidelines.). However, if the entire paragraph is using only one source, the full citation of the source may be listed at the conclusion of the paragraph. There is no need for a complete bibliography at the end if this method is used. If multiple sources are cited within the paragraph, the full citations must be included in the list of “Works Cited.”

To cite a work within an article, paper, or book, one inserts the author’s name in an introductory phrase and then within parentheses inserts the page number of the work in which the information appears. For example:

In his final study, Lopez said that the response “far exceeded our expectations” (253).

Complete information about the publication by Lopez is listed alphabetically in the “Works Cited.”

If the author is not mentioned in an introductory phrase, the author’s name, followed by the page number, must appear in parentheses. Example:

The habits of England’s workers changed dramatically during the Industrial Revolution (Hodgkinson 81).

When citing an entire work, or one without page numbers (or only one page), one writes only the author’s name in parentheses.

If the whole paragraph references only one source, write the full citation on the next line.

The “Works Cited” (bibliography) may contain more than one work by an author. If the text preceding the citation does not specify the title of the work, there is a comma after the author’s name followed by a shortened version of the title in question (or the entire title if it is short) and the page number. Such a short title may include the first significant word or words of the title:

Securing its communications through the Suez Canal was Britain’s overriding aim (Smith, Islam 71).

with the title italicized for a book or within quotation marks for an essay, a poem, or a speech, as appropriate.

In the “Works Cited” or bibliography, three short dashes (––– if word processed; hyphens [—] when typed) are used when the author or authors’ name is the same in subsequent works being listed.

These in-text parenthetical citations guide the reader to the pertinent entries in the attached list of “Works Cited”:

Hodgkinson, Tom. How to Be Idle. New York: Harper, 2005. Print.

Smith, Charles D. “The ‘Crisis of Orientation’: The Shift of Egyptian Intellectuals to Islamic Subjects in the 1930’s.” International Jour. of Middle East Studies 4.4 (1973): 382–410. Print.

–––. Islam and the Search for Social Order in Modern Egypt: A Biography of Muhammad Husayn Haykal. Albany: State U of New York P, 1983. Print.

In composing “content notes” (formatted as either footnotes or endnotes), one is directed to “avoid lengthy discussions that divert the reader’s attention from the primary text” and advised: “In general, comments that [one] cannot fit into the text should be omitted unless they provide essential justification or clarification of what [one has] written” (MLA Style Manual 259). “[One] may use a note, for example, to give full publication facts for an original source for which [one cites] an indirect source” (MLA Style Manual 259). MLA style “content notes” use the same method of “Parenthetical Documentation and the List of Works Cited,” with sources keyed to the list of “Works Cited”, discussed in Section 7: “Documentation: Citing Sources in the Text” (MLA Style Manual 240–60).




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