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MLA QUICK STUDY
Dr. Abel Scribe PhD - Fall 2007
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The MLA Quick Study is a concise guide to the basic features and essential rules of Modern Language Association (MLA) style. Based on the current sixth edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (2003), it is a companion guide to the MLA Style Sheet. While the Style Sheet focuses on the details, the Quick Study highlights those features that are trademarks of MLA style.
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MLA Quick Study Contents
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Documentation
A research paper threads its way into a dialogue among scholars. If the documentation is poor or incomplete this dialogue sputters and fails, becoming little more than noise. You must get this right.
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Page Formatting
MLA style has a distinctive title page and a simple set of rules to go with it.
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MLA Text Rules
MLA style merges into common English usage. But what is unique to MLA style, and what is common usage? There are five sets of rules that merit special attention. These cover MLA style: (1) abbreviations, (2) capitalization, (3) emphasis, (4) numbers, and (5) quotations.
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MLA Style Links:  MLA Guide Home Page | MLA Style (Crib) Sheet | MLA Quick Study PDF.
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Modern Language Association Style
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MLA Handbook     MLA style, as its name suggests, is widely used in the fields of modern literature. There are features of the style that make it especially suited for this use, especially for the sophisticated presentation of quotations and citations to literary works. However, it is (mostly) a very easy style to use, and a very easy style for most readers to interpret, even readers unfamiliar with the nuances of scholarly discourse. This makes it a good general purpose style to use when no style is specified. The MLA Handbook can be found in almost any college bookstore--and many other bookstores--in the reference section. You may check the current price and delivery of the MLA Handbook by clicking on this link to Amazon.com.
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Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: MLA, 2003.
Style has two meanings. It can refer to a style of expression, as for example, a story in the style of Ernest Hemingway. It can also refer to a style of presentation, as in the style of the Modern Language Association. This is the focus of the MLA Handbook, and the MLA Quick Study.
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Contents | MLA Style Sheet | Back to top
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Quick Study: MLA Documentation
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There are three basic styles of references: (1) author-date, (2) bibliography, and (3) note, in the form of endnotes and footnotes. MLA style uses the bibliography style, with text citations placed in parentheses (parenthetical citations) in author-page format. References and citations must correspond, that is, everything cited in the text must be referenced, and only the works cited are included in the reference list. MLA style offers a reminder of this correspondence by placing the reference list under the heading Works Cited.
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  The key question is: “Can the reader find the work cited?”
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References are composed of elements. These are: author, title, publication information, and Internet access information. Each element is followed by a period. MLA style follows these rules: spacer
  • Authors. The Works Cited are organized alphabetically by author. Therefore, the lead author’s name goes last name first. All other names follow in their normal order, following conventional usage for the conjunction and, and punctuation.
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  • Titles (Parts). Articles and chapters are parts of works or volumes. Titles of parts of works are capitalized (heading caps) and placed in quotes: “The Title of a Journal Article.”
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  • Titles (Volumes). Titles of books or the names of journals are capitalized (heading caps) and underlined or placed in italics: The Title of a Book or Journal, The Name of a Journal or Title of a Book.
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  • Publication Information (Books). MLA style, like other styles, introduces the publisher of a standalone volume (but not a journal) by first giving the place of publication, then the name of the publisher, followed by the year, New York: Artless Press.
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  • Publication Information (Periodicals). By convention (shared with other styles) no publisher is given for journals and other periodicals, the title or name of the journal is sufficient. This is followed by the publication information in the form: volume (date): page.
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  • Internet access. The date a sources is accessed is followed by the URL (uniform resource locator) enclosed in angle brackets, for example, 1 Apr. 2006 .
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    Example. The basic elements are found in a reference to a chapter in an anthology.
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    Watts, Alan. “The Art of Contemplation.” Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal.
    New York: Vintage Books, 1974. 179-96.
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    Example. An article in an online journal illustrates the elements in a reference to a periodical.
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    Barry, John M. "The Site of Origin of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Its Public Health Implications." Commentary.
    Journal of Translational Medicine 2.3 (20 Jan. 2004): 1-4. 18 Nov. 2005 <http://www.translational-medicine.com/content/2/1/3>.
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    MLA Rules
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  • Full Dates. Use international format---day month year. Abbreviate the month (Jan., Feb., Mar., Apr., May, June, July, Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec.).
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  • Heading Caps. Each word in a title is capitalized, except for articles (a, an, the), prepositions (against, between, in, of, to), conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet), and the infinitive to. This form of capitalization is used for headings and subheadings in many styles, and traditionally in newspapers where the term originated.
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  • Punctuation. Elements are followed by periods.
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  • Underline or Italics? Volume titles and journal names have traditionally been underlined in MLA style, but italics are perfectly acceptable. Be consistent.
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  • Volume.Number. Journals are published in volumes. Most journals number pages consecutively through the volume, each new issue picking up where the last left off. But many do not. References to these journals note the number in the volume in the form: volume.number.
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    Block Formats
    The block formats illustrate how references to various sources are composed. Additional information, such as the edition of a book (when other than the first) may be needed for some references.
  • Book: Author, First Middle. The Title of the Book or Volume. Xth ed. Trans. First M. Last. City: Publisher, 2006.
    Chapter:
    Author, First Middle, and First M. Coauthor. “Title of the Chapter.” Title of the Volume. Ed. First
    M. Last. City: Publisher, 2006. 123-56.
    Journal:
    Author, First M., First M. Coauthor, and Second M. Coauthor. “Title of the Journal Article.” Journal
    Name 10.3 (2006): 123-56.
    Newspaper: Author, First Middle. “Title of the Newspaper Article.” Name of the Newspaper 1 Apr. 2006: 123- 56.
    Paper: Writer, First Middle. “Title of the Paper or Dissertation.” Diss. Bogus U, 2006.
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    Abbreviations
    MLA style has a passion for abbreviation in references. For example:
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    Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.
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    “U of Chicago P” is typical. Aside from the unpleasant alliteration, this penchant for abbreviation serves little practical purpose and is often ignored. However, the MLA Handbook devotes an entire chapter to the subject.
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    Text Citations
    Ideas and direct quotes are cited in the text using parenthetical citations in the form: (Author page). The author or authors are cited by last name followed by the page if relevant or for a direct quote. For example, (Booth, Colomb, and Williams 123). There is no comma before the page number.
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    MLA style also uses a special or traditional citation for literary works. For example, the following passage is from the Merchant of Venice (MV). Shylock is speaking: “I’ll have my bond; speak not against my bond; I have sworn an oath that I will have my bond. . . .” MLA cites this (MV 3.3). Conventional notation might cite this (Merchant of Venice, act III, sc. iii). Be consistent. spacer
    Contents | MLA Style Sheet | Back to top
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    Quick Study: Page Format
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    MLA Style has a distinctive title/first text page; here is no separate title page. Everything is double-spaced in MLA style and block quotes are indented one full inch from the left margin. Another feature of the style is the penchant for underline in place of using italics. The page header/page number present the authors last name followed by page number. Otherwise, the page formatting is conventional.
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    MLA Page Format
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    Easy to Read? The goal of any research style is clarity of communication. "Effective writing depends as much on clarity and readability as on content" (Gibaldi 42). "Many editors will return your manuscript with no more than a brief glance if it does not meet journal specifications" (ASA 18). Apply the same standard to class papers.
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  • Binder? "Although a plastic folder or some other kind of binder may seem an attractive finishing touch, most instructors find such devices a nuisance in reading and commenting on a student's work" (Gibaldi 138). A staple or paperclip in the upper left corner works best.
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  • Fonts. The MLA Handbook is silent about fonts other than to advise you to "always choose a standard, easily readable typeface" (Gibaldi 104). Standard fonts include Arial, Helvetica, and Times Roman. Many styles recommend a large 12 point font for research papers.
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  • Indents. The standard indent is one-half inch. This applies to all indents: paragraphs, and hanging indents in references, except block quotes. The MLA Handbook instructs indenting block quotes one inch from the left margin (Gibaldi 110).
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  • Margins. MLA style requires one-inch margins on all four sides of a page. This applies to all pages, and the contents of all pages including footnotes, but excludes the page header and page number.
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  • Right Justification? "Do not justify the lines of your paper at the right margin" (Gibaldi 94). Hyphens introduced to break words and wrap lines can confuse a reader. Manuscripts submitted for publication usually use a "ragged right" margin for this reason.
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  • Spacing: Lines. "A research paper must be double-spaced throughout, including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited" (Gibaldi 133).
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  • Spacing: Punctuation. "Leave one space after a period or other concluding punctuation marks, unless your instructor prefers two spaces" (emphasis added; Gibaldi 133).
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  • No headings? The MLA Handbook offers no instructions for headings, claiming they are not needed, although authors publishing in PMLA employ them in about half the articles. One modest format uses roman numerals in brackets, centered on the page: [I], [II], [III], [IV], and so forth.
    Contents | MLA Style Sheet | Back to top
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    Quick Study: MLA Text Rules
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    The English language is not always clear on presentation. Research styles have developed their own rules in some areas as a consequence. These are often embedded with a style guide’s discussion of the more conventional rules of English usage. You have to study the familiar to ferret out what is unique to the style. There are five topics that merit special attention: some shared by other styles, some unique to MLA style.
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    Abbreviations
    There are two rules to note: (1) define acronyms, and (2) never use lowercase or Latin abbreviations in plain text.
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    Acronyms are letters representing words.
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  • Technically MLA is an initialism since each letter is pronounced separately, while NASA is a true acronym since it is pronounced as a word. Acronyms must be defined the first time they are used. For example, the Modern Language Association (MLA) produces its own style guide. This can also be written, “ the MLA (modern Language Association) produces a Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.”
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  • Acronyms should be used sparingly. Unless they are very familiar, like FBI or CIA, a reader can remember just a few in the course of a research paper. If many pages come between the first usage and subsequent usage, the reader can forget what the acronym stand for. It is prudent to give the full term and repeat the acronym a second time. The goal is to achieve clarity for the reader.
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    Lowercase abbreviations, and especially Latin abbreviations, are never used in a text.
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  • Latin abbreviations common in scholarly discourse include et al. (et alii, and others), e.g. (exampli gratia, for example), etc. (et cetera, and so forth), i.e. (id est, that is), and N.B. (nota bene, take careful note). These may be used only in references or inside parentheses in the text (e.g., like this). Otherwise, write out the English equivalent, for example, like this. spacer
  • The MLA Handbook devotes an entire short chapter to the artistry of abbreviation (chap. 7). Advanced students should study this.
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    Capitalization
    MLA style has its own rules for capitalizing headings and titles. “The rules for capitalizing titles are strict. In a title or a subtitle, capitalize the first word, the last word, and all principal words, including those that follow hyphens in compound terms” (Gibaldi 103). These are commonly referred to as heading caps. Do not capitalize the following unless they begin or end a title, or follow a colon:
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  • Articles: a, an, the.
  • Prepositions: against, between, in, of , to.
  • Conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet.
  • Infinitive: to.
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    Sentence capitalization capitalizes just the first word, the first word after a colon, and any proper nouns in a heading or title.
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    Emphasis
    Emphasis can be added to a word or phrase by placing it in italics or quotation marks. This is done only once, when the word or phrase is first introduced.
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  • Scare quotes is the term given to adding emphasis by placing a word or phrase in quotation marks. They indicate the phrase is being used ironically, or in a nonstandard sense.
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  • All other emphasis is added by placing a word or phrase in italics. Foreign words or special terms are also introduced by placing them in italics (the first time only).
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    Numbers as Words Numbers should be written out if you can do so in one or two words (Gibaldi 68). Otherwise, use arabic numerals. Write: one, five, twenty-one, one hundred, eighteen hundred, but write 5½, 101, 5,280.
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  • Compound numbers. Hyphenate compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine, compounds with a number as the first element (e.g., a five-fold increase), and the written form of fractions (e.g., one-half the audience).
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  • When numbers or a date are required to open a sentence, write them out. For example: “Five girls and 16 boys tried out for the varsity soccer team.” If you can, rewrite the sentence.
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  • Numbers & units. Do not mix numbers that are spelled out with symbols, write out the term for the symbols as well. For example, write: 45%, or forty-five percent; $20 or twenty dollars.
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  • Mixed numbers? Be consistent, do not mix numerals with written numbers when they refer to similar things. For example, “Only 10 of the 150 people on the tour (not ten of the 150 tourists) were willing to visit the city after the riot.”
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    Quotations
    Shorter quotes are placed in quotations marks. Longer quotes “more than four lines in your paper” are set off as block quotes (Gibaldi 110). Block quotes are continuously indented from the left margin one inch (most styles indent only one-half inch). Double space within (unless you are using block paragraph spacing), before, and after a block quote, as with the rest of the text. Do not place the quote inside quotation marks.
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    MLA style has special features for quoting prose, drama, and poetry. It also has both simple rules for editing quotations, and more complex rules for the sophisticated presentation of literary materials. These are best studied in the Handbook (Gibaldi sec. 3.7), or the MLA Style Sheet.
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    Contents | MLA Style Sheet | Back to top
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    MLA Quick Study - Fall 2007