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MLA Ninth Edition: What's New and Different

Note: This page reflects the latest version of the MLA Handbook (i.e., MLA 9), which released in April 2021. The equivalent resource for the older MLA 8 can be found here.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) updated its style manual in April 2021. The MLA Handbook is a living document hoping to meet the ever-changing needs of writers while creating uniform standards for documentation. By updating and clarifying these standards, MLA seeks to build trust in the information and ideas we share. By helping us express our ideas in a standard way in which varieties of readers can understand where we found our information and how we chose to express our own ideas, MLA hopes in an age of mistrust of information, we can use their standards to legitimize our writings. However, MLA continues to emphasize that these guidelines are simply that: guidelines. Specific circumstances, such as class formatting instructions, project demands, and additional relevant information, may give cause for appropriate deviation, something the MLA encourages.  

This 9th edition focuses on clarification, guidance, and expansion on MLA 8, an edition that featured extensive changes. The use of core elements for Works Cited was designed to be more user-friendly, with built-in flexibility that allows writers to cite their sources in ways that works best for their specific projects. MLA 9, however, provides more guidance and focus for those seeking it after the last update, especially warranted with emerging sources, digital and otherwise. While retaining the overhauled system of core elements for documentation of MLA 8, MLA 9 responds to feedback asking for clarification and expansion on the meaning of each category (1. Author, 2. Title of Source, 3. Title of Container, 4. Contributor, 5. Version, 6. Number, 7. Publisher, 8. Publication Date, 9. Location) in different contexts of documentation. 

 
Major Changes in the 9th Edition

While the rest of this overview will go into more detail regarding individual changes in this edition, the major changes are as follows:

  • More guidance on how to use MLA core elements to create a Works Cited list by explaining the definition of each element in different types of documents (it will not always be literal), where to find each element, and how to style it. The MLA 9 was designed so that the core element strategy will become even more accessible through more examples and explanations, such as how to use notes, websites, interviews, and YouTube videos. 
  • A deeper dive into in-text citations, a category many users expressed struggles with.
  • Reintroduction of MLA guidance on research papers, absent in MLA 8, with expanded instructions.
  • A new chapter on inclusive language.
  • Expanded guidelines on grammar mechanics.

Research Projects

After a brief, 1-edition reprieve, MLA 9 has reintroduced their guidelines for formatting a research paper. General formatting guidance has remained consistent from MLA 7 while this edition expands upon table, illustration, and list formatting. 

Grammar and Mechanics

Updates have been provided on spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and use of italics in prose. MLA 9 confirms that various spellings are acceptable but must be used consistently, except in quotations from another text. It also provides guidance on using plurals correctly. It provides in-depth examples of the correct and incorrect uses of commas, colons, dashes and parentheses, hyphens, apostrophes, and slashes. The chapter also asserts the use of italics for emphasis, word references, letters referred to as letters, and foreign words. Finally, MLA provides extensive examples of how to correctly format names of persons, organizations or groups, titles of works, and numbers into your writing. 

Inclusive Language

This new chapter on inclusive language recommends focusing on relevance, precision, respectfulness, thoughtfulness, and awareness of exclusionary pronouns, judgement, and offensive terms. Through these general principles, writers are encouraged to think critically about their language, contexts, and audiences. 

Plagiarism Guidance

This section focuses on recognizing and avoiding plagiarism through quoting, paraphrasing, and identifying when documentation is optional. It expands beyond common knowledge as a reason for omitting documentation and introduces passing mentions, allusions, and epigraphs. 

Works Cited Page

Works Cited guidance is one of the most widely-used elements of the MLA Handbook. Appropriately, this section features the most updates, responsive to users seeking more guidance, details, and examples on the aforementioned MLA 8 overhaul that introduced the core element template. Consequently, each element is defined, including the range of situations it applies to. There is also guidance on how to find information, such as “publication” in a variety of sources. Finally, more advice is given on how to style details of these elements in a Works Cited. 

 

Added Guidance on Core Template Elements

  • Author: how to cite pseudonyms, name changes, and stage names; how to cite works by the same author published under different names; and how to style the names of authors of government publications.
  • Title of source: how to provide a description instead of a title; how to effectively and appropriately shorten a title; how to list titled and untitled front and back information, such as introduction, foreword, and afterword; and how to use mechanics to correctly style titles of various sources including website containers, apps, and databases. 
  • Contributor (formerly “Other Contributors”): how to distinguish between key and other contributors; and how to document a source with multiple, same-role contributors. 
  • Versions: how to identify “version” is various types of works including e-books.
  • Number: how to find “number” in various works such as books, print journals, database articles, PDF journal articles, television shows, and podcasts; how to style numbers through form (spelled out, numerals, numbers) and mechanics within the Works Cited page.
  • Publisher: how to identify what constitutes a publisher; how to list governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations; and how to abbreviate publishers’ names.
  • Publication Date: how to identify what constitutes non-traditional date types, such as personal letters, revisions of online works, attendance of live events, and the label “forthcoming” for works yet to be published; dictates to lowercase season with publication date, for example, fall, 2021. 
  • Location: how to find location in print, online, unique works viewed or heard firsthand, and physical media other than print works; it also makes URLs optional.

Supplemental Elements

Beyond the core elements are supplemental elements, previously titled “Optional Elements.” The change in name reflects the fact that different circumstances will dictate whether or not these elements are necessary for readers. 

In-Text Citations

While the guidance regarding in-text citation has not changed, the MLA 9’s adjusted approach seeks to reduce the confusion about in-text citations. This chapter explains the need for unambiguous, consistent references to the Works Cited. It also expands on how to style parenthetical citations with quotation marks. A new section, “When Author and Title are not Enough,” helps users navigate works when an author has more than one work of the same title. Finally, expanded guidance on subheads, multiple works, referencing items such as symbols or figure numbers, and quoting the same passage multiple times has been added. 

Notes

This new section explains when and how to use notes to provide commentary or additional information. It also explains where and how to place notes in text. 

Annotated Bibliographies

A section has been added that offers guidance for annotated bibliographies. Annotations are succinct descriptions and/or evaluations of a source. Sources should be styled no differently from a list of works cited. However, annotations should be appended at the end of an entry, with one-inch indentations from where the entry begins. Annotations may be written as concise phrases or complete sentences and typically do not exceed one paragraph.

 

Takeaways

This update includes fewer large overhauls to the methods of MLA 8. MLA 9 instead focuses on providing specificities and examples to each element. This version continues giving writers freedom to judge the appropriate information needed for their specific projects while adding more guidance for readers looking for it. Through MLA 9, users will better understand the following:

  • What the core elements look like in different types of works, both traditional and nontraditional.
  • How to use in-text citations effectively.
  • How to be conscious of the effect on various audiences of gender-specific terms, stereotyped language, people-first language, pronouns, and capitalization.
  • What does and does not constitute plagiarism.
  • How to format a research paper.
  • How to correctly use grammar mechanics.