MLA style, or MLA format, are terms commonly used to describe the guidelines for writing which are developed, maintained, and periodically updated and issued by the Modern Language Association of America (MLA).
The Modern Language Association of America was founded in 1883 as a forum for scholars to share their ideas, experiences, and findings with counterparts in their respective fields. Since it was founded, the MLA has grown to more than 30,000 members from over 100 countries.
Among MLA’s many activities over the years, has been the development of standards and guidelines for the uniform writing of academic documents developed by its members. These MLA style guidelines are now the standard used by hundreds of thousands of students and scholars worldwide for the preparation of manuscripts and research papers in English and the Humanities.
The MLA documentation style covers all aspects of scholarly writing, beginning with the mechanics of writing and publishing, through the basics of writing style, to guidelines for the preparation of theses and dissertations. Although the MLA guidelines cover all aspects of writing and publishing a paper, MLA documentation style places special emphasis on the proper citing of sources of information in one’s written work, and how to properly and consistently cite them throughout a paper or manuscript.
MLA produces two major style publications as follows:
- The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (targets high school and undergraduate college and university students).
- The MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (targets graduate students, scholars, and professional writers).
There is often confusion when teachers, students, editors and researchers use the terms “MLA format” or “MLA style”. The following three paragraphs from the MLA website should clear up some of that confusion:
“The Modern Language Association does not publish its documentation guidelines on the Web. For an authoritative explanation of MLA style, see the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (for high school and undergraduate college students) and the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (for graduate students, scholars, and professional writers).
The style recommended by the association for preparing scholarly manuscripts and student research papers concerns itself with the mechanics of writing, such as punctuation, quotation, and documentation of sources. MLA style has been widely adopted by schools, academic departments, and instructors for nearly half a century.
MLA guidelines are also currently used by over 125 scholarly and literary journals, newsletters, and magazines with circulations over one thousand; by hundreds of smaller periodicals; and by many university and commercial presses. MLA style is commonly followed not only in the United States but in Canada and other countries as well; Japanese translations of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers appeared in 1980, 1984, and 1988, and a Chinese translation was published in 1990.”
A key feature that differentiates MLA style from other major style conventions is that it recommends that the citation of works (sources) be listed “in-context” within the text of a paper, rather than in page footnotes or chapter/document endnotes.
MLA documentation style (in similar fashion to APA style) calls for “in-text” citations of sources of information to be listed within the text where they are referenced, rather than in footnotes and endnotes, as some systems require.
To assist those who would rather not wade through MLA’s more than 350 page Handbook for Writers and Researchers, I have broken down and summarized the MLA Rules for the Preparation of Research Papers into three distinct sections as follows:
- Overall MLA Paper Format Rules
- MLA Rules For In-Text Citation of Sources
- Compiling and Formatting the MLA Reference List
Each of the above sections contains a link to an actual sample pages of of the formats being discussed. You can access this MLA Rules Page at:
Basic MLA Rules – Paper Format, Citations, and Samples