What does MLA stand for?

MLA is the abbreviation for Modern Language Association. Dedicated to language and literature, MLA is a professional organization whose members are comprised of teachers, scholars, and librarians. Other similar organizations in different disciplines are the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Council of Biology Educators (CBE). All such organizations publish journals with articles about topics of interest in the discipline. All created a style guide governing how articles submitted for publication are formatted and how they give credit to the sources. The term MLA is used to refer both to the association and to the rules in the MLA style guide which is called the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. This tutorial uses the 8th edition.

What is the purpose for developing a set of rules for style and citations?

In order to have uniformity of presentation and give proper credit to the sources used in the articles, each organization has a different set of rules called a style guide. They include rules on how to give credit to sources in the body of the paper and how to list the sources at the end in a bibliography (a list of sources). Proper credit must be given to the sources used in the paper in order to avoid plagiarism. These style rules also include instructions for page setup such as margins, font, line spacing, and headers along with mechanics of writing such as punctuation.

Why is MLA called a parenthetical documentation system?

MLA style uses parentheses to cite sources.  This is why it is called a parenthetical documentation system.  To cite a source, the last name of the author (or the title of the article in quotation marks if no author is named) and the page number are used in sentences that contain a quote, paraphrasing, or a summary.  One way of citing is to put the last name (or title if not author) and the page number in parentheses at the end of a sentence with information from a source whether it is a quote, paraphrase, or summary. If the last name of the author (or title if no author) is used in the sentence, then only the page number is put in parentheses.

Ironically, even though MLA was developed where use of parentheses was required (if only for the page number) and is called a parenthetical documentation system, with the advent of the Internet, sometime parentheses are not used.  

The page number requirement refers to the hard copy printed version. Often, when hard-copy sources are uploaded to the Internet, the page number is not used in the web page version.  If we don’t know the page number the particular information was on in the printed version, we do not use a page number which means there may not be any parentheses.  Since the page number requirement refers to hard-copy printed sources, any page numbers we find on sources created for the Internet should not be used.  Since computer presentations are different, what is on page 1 on one person’s computer may be on page 2 on someone else’s.  

Why do schools require using MLA style?

Academic institutions such as high schools, colleges, and universities have courses which require training in a style system such as MLA in order to avoid plagiarism and to train students in preparing research papers suitable for publication in scholarly journals.

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