There are some major philosophical differences between MLA 7th edition and the new 2016 MLA 8th edition. Many of these center around the MLA citations, and the way that resources are treated, giving student researchers a more consistent way to cite their sources. Rather than focus on the exact format of a source to guide its citation, the new MLA format looks at the “container” housing the source, giving a more holistic, universal approach.

Universal approach vs. strict format per source

Students who have already written research papers are used to looking up each individual type of source in the MLA handbook to figure out the order of the information. Books, periodicals, film, and online sources each had a different structure strictly defined by the old 7th edition.

With the number of new digital resources available to students, the MLA determined that the better way to structure citations would be to give a universal, overarching format, regardless of its origin. While this serves to simplify things, in practicality, the citations in many cases look very similar to their old versions. In the article “MLA Eighth Edition: What’s New and Different,” the Purdue OWL Staff explained that when you compare old and new citations, “differences in citation style are minimal; punctuation is streamlined, volume and issue numbers are identified as such, and there is no excess information such as city of publication or media type.”


One of the biggest shifts doesn’t show up in those resulting citations, but is central to the philosophy behind the new citations. Rather than thinking of content as belonging to a print or Web source, the citations present the content first, then the “container” in which it appeared when the researcher found it. In the case of a magazine article, the article is considered a part of the whole: the magazine. The whole is the container for the article. In the case of a tweet, the container is Twitter itself. The order for citations is now:

  1. Author.
  2. Source.
  3. Title of Container,
  4. Other contributors,
  5. Version,
  6. Number,
  7. Publisher,
  8. Publication Date,
  9. Location.

In the case of a tweet, cite the entirety of the tweet as the source. So:

@Lawrence (Lawrence O’Donnell). “Protester at #StandingRock told me today: ‘Obama saved the day.’ @TheLastWord live tonight at 10pm.” Twitter, 9 September 2016, 6:10 p.m. //

If the source is an article that originally appeared in a magazine, but the student accessed through an online database, 3 through 9 are repeated:

Rowena, Lindsay. “Why Is the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Trying to Stop a Pipeline?” The Christian Science Monitor, 7 September 2016. Questia, //

Online names

Another change in how citations are given is that, in the case of a Twitter handle or screen name where the author’s legal name is unknown, you use the screen name. In fact, even when you do know the legal name, the screen name comes first. You offer the author’s Twitter handle followed by their real name in parentheses.

Essentially, if the author is publishing under a screen name, it becomes the primary way to cite the author. The legal name is secondary.

Abbreviations, inclusions, and exclusions

MLA 7th edition eliminated abbreviations such as volume and number from the citations; those are now included again for the sake of clarity. For example, if you were looking at an article in volume 24, number 2 of Callaloo, the old citation version would have cited this as “24.2.” MLA format for the 8th edition instead offers the abbreviations.

Kincaid, Jamaica. “In History.” Callaloo, vol. 24, no. 2, Spring 2001, pp. 620-26.

Page numbers are also prefaced by the p. or pp. abbreviation.

The 8th edition has also made inclusion of the URL or the digital object identifiers (DOI) standard for any online source. These aren’t included in angle brackets, but are included as basic information for online sources. Including the date consulted has become optional.

What’s left out? The city of publication is gone all together.

For all of the details on the significant changes in the MLA Style Manual 8th Edition, visit the MLA’s official “What’s New in the Eighth Edition” article.

How are you teaching your students about containers? Tell us in the comments.