MLA ‘How To’

April 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

The list of works cited at the end of a piece of writing is usually more dreaded than the writing itself. So dreadful a task are citations that we’ve invented tools, like RefWorks, to do it for us.

There are a wide range of styles for citation. MLA is The Modern Language Association of America’s style guide and is common in the arts and humanities. It’s one that my students in Communication studies frequently use, and so I get a number of questions about how to cite various documents accord to MLA.

Many of my students are not aware that there is such a thing as an MLA handbook and rely on the university library’s website for instructions on citation methods. Unbeknownst to them, MLA is more than a style of citation. It provides guidelines on everything from page formatting to research and thesis statement development.

So, here are some of the highlights from the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook:

Formatting your Document


Margins & Indentation

Except for page numbers, margins should be 1 inch on the right, left, top, and bottom of the page. Paragraphs should be indented 1/2″ from the left margin.

Page numbers

Should be consecutive and 1/2″ from the top right hand corner of every page. Place your last name before the page number (this is in case a page is misplaced).

Text Formatting

Use a readable font. Times New Roman is boring but will do. Double space all text including the header and in between paragraphs.

Heading & Title

Notice that MLA doesn’t use a title page. The header should appear in the following order: your name, student number, instructor’s and/or TA’s name, course code, and date. Your paper should have an original title. Do not italicize or underline the title.

Publication Information

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Formatting Citations

Book by a single author:

Last name, First name. Title of the book. Place of publication: publisher, year. Print

Ex. Silverman, Kaja. The Subject of Semiotics. New York: Oxford University press, 1983. Print

Journal article in an online database:

Last name, First name. “Title of the article.” Journal Title volume. issue (year): page range. Name of Journal Database. Web. Date of access.

Ex. Arvidsson, Adam. Journal of Consumer Culture 5.235 (2005): 235-258. Sage. Web. 6 April 2013.

These are just the two most common types of documents that undergraduate students use in their research and writing. MLA (along with all other methods of citation) has instructions for citing newspaper articles, websites, films, translations, poetry, works in a compilation and the list goes on.

If you encounter something not covered in the MLA handbook or are in doubt about a citation, ask your librarian or instructor.


: ) : ( : O … The ‘Other’ Colon

March 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Now that emoticons are the most pervasive use of the colon, it’s time to re-introduce the world to that ‘other’ colon.


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Commas Three Ways

March 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Most of us have been taught to “place the comma where you would naturally take a breath.” I’ve called it “the rule of flow” because most students tell me the reason for placing commas in some places and not others is because “it flows.” Reading aloud is definitely a good test for clarity and “flow” in all writing, but what about when you’re not sure? Here are three common uses for commas:


imageEnclose parenthetic expressions between commas.

Like when suggesting a coffee shop you might say:

The best place to go for coffee, in case you’re ever on the North Shore, is Honey Donuts.

imageUse a comma when using a conjunction (like ‘and’ or ‘but’) to introduce an independent clause (ie. a complete sentence). 

Like after you celebrate your birthday you would say:

I’m getting too old for parties, but it was worth staying up all night long. 

(with a comma because “it was worth staying up all night long” is a complete sentence)

OR you might say:

I’m getting too old for parties and am feeling it today. 

(no common because “am feeling it today” is NOT a complete sentence)


 In a list of 3+, place a comma after each item except for the last (aka. the “Oxford” or “Serial” Comma).

We painted the house white, grey, and pink. 

Reading About Writing

March 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Do you think about writing while you read? When done well, we rarely notice writing while we’re reading. It’s when your professor assigns selections from Grudrisse that you think “whaaaa?”

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