Everything Changes, or Why MLA Isn’t (Always) Right
I have the software to open it. Of course, if my computer doesn’t have
the software installed, then, yes, I may need to do some research to
find out the type of file and what software to use to open it—but even
this process is often automated (try opening a file that your computer
doesn’t recognize; most operating systems and browsers will offer to
search the web for the application for you, for good or ill).
Oh, yeah, and now MLA has (finally) decided to allow students
and scholars to use italics instead of underlining. Actually, that isn’t
quite accurate: MLA always allowed this use, but few people seemed
aware that MLA stipulated that underlining indicated text that should
be italicized (Gibaldi 94). Now, finally, it’s clear that it is okay to use
italics to indicate text that should be italicized (MLA 78) and there
should be only one space after a period, not two (77).
If you’re beginning to think that citation styles are just too compli-
cated, you may be right. However, they don’t have to be. There really
is a logic to citing sources, whether they are online, in print, or in some
other medium, now extant or yet to be developed.
The Logic of Citation
In The Columbia Guide to Online Style, citation is defined as “the
practice of systematically indicating the origins and thoughts, ideas,
knowledge, or words that one uses to author a report, essay, article,
speech, book, website, or other work” (Walker and Taylor 29). The
Columbia Guide, thus, takes a rhetorical approach, including an entire
section on the logic of citation, based on the following five principles:
access, intellectual property, economy, standardization, and transpar-
ency (Walker and Taylor 31).
The principle of access is satisfied by providing sufficient informa-
tion to allow interested readers to locate the sources of information
upon which a writer has relied. That information includes the ele-
ments of citation discussed in the next section, including author, title,
and publication information. The principle of intellectual property en-
sures that proper credit is given for the work of others (hence, avoid-
ing plagiarism), as well as ensuring that a writer’s reliance on another’s
work is not so extensive that it is detrimental to that others’ property
rights. (For more information on intellectual property in the class-
room see http://personal.georgiasouthern.edu/~jwalker/ip/ipdummie.
html). The principle of economy simply means that citations should pro-