MLA 8 vs. MLA 9: Updates and highlights

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Students, teachers, professors, and anyone who works with words will want to know about the updates offered in the new MLA 9 Handbook, which was released in April 2021. The ninth edition builds on the Modern Language Association’s long-standing authority on source documentation guidelines and continues MLA’s dedication to promoting information and digital literacy, which are crucial in today’s world. With the updated guidance of MLA 9, you will learn how to accurately and informatively cite everything from novels to song lyrics to dissertations.

The MLA Handbook is the definitive resource for writers at a range of levels and positions, but not everyone has the time or means to access and read the new edition in its entirety. Here you will find a summary of what you need to know about the latest writing and citation guidelines from the professionals at the Modern Language Association and how this edition differs from the eighth.

According to MLA, these are the new features of the ninth edition:

  • Expanded guidance on creating MLA works cited lists and how to style citations
  • More detailed explanation of in-text citations
  • Recommendations for inclusive language
  • Hundreds of sample works cited list entries with examples of various publication formats, “including books, databases, websites, YouTube videos, interviews, and more”
  • Updated guidelines on what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it
  • A new chapter all about how to format a research paper
  • New guidelines on writing, including spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and more

Below, you will find an overview of the MLA 9 Handbook, as well as a summary of the following highlights of the new edition:

  • New guidelines for citations
  • New guidelines for paper formatting
  • New writing advice
  • New guidelines on plagiarism
  • New guidelines on annotated bibliographies

This guide is organized into the following sections:

  1. Overview of the MLA 9 handbook
  2. In-text citation highlights
  3. Works cited updates
  4. Writing advice
  5. Plagiarism
  6. Annotated bibliographies



In-text citation highlights

The Modern Language Association has added more guidance on in-text citations, but by and large the information on in-text citations has not changed. Here are the updates to the chapter on in-text citations:

  • More guidance on tricky citation scenarios, such as citing two authors with the same name
  • More guidance on quotations and paraphrasing
  • Guidance on styling in-text citations (not including in MLA 8)

Citation in prose

MLA now uses the term “citation in prose,” a type of citation that is also known as a narrative citation. This is the second type of in-text citation, along with parenthetical citations. Citations in prose use the author’s name in the text while the page number is cited parenthetically at the end of the sentence.

Here is an example of the same in-text citation, first cited parenthetically and second cited in prose:

Parenthetical citation example:

“Based on this evidence, we know that human life would not be sustainable on Mars.” (M. Rogers 508).

Citation in prose example:

Mary Rogers proved that human life would not be sustainable on Mars based on her peer-reviewed evidence (220).

How to cite titles with quotation marks

When citing sources in-text without an author, include the source’s title in the in-text citation. This can get tricky when there is a quotation in the title that is already in quotation marks. In that case, put double quotation marks around the whole source title and use single quotation marks around the quote within the title.

Original title example:

“With Great Responsibility“: What it Means to be a Leader

Parenthetical citation example:

(“‘With Great Responsibility” 45)

How to shorten long organization author names

According to MLA 9, long corporate author names should now be shortened for in-text citations.


  • Philadelphia Society for Welfare = Philadelphia Society
  • National Association for Women and Children = National Association
  • New York Home for the Blind = New York Home

How to format author surnames in citations

For citations in prose, Include the author’s first name. For parenthetical citations, include the author’s first initial.

Citation in prose example:

Mary Rogers proved that human life would not be sustainable on Mars based on her peer-reviewed evidence (220).

Parenthetical citation example:

“Based on this evidence, we know that human life would not be sustainable on Mars.” (M. Rogers 508).

Include the source title in in-text citations

The source title must be included in the in-text citation. This can be done in three ways:


  • Rich writes in Eco-tography that, “Digital photography is more eco-friendly than traditional photography” (113).
  • Rich writes, “Digital photography is more eco-friendly than traditional photography” (Eco-tography 119).
  • Rich posits that, “Digital photography is more eco-friendly than traditional photography” (Burman, Eco-tography 119).

For additional guidance, see this guide on MLA in-text citations.



Writing advice

Writing is tricky for even the most seasoned wordsmiths. The Modern Language Association offers useful guidelines for writers of all levels. MLA 9 expands on previous editions, offering guidance on capitalization, quoting, paraphrasing, language inclusivity, and using pseudonyms.

New capitalization guidelines

While MLA 8 capitalized seasons in publishing dates, MLA 9 does not. Additionally, the new MLA edition now requires sources or quotations in a foreign language to be cited using their native grammar and punctuation.

Inclusive language

  • Avoid using terms that specify the subject’s ethnicity, religion, gender, social orientation, disability age, or social status if it is not critical for your context.
  • Implement gender neutrality such as “human-made,” which can be used instead of “man-made.”
  • Use Latinx terminology instead of Latino or Latino. The same goes for similar terms.
  • Avoid using terms like Muslim community or Native American language by changing it to Sunni Muslims in India or Chinookan languages.
  • Avoid religious generalizations for this newest MLA format edition by always making it clear what religion or beliefs you are referring to. ​

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Annotated bibliographies

While MLA 8 offered no guidelines for annotated bibliographies, MLA 9 does. General guidelines include the following:

  • Annotation is placed directly under the citation it is discussing.
  • An annotation evaluates or describes the source, but does not repeat information in the source.
  • An annotation should be concise.

For more information, read this guide on MLA annotated bibliographies.


Work Cited

MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2021.


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