From the April, 1998 PC ALAMODE Magazine:
Documenting in Style
with MLA
by Terry Flannery

"Your momma told you there'd be days like this. . .
There'd be days like this your momma said."

Well, that was before there were computers and online research that needed to be gathered and documented. Your momma couldn't tell you about the ups and downs of the computer age because in her day cyberspace was just a weird term that science fiction writers and techno geeks threw around. But let's face it, the computer is here to stay and day to day use of the online information gathering is expanding exponentially. Business reports, school papers, formal letters, published articles, and other professional documents require research. Computer aficionados wonder why go to a library and paw through dusty books when you can do research in the comfort of your favorite easy chair with several hundred megahertz of raw electronic power working for you. Think of the security of knowing that billions of bytes of data are out there waiting for you to point and click their silicon way onto your shimmering screen. 

Ah, such power and ease of accessibility! It seems so right, and in many ways it is. But what happens once you have done the research and then need to properly represent your online sources? A simple documentation task, you say. Well, yes and no. I will outline the MLA documentation form, one of many types currently in use for documenting Internet sources. Just bear in mind that what I give you is basic, not all inclusive, and formats change as the Internet changes.

 First, you need to know the general purposes for the most popular style formats---the Big Three: MLA, APA, and UCP. Taking their names from their sponsors who regulate and control every detail and standard, they are the Modern Language Association, the American Psychological Association, and the University of Chicago Press. 

The MLA style sheet was established nearly 50 years ago with the intention of providing a uniform documentation standard for academic papers. Today, many of the disciplines related to the humanities (like English) use the MLA. It is also the preferred format for hundreds of scholarly journals, literary periodicals, general newsletters, and commercial publications. It is the style I use in my teaching and the one I will address here. 

Another format, the APA style, is used with subjects related to the social sciences, like psychology, sociology, anthropology, and business. For citing online sources, the APA, American Psychological Association, has endorsed Xia Li and Nancy Crane's February 1997 version of Electronic Sources: APA Style of Citation

A third format, the UCP style, or better known as the Chicago Style, completes with the MLA for students documenting research in history and the humanities. Like the APA, the Chicago Style uses a unique arrangement when citing online sources. In this case it is a system developed by Andrew Harnack and Eugene Kleppinger in Online! A Reference Guide to Using Internet Sources

However for our purposes, I will give you the OFFICIAL guidelines approved by the Modern Language Association. Known as MLA Style, these guidelines (and several pages of related information) can be read at Then click on MLA Style. If you have trouble accessing this page, I will give you an alternate way at the end of this article.

 One last point of information about a relatively new comer, the ACW or Alliance for Computers and Writing. The ACW has endorsed the work of Janice R. Walker, an instructor at the University of South Florida. She has developed a style sheet that expands on MLA guidelines for citing sources on the Internet. The examples given of her work in my copy of The Bedford Handbook show minor variations from MLA form and probably would be accepted by most professionals. However, if you choose to use ACW models, keep in mind that they are not endorsed by the MLA. In fact, if you access the MLA Style page, you will see their statement (in bold print, of course) that the guidelines listed there are the only ones authorized by the MLA. 

And what are MLA's official guidelines for citing sources from the World Wide Web? Let me list them and follow up with some sample models. This list contains more information than you will need. So when you document your sources, include as many items from the list that might be relevant and available, but realize that you won't find an application for every item.

  1. Name of the author, editor, compiler, or translator of the source (if available and relevant), reversed by alphabetizing and followed by an abbreviation, such as ed., if appropriate



  3. Title of a poem, short story, article, or similar short work within a scholarly project, database, or periodical (in quotation marks); or title of a posting to a discussion list or forum (taken from the subject line and put in quotation marks), followed by the description Online posting



  5. Title of a book (underlined)



  7. Name of the editor, compiler, or translator of the text (if relevant and if not cited earlier), preceded by the appropriate abbreviation, such as Ed.



  9. Publication information for any print version of the source



  11. Title of the scholarly project, database, periodical, or professional or personal site (underlined); or, for a professional or personal site with no title, a description such as home page



  13. Name of the editor of the scholarly project or database (if available)



  15. Version number of the source (if not part of the title) or, for a journal, the volume number, issue number, or other identifying number 
  16. Date of electronic publication, of the latest update, or of posting



  18. For a posting to a discussion list or forum, the name of the list or forum



  20. The number range or total number of pages, paragraphs, or other sections, if they are numbered



  22. Name of any institution or organization sponsoring or associated with the Web site



  24. Date when the researcher accessed the source



  26. Electronic address, or URL, of the source (in angle brackets)

  27.  BOOK
    Nesbit, Edith. Ballads and Lyrics of Socialism. London, 1908. Victorian Women Writers Project . Ed. Perry Willett. Apr. 1997. Indiana U. 26 Apr.1997 

    Landsburg, Steven E. "Who Shall Inherit the Earth?" Slate 1 May 1997. 2 May 1997 

    "Fresco." Britannica Online. Ver. 97.1.1. Mar. 1997. Encyclopedia Britannica. 29 Mar.

    Portuguese Language Page. U of Chicago. 1 May 1997 

     This information and more awaits you at MLA's Web site. Just access their main page at and click on MLA Style. If you have trouble making connection or simply want to see how a Palo Alto College instructor has set up his courses on the Web with a link to the MLA Style sheet, type Then scroll down to Latest Guidelines on the MLA Style and click on it. Either way you will get an authorized version of MLA's guidelines for documenting sources from the World Wide Web. 

    If you want an authoritative explanation and a broader application of MLA style, pick up a copy of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers or the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing . You really do have some tremendous resources, literally at the tip of your finger. The computer age is here to stay, so make the most of it. Happy hunting and remember to document those keepers!

     Terry Flannery has taught English in San Antonio schools for 21 years. Presently, he is an adjunct faculty member at Palo Alto College. Also, he is owner of a small printing business specializing in foil print.