The 7th MLA Handbook is out

Yay! I just got mine in the mail.

What’s great: media designation in every citation: “Print” or “Web” or “Radio” or whatever. No more required http:// etc. addresses. A great section on how to cite web publications, including Google Books. Lots of examples from online databases.

What’s even better: when you get a copy you get free access to This is new. Log on, see the entire handbook, and more.

Questions: I see that “many writers, influenced by the look of typeset publications, now leave only one space after a concluding punctuation mark” (3.2.12), but student papers don’t look like typeset publications: two spaces really can help legibility. This doesn’t drop to error, but it would rise to a help.

But, meh. My issues here actually pertain to how most of us deploy the guide, in Microsoft Word. First, note that Times New Roman 12pt is the MLA’s suggested font (see 4.2). This is the standard font for business documents and for all government documents (since February of 2004) from memos to legal briefs to congressional bills.

Now, the Handbook‘s examples are all in what seems to be in some kind of sans serif font, I suppose because it is easy to distinguish from the text font. This is a bit confusing, but I can understand the reason for making a distinction.

The real problem here is in Microsoft Word, however, since Microsoft’s new default is now is Calibri. This difference is frustrating. Yes, yes, TNR can be set as a default style option. But university computers purge user-set defaults every time a user logs out. While students can learn how to adjust such things–every single time–why lay traps? You know, it’s not just MLA style here, Microsoft: Chicago 15 says, for typescripts, “Avoid sans serif fonts, since these do not clearly distinguish between 1, l, and I.” (See why?) I can understand that sans serif fonts are more legible on screens. Fine. But Word is primarily a means to create print documents. So, why create a problem where one didn’t exist?

Or, back to the MLA Handbook, note this: “set your word processor to double-space the entire research paper, including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited” (4.2). I really wish the ubiquitous Microsoft Word would listen to this. This is what format > paragraphs needs to look like to work:

See that little box? By default it’s unchecked, so it has to be checked to conform to MLA Style. “Spacing > After” needs to be “0 pt.”

No, I’m not going to compromise on a well-thought out style to conform to what very much seems to be a ploy to trademark a corporate style, especially when it ignores paper length by adding in gratuitous spaces and it conflicts with clear standards of print legibility and all standard style manuals. (At least, now, the default is back to 1″ margins). Again, it’s not just MLA that asks for this. I quote from Chicago 15: “Paper Manuscripts, or typescripts. . . . All copy must be vertically double-spaced” (2.6).

Why don’t you work with us here, Microsoft? Do you want to make us angry at you? Your arbitrary corporate mandate–against well-considered practices that dominate in schools, universities, government, and publishing–means that thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students have to fight one more little irritation every single day. Thanks for that. You were criticized years ago for being difficult, and then again not so many years ago. Why is this so hard?


Author: Derrick Pitard

I teach medieval and early modern literature, the history of the language, introductions to literature, Latin, and writing at Slippery Rock University.

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