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What is the MLA’s stance on the use of British spelling?

MLA publications generally follow the American spelling preferences listed in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged. When you are writing a paper for a class in the United States, it is sensible to use American spelling, but in other contexts British spelling may be appropriate. Read our post on writing a thesis in British English.

Published 26 December 2018

When should you correct spelling in a title?

The spelling of a title should almost never be corrected, especially by students, even when the title seems to include an error. Sometimes the “error” is intended, as for the Stephen King novel and movie Pet Sematary, or may be otherwise purposefully made, however ill advised, as for the movie Two Weeks Notice.
But sometimes an incorrect spelling appears to be the result of a typo, as for the 2011 manual published with the title The Senate Office of Education and Traiing. (The manual included information about a proofreading course and was soon republished with the missing letter n added to the title.) Another example is a New York Times article about the American Folk Art Museum originally published online with “Fork Art”

Published 23 May 2018

How do you make a plural out of the word so?

Someone might write, for example, “There are too many sos in this sentence,” in response to:

So many people were present, so he said so, so they were all so very pleased, but others felt that attendance was not so great, was, in a word, so-so.

But “sos” is hard to read. It looks at first like a mistake. Using italics might help a bit but not much: sos. Another option would be to add an apostrophe: so’s. But MLA style uses apostrophes only to form plurals of letters: p’s and q’s.
Note that dos and don’ts is fairly well established—that is,

Published 7 February 2018

How do I handle prefixes such as pre- and post- in MLA style?

MLA style, which follows Merriam-Webster, does not use hyphens after most prefixes. We would write, for example, antiestablishmentcoauthor, nonlinear, and prealgebra. A hyphen is needed, however, before a capital letter (pre-Renaissance), when the term would be hard to recognize otherwise (anti-intellectual), and to avoid misreading (the hyphen in re-cover, meaning “cover again,” distinguishes the term from recover, meaning “recuperate”).

Published 18 January 2018

Does the MLA allow the use of contractions in scholarly writing?

Yes. The MLA allows contractions in its publications. In professional scholarly writing, sometimes a formal tone is desired, but often a more conversational approach is taken. When overused, contractions can be distracting. But there is nothing inherently incorrect about contractions, which often keep prose from being stilted and make it more approachable and easier to read. However, clarity and context matter.
Contractions may not be suitable for all types of formal writing—like a research paper, where protocols for formal writing are being learned. After all, it’s easier to understand when to bend a rule once it has been mastered. There are countless other examples of formal writing when contractions would be unsuitable (e.g.,

Published 25 May 2017

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