Teaching MLA

One of my friends who teaches at a mid-size state university posted on Facebook this week saying she had never read an excellent student paper with poor MLA formatting. In the final draft, poor formatting always signaled a less than stellar paper. She makes a really good point about the interrelationship between the different elements of a paper.

That's one of the main reasons I stopped taking off points for MLA formatting years ago. I also don't spend much class time on the style outside of teaching students to follow models, giving them a quick reference guide from Penn State, and directing them to the Purdue OWL guide for questions. Yet, I still get the same quality of formatting. Most of my student do fine; A-writers tend to perfect the style; and students who do poorly on the assignment's other aspects create garbled citations.

Professional Formatting Conveys Professional Ethos

Instead of docking a certain number of points, I present MLA and professional formatting styles as a matter of ethos. I tell students that when instructors look at a paper, they quickly get a first impression, one that colors the way they read the paper.

Using the professional formatting of the discipline makes you look like a professional. It paints a picture of a student who is attentive and detail-oriented, a writer to be trusted. A poorly formatted paper can damage your ethos, a major component of convincing the audience you should be believed. It's kind of like grammar: if it's bad enough to impede the information that needs to be conveyed, then it damages the information. So, formatting issues might naturally affect your grade whether there are official deductions or not. At the extreme end, not citing sources obliterates a writer's ethos and can qualify as plagiarism.

I'd love to hear how other teachers approach MLA or professional ethos.

MLA Practice

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this blog on citations and the powerpoint ex. Makes me miss teaching ENGL 1301/02!!


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