Chicago vs MLA

I wrote this many years ago, while I was in college.   I happened upon it again as I was searching for something else in my files and thought it would make a few of you smile.   So here is a short satire piece on a subject near and dear to my heart.                                                              

Chicago vs. MLA

My friends, I am here today to speak on a matter of the gravest importance. This matter has divided our disciplines for a number of years, caused an untold amount of grief for millions worldwide.  How to properly cite your sources in an academic essay, research paper, or a thesis; do we italicize the titles or do we underline them.  Where do the quotation marks go?  We are one world and in this world we need to be united.  United against ignorance, united against the death of all we hold dear, united against revisionist acts, and united against the death of culture.    But such unity cannot ever be achieved while we in academia are split into so many different factions on the basis of this one crucial detail, so small, so vital to the works that we do.  

How to cite your sources is an issue that has been fought and battled over for centuries.  We are all professionals here; we are all well versed not only in our chosen fields of study but often in other disciplines as well.  We can agree on other things.  What makes for a topic sentence is one example.   What makes for a good paragraph and what makes for a poor one is another.   But on this issue no one can see clearly, no one can compromise, and compromise is severely needed for both major parties in this struggle.  Academia cannot stand up proudly, united against the world, if indeed we have such divisions under our own roof.  President Lincoln stated, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”   In this he speaks very clearly, Academia cannot hope to influence the world around us and work to bring change without being united in spirit and in truth.

 “To footnote or not to footnote” is a question that millions of students over the years have asked themselves.  Some professors prefer in-text citations or endnotes.  This is a matter of personal preference and as such we are not advocating that everyone adopt footnotes as the universal standard[1].  However, in the formatting of these footnotes and other citations, we do have cause for some alarm.   MLA, a format used and beloved by all English majors and professors is one of the most widely used styles.  This is the style that they pound into our heads all throughout high school and through all of the college English courses.   The problem with MLA is that not only is it complicated to learn and remember; it is also an inflexible style.   It was created for in-text citations and in-text citations alone.  

The Chicago style, preferred by historians and several of the other humanities, unlike MLA, is quite the opposite.  It has the flexibility to encompass in-text citations and footnotes and endnotes.   It is relatively simple to memorize and use.  It is, by far, one of the better choices, yet it is often laid by the wayside, untaught, and unacknowledged in the public and private schools.   This is a serious matter which needs to be addressed, ladies and gentlemen.   Only being taught one method of style can be a serious handicap for a young college freshman in their first semester. Citing sources goes hand in hand with writing papers and essays. When you write papers in college and you will write papers, that is an absolute basic fact of life, along with death and taxes. You will die, you will pay taxes, and you will write papers in college. Citing sources is a very integral part of that process, having more than one style often tends to confuse and befuddle students.  Some students entering college, it is sad to say, don’t even know what a footnote is, much less how to correctly format one.   Think of the children, the children who write, who want to contribute, but suffer under the burden of not knowing how to correctly format a simple footnote because of the problems inherent with having more than one style.

A prominent military journalist and English major torn between Chicago and MLA, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity due to fears of Oxford Comma Hit Squads, suggests that standardization is called for. “All citations are sacred, you know. If we allow this so-called “choice” in citations, what we’re really doing is killing words,” he said. “By killing words, aren’t we really killing the authors’ souls?”   A bit drastic, we feel, but we sympathize with his sentiments.  We agree wholeheartedly that standardization is just what we need to solve this issue.  A melding of the two camps, healing the breach between the two major disciplines involved in this dispute. 

To that end we suggest a committee be commissioned to explore the possibilities of paving a way so that a new style can be developed, a style that can encompass everything that citations should be, need to be in a way that would satisfy all the disciplines.  Because if this does not reach a peaceful compromise, I fear that the continuing battles back and forth could lead to something even greater and far uglier than the current struggles.    I fear an all out war between the disciplines could arise if middle ground cannot be found.   So many papers have already been sacrificed to the continuing strife between the departments.  Let us act now and save the future papers from this horrible struggle.   

In all seriousness, standardizing the style guides completely across the board (barring technical or scientific papers as the exception) so that there is only one style that students need to learn throughout all of high school and college would be an excellent move on the college’s front, especially for those lucky few double majoring in two separate disciplines.  It would make formatting papers more efficient and easier to do and also easier to grade.  There are more benefits than downfalls to standardizing the style with which we format our papers and citations.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen for your time.

 

 

 

 

[1] As useful and pleasant as we find them to be, we understand that not everyone shares our love for the footnote.

 

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