Screen Shot 2012-11-25 at 12.37.20 PMThis week I met up with an old student of mine who was working on a paper for her college sociology class. I started reading through the paper and we were discussing her argument. At one point, she had cited a website as a source and she asked me if she had done it right.

When I told her she hadn’t, she whipped out a big MLA handbook. It was listed as a required text for her course, and when I asked she said she had paid $40 for it. What a rip off.

Why buy a style handbook, when all of the citation and style guidelines you need are available online? Instead, direct your students to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (or OWL).

Old books on a library shelf.

Reliable, Up to Date Style Guide for APA and MLA

The “research paper” is a right-of-passage. Most high schools require at least one research paper before graduation, and for better or worse this is typically placed in the lap of the language arts teacher. For the moment, let’s ignore the fact that students should probably do more research in high school if they’re going to be well prepared for college.

One of the biggest components of this research paper is properly using MLA style and MLA citations. If you find yourself in the wonderful position of teaching your kids how to cite references in an MLA paper, direct them to the OWL. Purdue maintains a full set of guidelines for both MLA and APA style.

After a B.A., an Ed.M., and most of an Ed.D. (a grand total of almost 10 years in college), I still go to a reference to format citations in my work. Since my ungrad years, I’ve just typed in “OWL APA” into Google, looked for the relevant example at the OWL, and voila.

The best part is that it’s always up to date. A few years back, the APA guidelines were updated to the sixth edition. My professor hadn’t gotten her new copy of the stylebook yet, but I was able to format my paper properly because the OWL had already updated all of their resources according to the new edition.

This is an invaluable resource that will help your students far into the future, and you would do well to introduce them to it in high school. Hopefully none of them will go on to be undergrads who waste $40 on a stylebook they don’t need.

Other Writing Resources

There are a bunch of other resources on the OWL website as well, including some aimed specifically at middle and high school students. They offer a nice, clear description of what writing should look like. I particularly like the resource on Paragraphs and Paragraphing, maybe because my students have so much trouble with it. I think I might borrow some of these ideas to make a few posters to hang up on my classroom or to turn into a handout for my students to use while writing.

It would be worth your while to browse through the rest of the writing lab at your leisure and look for resources that might help you and your students.

Image Credit: “Old Books” by sh0dan at