When it comes to writing, the academic world is founded on strict standards, starting with a college essay and progressing to scientific publications. The three most widely used citation formats in American higher education are generally APA, MLA, and Chicago.
Their main objectives are to give accurate citations, prevent plagiarism, and establish a uniform system for paper structure.
The Modern Language Association recommended the MLA style and the American Language Association recommended the APA style, which is widely accepted throughout the world, for the purpose of preparing research papers, reports, academic writing, and other types of writing.
As different fields have different ways of gathering information, so do the ways of developing, compiling, and presenting it. In short, these two formats offer recommendations for how style, content, and references should be formatted.
The differences between the APA and MLA citation styles will be explained in this article.
History and Standard Guidelines of APA
The American Psychological Association (APA) citation style, established in 1929, has a rich history and continues to provide standard guidelines for academic writing in the social sciences.
Over the years, APA style has undergone revisions to adapt to changing research practices and technological advancements.
The current edition, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th edition), outlines the guidelines for authors, researchers, and students.
With its author-date format for in-text citations and detailed reference list requirements, APA style ensures consistent and accurate documentation of sources, facilitating effective communication and credibility in academic writing.
APA standards include:
- Double-spaced lines throughout the document.
- Times New Roman 12-point font and one-inch margins on all sides.
- Inclusion of an abstract for longer papers.
- Capitalization of only the first word in periodicals’ titles, without quotation marks.
- Page numbers and a short title in the upper right corner of each page.
- Centered title for the document.
- Double-spacing for footnotes/endnotes.
- In-text citations include author, year, and page number for direct quotations (e.g., Slezinger, 2016, p.6). Paraphrase ideas require author’s name and year (e.g., Slezinger, 2016).
- Reference list arranged in bibliographic order.
- Alphabetical order for authors’ names in the reference list, followed by chronological order for their works (if applicable).
- Authors’ names in the reference list written as Last name, First Initial, Middle initial (e.g., Sloss, D. M.).
History and Standard Guidelines of MLA
The Modern Language Association (MLA) citation style, established in 1883, has a rich history and serves as a standard guideline for scholarly communication in the humanities.
The MLA has been dedicated to promoting the study and teaching of languages and literature. Throughout its history, the MLA has developed and revised guidelines to ensure accurate and consistent documentation of sources, fostering clarity and integrity in academic writing.
The MLA style provides guidance on formatting papers, citing sources, and organizing bibliographic information, facilitating effective scholarly communication and promoting the highest standards of academic rigor and integrity in the humanities.
MLA standards include:
- Double-spaced lines throughout the document.
- Times New Roman 12-point font and one-inch margins on all sides.
- A separate “Works Cited” page that provides a bibliographical list of all the sources cited in the paper.
- Article titles in quotation marks, with each word capitalized.
- Alphabetical order for authors’ names in the Works Cited list, followed by alphabetical order for works if there are multiple works by one author.
- In-text citations include the author’s last name and page number for direct quotes (e.g., Slezinger 242). Indirect citations include only the page number preceded by the author’s name (e.g., According to Slezinger 242).
- No extra line break between citations in the Works Cited list.
- Page number with the author’s name placed on the upper right corner of each page (e.g., Moran 3).
APA vs. MLA
|Meaning||American Psychological Association||Modern Language Association|
|Usage||used in the fields of behavioral and social sciences.||Used in the fields like humanities and liberal arts.|
|Formatting||Times New Roman 12, double-spacing||Times New Roman 12, double-spacing|
|Sections||Title page, Abstract, Body paragraphs and List of references.||Body paragraphs and work cited.|
|Title||Title page contains the title, author’s name and the name of the educational institution.||No specific title page, the title is mentioned on the very first page.|
|Format of in-text citation||Author-date format||Author-page format|
|In-text citations||Author’s last name, year, page number (Smith, 2022, p. 45)||Author’s last name, page number (Smith 45)|
|Direct quote with author name In-text citation||According to author (year), “….” (p. page number)||According to the author,”….” (page number)|
|Paraphrase||Statement (author’s last name, year, p. page number)||Statement (author’s last name page number)|
|Authors||Two authors: Last name & Last name|
Three or more authors: First name of the first author et al.
|Two authors: Last name and Last name |
Three or more authors: First name et al.
|Source page||References||Works Cited|
|Order||Alphabetical by author’s last name followed by publication date||Alphabetical by author’s last name|
|Capitalization||The first letter of title, subtitle and proper nouns, are capitalized and the title is written in Italics.||The first letter of all the important words in the title are capitalized and the title is underlined.|
Differences between APA vs. MLA
- MLA style, which was created by the Modern Language Association, is a system for citing sources and formatting academic works. In contrast, APA style is one of the formats for writing papers, books, journals, etc. that the American Psychological Association introduced and is primarily used in the social sciences.
- APA style typically features a title page, an abstract (if required), and a running head with page numbers. In contrast, MLA style usually does not require a title page unless specified by the instructor. Instead, MLA papers usually start with the author’s name, instructor’s name, course information, and the date on the upper left-hand side of the first page.
- When it comes to sections, APA format has four primary sections: title page, abstract, body paragraphs, and references. In contrast, there are only two main sections in the MLA format: the body paragraphs and the work cited.
- The title is given on the first page in MLA style, and it is separated from the essay title by a double space. In this format, the first page has a header on the left that shows the author’s last name, the instructor’s name, the course name, and the date. The other pages have headers on the right which show the author’s last name and the page number. Whereas the title page in APA format includes the title, author’s name, and name of the educational institution. Additionally, every page, including the title page, has a header at the top where the paper’s title and page numbers are displayed on the right and left sides, respectively.
- When a research paper uses MLA format, the in-text citations are displayed in the author-page format, which includes the author’s last name and the page number following the text cited. On the other hand, in APA style, the author uses the author-date format, where the author’s last name and the year of publication are enclosed in parenthesis after the text cited.
- APA style requires a reference list, which provides detailed information about the sources cited in the paper. The reference list is alphabetized by the author’s last name and includes the author’s name, publication year, title of the work, source information, and other relevant details. MLA style uses a works cited page, which follows a similar format but includes the author’s name, title of the work, container (such as a book or website), publication information, and URL if applicable.
- When citing online sources, APA and MLA styles have slight variations. APA style includes the URL or DOI (Digital Object Identifier) for online sources, whereas MLA style omits URLs unless specifically required. Instead, MLA uses a shortened version of the URL after the publication information, known as a “stable URL” or “permalink.”
- In both direct and indirect in-text citations, MLA format does not require the year, a comma after the author’s name, or a p. before the page number, which is needed in APA format.
- APA and MLA styles utilize different in-text citation formats. In APA, the author’s last name and the publication year are included within parentheses when directly citing a source. For example: (Smith, 2022). In MLA, the author’s last name is mentioned within the sentence itself, while the page number is placed in parentheses at the end. For example: According to Smith (42). MLA also allows the use of “ibid.” (short for ibidem) to refer to the previous source mentioned, while APA does not employ this convention.
- The source page, which is the page on which we list down all the sources that have been used, cited, or referred to during the writing, is referred to as references in APA format, whereas it is referred to as works cited in MLA format.
- When acknowledging sources at the end of the text, in MLA style, the author’s last name is spelt out first, followed by the author’s first name. In contrast, the author’s last name is written in APA style, while their first name is reduced to initials.
- The first letter of each essential word in the title is capitalised in MLA style, and the title is underlined. APA style, on the other hand, capitalises the first letter of the title, subtitle, and proper nouns and writes the title in italics.
- APA style is primarily used in the fields of psychology, education, business, and the social sciences. It is designed to provide a clear structure and ensure consistency in citing sources within these disciplines. MLA style, on the other hand, is commonly used in literature, humanities, and the arts. It emphasizes a more descriptive approach to citing sources and focuses on the author’s name and the work’s title.
Similarities: APA vs. MLA
- The paper must be double spaced in both formats.
- “Times New Roman” font should be used in a 12 point size.
- A one-inch margin should be left on both sides.
- The list of references is arranged alphabetically by last name of author.
Example How to Format References/Works Cited in Two Styles
Here’s an example of how to format references/works cited in both APA and MLA styles for a book:
APA Style: Author’s Last Name, Author’s First Initial. (Year). Title of Book. Publisher.
Example: Smith, J. (2022). The Art of Fiction. ABC Publishers.
MLA Style: Author’s Last Name, Author’s First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Year.
Example: Smith, John. The Art of Fiction. ABC Publishers, 2022.
In-text citations in APA and MLA
In both APA and MLA styles, parenthetical citations are used to cite sources within the text. However, there are slight differences in the information included.
APA In-text citations
In APA, an in-text citation consists of the author’s last name and the publication year. If a specific passage is quoted or paraphrased, a page number is also included.
Example: APA: (Smith, 2022, p. 45) or Smith (2022, p. 45) argues that…
MLA In-text citations
In MLA, an in-text citation includes the author’s last name and the page number, without mentioning the publication year.
Example: MLA: (Smith 45) or According to Smith (45),…
When citing a source with two authors, APA style uses an ampersand (&) to separate their names, while MLA style uses the word “and.” For sources with three or more authors, both styles list the first author’s name followed by “et al.”
Example: APA: (Smith & Johnson, 2022) or (Smith et al., 2022) MLA: (Smith and Johnson) or (Smith et al.)
Which is better MLA or APA?
When working with fictional literature (published in massive volumes), MLA is preferable since in-text citations explicitly link to the information by stating the specific page.
In contrast, APA in-text citations seem more appropriate when working with short publications (such as academic articles, which are frequently published online without page numbers) because they not only help identify the work but also, and this is important, because they mention the year, which makes it simple to follow the chronology of research.
Remember, the goal of citation styles is to maintain consistency, accuracy, and clarity in academic writing, so choosing the right style is important for effective scholarly communication.
APA vs MLA: Does Paper Subject Matters?
When deciding between APA and MLA citation styles, it’s important to consider whether the subject of your paper influences the choice.
First, check if your professor has provided specific instructions regarding citation format. If not, you can make the decision yourself.
Generally, APA is used for social sciences such as psychology, sociology, nursing, criminology, social work, business, and education. On the other hand, MLA format is commonly used for humanities disciplines such as history, literature, language, philosophy, arts, theatre, religion, anthropology, law, and politics.
If your assignment or subject doesn’t explicitly specify a citation format, think about which style aligns better with your content.
In some cases, other citation styles like Chicago/Turabian may be appropriate, particularly in the field of business according to the University Library System of the University of Pittsburgh. If your subject falls within sociology, such as management, APA could be the preferred style. Ultimately, choosing the right citation style ensures consistency and enhances the effectiveness of your scholarly communication.
Understanding the distinctions between APA and MLA citation styles is crucial for academic writers.