Cathy Aranda
Cathy Aranda

APA vs. MLA: A Complete Comparison

11 min read

Published on: Mar 29, 2024

Last updated on: Apr 5, 2024

APA vs. MLA

Writing papers for school can get tricky, especially when it comes to citing sources. 

Many students find it confusing to pick the right way to give credit to the sources they use in their work.

Imagine you're working hard on your research, putting together a great argument, and then suddenly you hit a roadblock - figuring out whether to use APA or MLA citation styles. Getting it wrong might jeopardize the credibility of your work.

Don't worry! This guide is here to help. 

We'll explain the ins and outs of APA and MLA, making the rules easy to understand. We will also explain the key differences and how you cite your sources in each format.

Let's dive in!

APA Format

The American Psychological Association's APA format is a widely accepted style guide. It is commonly applied in the social sciences, psychology, and business and provides a structured framework for organizing papers.

Notable features include a title page, specific guidelines for headings, and a citation system, enhancing clarity and precision in academic writing.

MLA Format

The Modern Language Association MLA format is widely used in the humanities, including literature, language, and the arts. Its emphasis on simplicity and flexibility makes it a preferred choice for many writers. 

Whether you're working on an essay, research paper, or other academic projects, a solid grasp of MLA guidelines is important.

APA vs MLA Citation Format: Key Differences 

When it comes to academic writing, proper citation is essential for acknowledging the sources of information and maintaining scholarly integrity. 

Two widely used citation styles, APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association), have their own distinct formats. 

Understanding the key differences between APA and MLA citation styles is crucial for researchers, students, and writers. 

Here are some notable distinctions:

Page Formatting in APA vs MLA

Understanding the distinctions in page formatting is essential for adhering to the guidelines of academic writing styles. 

Each style has specific requirements for how a document should be structured and presented.

APA Page Formatting

APA requires:

  • Margins: One-inch margins on all sides of the paper.
  • Font: Times New Roman, 12-point font size.
  • Line Spacing: Double-spaced throughout the document, including the title page, abstract, main body, and references.
  • Page Header: Running head with a shortened title flush left and the page number flush right on each page, excluding the title page.
  • Title Page: Includes the title of the paper, author's name, and institutional affiliation centered on the page.

MLA Page Formatting

MLA requires:

  • Margins: One-inch margins on all sides of the paper.
  • Font: Times New Roman, 12-point font size.
  • Line Spacing: Double-spaced throughout the document.
  • Title Page: MLA papers do not require a separate title page. Instead of that, add a four-line header on the first page.
  • Page Header: Author's last name and page number, flush right in the header, half an inch from the top margin.

APA vs MLA In-Text Citations

Let’s find out the differences between APA vs MLA for in-text citations:

In-Text Citations in APA

In APA style, in-text citations follow the author-date format. 

This means that the author's last name and the publication year are included in parenthetical citations. It means to add parentheses at the end of the cited information. 

For direct quotations, the page number is also included. 

(Author's Last Name, Year, p. Page Number)

Here's an example:

  • (Smith, 2019)
  • (Jones, 2020, p. 45)

MLA In-Text Citations

In MLA style, in-text citations follow the author-page number format. 

The author's last name and the page number are placed within parentheses at the end of the cited information. 

If the author's name is mentioned in the text, only the page number is enclosed in parentheses. 

(Author's Last Name Page Number)

Here's an example:

  • (Smith 25)
  • According to Jones, "..." (45).

In-Text Citation for a Direct Quote:

  • APA: (Smith, 2022, p. 45)
  • MLA: (Smith 45)

In-Text Citation for a Paraphrase:

  • APA: (Smith, 2022)
  • MLA: (Smith 45)

Reference Page Format in APA vs MLA

While both APA and MLA styles serve similar purposes, they exhibit distinct understanding in formatting reference lists.

APA Reference Page Format 

  • In APA style, the reference page is a separate section at the end of the document. 
  • Entries are organized alphabetically by the author's last name or the title of the work if no author is present. 
  • The hanging indent format is used, where the first line of each entry starts at the left margin, and subsequent lines are indented. 
  • The detailed citation includes the author's name, publication year, title of the work, source information, and, if applicable, the DOI or URL.

Format: Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Source Information. DOI or URL

Example of Journal Article Reference:

Johnson, M. L. (2018). The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity. Environmental Science and Technology, 42(3), 345-358.

https://doi.org/10.1080/12345678.2018.1234567 

  • Author: Johnson, M. L.
  • Year of Publication: 2018
  • Title of the Article: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity
  • Title of the Journal: Environmental Science and Technology
  • Volume Number: 42
  • Issue Number: 3
  • Page Range: 345-358
  • DOI: 10.1080/12345678.2018.1234567 

MLA Works Cited List Format

  • In MLA style, the Works Cited list is also a separate page at the end of the document.
  • Entries are organized alphabetically by the author's last name or the title of the work. 
  • MLA uses a hanging indent format where the second and subsequent lines of each entry are indented. 
  • The citation includes the author's name, title of the work, container title, publication details, and URL if necessary.

Format: Author's Last Name, First Name. Title of the Work. Container Title, Publication Date, Page Range. URL (if applicable).

Example of Journal Article Reference:

Johnson, Mary L. "The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity." Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 42, no. 3, 2018, pp. 345-358. https://www.example.com/johnson_climate_change
  • Author: Johnson, Mary L.
  • Title of the Article: "The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity."
  • Title of the Journal: Environmental Science and Technology
  • Volume Number: 42
  • Issue Number: 3
  • Year of Publication: 2018
  • Page Range: 345-358
  • URL: https://www.example.com/johnson_climate_change

APA vs MLA  Annotated Bibliography

While both APA and MLA styles provide information about sources, they differ in their formatting and citation styles for annotated bibliographies.

APA annotations tend to be longer and provide more comprehensive evaluations, including details about the research methods and key findings.

In contrast, MLA annotations are generally shorter and focus on summarizing the source's contribution and assessing its relevance to the research topic.

Here is a table for APA vs MLA Annotated Bibliography:

ComponentAPA Annotated BibliographyMLA Annotated Bibliography
Citation Style
  • Author
  • Year
  • Title
  • Source details
  • DOI or URL
  • Author
  • Title
  • Container title
  • Publication details
  • URL if applicable
Annotation LengthLonger annotations (150-200 words).Shorter annotations (100-150 words).
ContentInclude author credentials, research methods, and key findingsComments on the author's authority or perspective
FunctionAssesses reliability, relevance, and quality.Evaluates relevance 
Writing StyleTypically presented in paragraph format.Presented in a concise paragraph format.

MLA vs APA Reference Entries Examples

Here are examples of reference entries for various sources in both MLA and APA formats:

Book:

  • APA: Smith, J. (2022). The Art of Writing. ABC Publishing.
  • MLA: Smith, John. The Art of Writing. ABC Publishing, 2022.

Journal Article:

  • APA: Jones, M. (2022). The Impact of Technology on Education. Journal of Educational Technology, 15(2), 45-58.
  • MLA: Jones, Mary. "The Impact of Technology on Education." Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 15, no. 2, 2022, pp. 45-58.

Website:

  • APA: Smith, J. (2022, January 15). The Future of Renewable Energy. Sustainable Energy Insights. https://www.sustainableenergyinsights.com/future-renewable-energy
  • MLA: Smith, John. "The Future of Renewable Energy." Sustainable Energy Insights, Sustainable Energy Solutions, 15 Jan. 2022, https://www.sustainableenergyinsights.com/future-renewable-energy.           

APA and MLA Similarities

While APA and MLA styles have distinct guidelines, they share some commonalities in their approach to academic writing. 

Here are some similarities between APA and MLA:

  • Margins: Both styles typically require one-inch margins on all sides of the paper, providing a uniform and professional appearance.
  • Parenthetical Citations: Both APA and MLA citation styles use parenthetical citations within the text to acknowledge the source of information.
  • Font: Times New Roman, 12-point font size is a common requirement in both APA and MLA styles. This standardization enhances readability and consistency.
  • Line Spacing: Double-spacing is a shared convention throughout the document, ensuring clarity and ease of reading. This applies to various sections, including the main body and references (APA) or Works Cited (MLA).
  • Header/Footer: While APA uses a running head with a shortened title and page number. MLA opts for the author's last name and page number, both positioned flush right.

APA vs MLA Citation Format: Which One to Use? 

Choosing between APA and MLA citation formats depends on various factors, including the academic discipline, the type of document, and instructor preferences. 

Both styles have distinct guidelines, and understanding their differences can help you make an informed decision.

  • Academic Discipline

Understand when to use APA vs MLA according to your academic discipline. Sciences often prefer APA, while humanities tend to favor MLA.

  • Instructor's Preferences

Always follow the specific guidelines provided by your instructor. Some educators may have a preference for one style over the other.

  • Publication Requirements

If you are submitting your work to a specific publication or journal, choose according to their preferred citation style.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Difference Between APA vs MLA vs Chicago Format?

APA is common in social sciences, MLA in humanities, and Chicago is versatile, often used in history, fine arts, and even business and management. Always check the guidelines provided by your instructor or publication.

What is the Difference Between APA vs MLA Research Paper?

The key distinctions in these research papers lie in citation formats, preferred disciplines, and specific formatting rules. APA is often used in social sciences, while MLA is common in humanities. 

Cathy Aranda

WRITTEN BY

Cathy Aranda (Marketing)

Cathy is a highly dedicated author who has been writing for the platform for over five years. With a Master's degree in Mass Communication, she is well-versed in various forms of writing such as articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As an essay writing guide author at PerfectEssayWriter.ai, she has been helping students and professionals improve their writing skills by offering practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style.

Cathy is a highly dedicated author who has been writing for the platform for over five years. With a Master's degree in Mass Communication, she is well-versed in various forms of writing such as articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As an essay writing guide author at PerfectEssayWriter.ai, she has been helping students and professionals improve their writing skills by offering practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style.

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