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MLA vs. APA: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Do you often get confused between the MLA and APA citation styles? Are you struggling to understand the differences between them?

MLA (Modern Language Association) is a citation and formatting style primarily used in humanities, emphasizing author and page numbers for in-text citations. While APA (American Psychological Association) is a citation and formatting style primarily used in social sciences, emphasizing author and publication year for in-text citations.

MLA vs. APA

MLA (Modern Language Association)APA (American Psychological Association)
MLA is commonly used in the humanities, such as literature, languages, and cultural studies. It emphasizes the author’s name and page numbers for in-text citations.APA is widely used in the social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, and education. It focuses on the author’s name and publication date for in-text citations.
It includes double-spacing, a hanging indent for citations, and a Works Cited page citing sources at the end of the document.It requires double-spacing, a running head on each page, and a References page that lists sources at the end of the document.
MLA does not typically require a title page unless specified by the instructor.APA usually requires a title page that includes the title of the paper, author’s name, institutional affiliation, and a running head.
It uses quotation marks for short quotations and italics or underlining for longer works, such as books or journals.It uses double quotation marks for short quotations and italics for longer works, with no underlining.
MLA uses the author’s last name and page number in parentheses for in-text citations, such as (Smith 123).APA uses the author’s last name and publication year in parentheses, such as (Smith, 2020).
It includes the URL or web address of a website in angle brackets (< >) after the citation.It omits the URL but includes the website’s name and, if available, the publication date or access date.

What is MLA?

MLA (Modern Language Association) is a widely used citation and formatting style primarily employed in disciplines related to the humanities, such as literature, language, and cultural studies. It provides guidelines for formatting academic papers, citing sources, and creating a works cited page.

MLA emphasizes the author’s name and page numbers for in-text citations, allowing readers to easily locate and refer to specific sources.

MLA style also addresses other aspects of paper formatting, including margins, font size, headings, and quotations. Its purpose is to ensure clarity, consistency, and proper attribution of sources in scholarly writing within the humanities field.

What is APA?

APA (American Psychological Association) is a widely used citation and formatting style primarily utilized in the social sciences, including psychology, sociology, education, and related disciplines.

APA provides guidelines for organizing and formatting academic papers, citing sources, and creating references. It emphasizes the author’s name and publication year in in-text citations, enabling readers to identify and locate the original sources.

APA style also specifies requirements for paper structure, headings, margins, font size, and other formatting elements.

Its purpose is to promote clarity, consistency, and proper attribution of sources in scholarly writing within the social sciences field, ensuring effective communication and adherence to academic standards.

Similarities between MLA and APA

  1. In-text Citations: Both MLA and APA require in-text citations to indicate the source of information within the text of the paper. They both use the author’s name and other relevant information to attribute the source.
  2. Reference Lists: Both MLA and APA styles include a reference list or work cited page at the end of the document, providing a comprehensive list of all the sources cited in the paper. The reference list follows specific formatting guidelines for each style.
  3. Order of Information: MLA and APA generally follow a similar order of information when citing sources. They typically include the author’s name, title of the work, publication date, and other necessary details depending on the source type.
  4. Punctuation: MLA and APA employ similar punctuation conventions for citations, such as the use of parentheses to enclose in-text citations and periods to separate elements within the citation.
  5. Formatting: Both MLA and APA provide guidelines for formatting the overall structure of the paper, including font size, margins, and headings. They prioritize readability and clarity in academic writing.
  6. Quotations: MLA and APA styles have similar guidelines for incorporating and formatting quotations within the text, such as using quotation marks for shorter quotes and indentation or block formatting for longer quotes.

How to format your paper in each style

  • The MLA style is most commonly used in the humanities, especially in English literature. In MLA style, the paper is double-spaced, with 1-inch margins all around, and the first line of each paragraph is indented half an inch.
  • The header includes your last name and the page number in the top right corner of each page. The title of your paper is centered on the first page, and your name is centered on the second page. MLA also requires you to use in-text citations to give credit to the sources you consulted in writing your paper.
  • The APA style is most commonly used in the social sciences, especially psychology and sociology. In APA style, the paper is single-spaced, with one-inch margins all around, and there is no indentation at the beginning of each paragraph.
  • The header includes your last name and the page number in the top right corner of each page. The title of your paper is centered on the first page, and your name is centered on the second page.
  • APA also requires you to use in-text citations to give credit to the sources you consulted in writing your paper.

How to cite sources in each style

In MLA style, citations are listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If there is no author listed, the title of the work is used instead. Each citation includes the author’s name, the title of the work, the date of publication, and the URL or page range.

To cite a source in APA style, list the author’s last name, followed by their initials. The date of publication comes next, followed by the title of the work and the URL.

Examples of citations in each style

MLA:

In MLA style, citations are typically listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If there is no author listed, the title of the work should be used instead.

The citation should include all relevant information about the source, including the author’s name, the title of the work, the publication date, and the page number(s) where the information was found.

Here is an example of a citation for a journal article in MLA style:

Smith, John. “The Importance of Citation Styles.” Journal of Academic Writing, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 1-10.

APA:

In APA style, citations are typically listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If there is no author listed, the title of the work should be used instead.

The citation should include all relevant information about the source, including the author’s name, the title of the work, the publication date, and the page number(s) where the information was found.

For APA citations, you will also need to include a DOI (digital object identifier) if one is available. DOIs are unique numbers that can be used to identify digital resources like journal articles.

Key differences between MLA and APA

  • Disciplinary Focus: MLA is primarily used in humanities disciplines, such as literature and languages, while APA is commonly used in social sciences, including psychology and education.
  • In-text Citations: MLA emphasizes the author’s name and page number (Smith 123) in in-text citations, whereas APA emphasizes the author’s name and publication year (Smith, 2020).
  • Formatting: MLA requires double-spacing throughout the document, while APA typically uses double-spacing but may have exceptions for certain sections. MLA uses a hanging indent for citations on the Works Cited page, while APA uses a hanging indent for references on the References page.
differences between MLA and APA

Conclusion

MLA is predominantly used in humanities disciplines, emphasizing authorship and page numbers for in-text citations. APA is widely used in social sciences, emphasizing authorship and publication year. While MLA is suited for literature and languages, APA is ideal for psychology and related fields. Both styles provide guidelines for proper citation and formatting, ensuring clarity and consistency in academic writing.

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