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APA vs. MLA: What Style Guide Do I Use?


APA versus MLA: what style guide do you use?


The American Psychological Association (APA) style is, originally, a set of rules that authors use when submitting papers for publications in the journals of the APA. Established in 1929, the style has since been used to guide research writers and help them achieve – through the use of established standards for language, the construction of correct reference citations, the avoidance of plagiarism, the proper use of headers, among many others – "minimum distraction and maximum precision".

As a complete style and guideline for writing, the APA is a valuable tool for writing scientific papers, laboratory reports, and papers covering topics in the field of psychology, education, and other social sciences. The APA style allows for in-text citations, direct quotations, and endnotes and footnotes. It is also enables the author to use the past tense of verbs in the reportage.

Standards of the APA style include:

  • Bibliographic list of references

  • Alphabetical order by author in the bibliographic list, then chronological by work

  • Referenced authors organized in the bibliographic list by last name, first initial, then middle initial

  • Italicized titles of periodicals listed in the bibliography, with the words of the title capitalized

  • Titles of books capitalized according to "sentence-style" capitalization

  • In-text citations in parenthesis, with the author's last name, year of publication, and page number included (Smith, 1988. p. 4)

  • Double-spaced lines

  • Page numbers – plus the shortened title of the work – placed in the upper right of every page

  • Title centered an inch below the top of the page

  • Double-spaced footnotes / endnotes, used sparingly for non-crucial information, and which are subscripted with a number that relates to the footnote


The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is the leading style of documentation for literary research, as well as academic papers in the humanities field. It follows a specific set of rules for formatting manuscripts, and is considered, along with the APA style, a standardized reference format in college. Compared to the APA style, however, the MLA style focuses on the citation of books, anthologies, literary works, audio-visual material, multimedia, and similar works with much more detail.

Also, unlike the APA style, the present tense of verbs is most commonly used in the MLA style. Other MLA standards include:

  • Bibliographic list of works cited

  • Alphabetical order by author in the bibliographic list, then alphabetical by work

  • Centered titles an inch below the tops of the page

  • Referenced authors / names organized in the bibliographic list by last name, first name, then middle initial

  • In-text citations in parenthesis, with only the author's last name and page number included (Smith 4)

  • Double-spaced lines, but with no extra line breaks between each citation

  • Footnotes (superscripted) also used to provide non-essential information

Which style do I use?

Humanities courses are usually asked to style according to MLA guidelines. Students in science and research fields, meanwhile, are often encouraged to follow the APA guidelines. In college, the primary reason for using a standardized reference format like the MLA or APA is so that professional peers, researchers, professors, and other academic readers can easily understand the syntax and easily check the citations.

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