American Psychological Association (APA) and Modern Language Association (MLA) both use parenthetical citations (as opposed to footnotes), which make them look similar. However, there are many differences between APA and MLA which every learner must know. The primary difference between APA and MLA is in their use: APA is more common for the social sciences (disciplines like Psychology) while MLA is typical for liberal arts and humanitarian disciplines. Both styles are used very frequently, and if you do not want your papers to lose points because of formatting, read the list of differences between APA and MLA provided below.

APA vs MLA: Paper Formatting

The basic paper formatting is similar in both styles: pages are double-spaced, font 12, and 1-inch margins. Do not leave unnecessary spaces between paragraphs, instead, use one-half inch indention. A paper formatted according to APA style will consist of a title page, abstract (optional), body, and references. The abstract is a 150-250 word summary of a research paper that highlights its method, hypothesis, research question, and findings. It should also contain a list of keywords. Abstracts in APA are not indented. How is APA different from MLA? MLA combine the title page with the page #1 of a work. Moreover, students abstracts are not obligatory. Therefore, an MLA-formatted paper will comprise two parts: the body(with the student’s and professor’s names on the first page) and a works cited page.

Title Page

American Psychological Association recommends to format papers using headers on each page, even on the title page. Page numbers should be on the right side and the paper title should be flush left. Include the title of the paper, your name, and the name of the institutional affiliation on the title page. According to the requirements of the Modern Language Association, the header should be flush right. It includes pages preceded by the name of the researcher, writer, poet, etc. In addition, the author’s and instructor’s names, the name of the course, and date should appear on the first page, flush left.

Format In-Text Citations Correctly

Here, the differences between APA and MLA are not so drastic: MLA uses author-page format (e.g.: Johnson 58) and APA uses author-date format (e.g.: Johnson, p. 58, 2015). Note the difference in comma use. A citation, according to APA guide, must consist of the author’s last name and the date when the source was published. If possible, add the number of the page. In MLA, on the other hand, they include the author’s name and the page.

APA versus MLA Reference Page

Both APA and MLA formatting guides recommend creating a separate page for the list of references. Create titles ‘References’ and ‘Works Cited’ in APA and MLA respectively. These pages have to be double-spaced, as well. List the works you used for the research alphabetically. Put the sources in alphabetic order according to the names of the authors. If there are two or more works by the same author, list them chronologically starting from the earliest work in APA. MLA recommends alphabetizing such works by title and using the sign --- instead of the author’s name after the first mentioning. All books, articles, and other sources should have 1/5 inch indention. Use left-margin orientation. Use five spaces to indent the lines in the Works Cited page in MLA. Here are the differences between APA and MLA reference page and in-text citations explained in a table:

Type MLA Format APA Format
Date: Put the date after the publisher without parentheses. Similar to MLA, but in parenthesis. Besides, try to refrain from outdated sources.
Author's Name: Both last and first names are spelled out. Only the author’s last name should be spelled out. The first name is initialized.
Capitalization in the body of the paper:  All meaningful words in the title start with a capital letter. Capitalize all big words in a title. Such works (books, films, music albums) should be italicized. Smaller works, like articles, book chapters, or separate songs should be in quotation marks.
Source Page: Should be a separate page. Include all the works you used in the paper. All positions must have corresponding in-text citations.
In-Text Citations: Do not put commas between the date and the author’s last name.  Put references after direct quotes or any time you refer to an outside source. If you have it, add the page. Use commas to separate the researcher’s name, page, and date.

This article highlights the major differences between two formatting styles. However, we recommend checking more detailed guidelines or referring to samples published on the official websites.

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