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Understanding the Similarities and Differences Between APA Style and MLA Style
by Peter Gallagher

When writing a formal or academic paper (i.e., a thesis, research report, dissertation, etc.), your professor will request you to use one of two common style formats, APA Style or MLA Style. Even though both styles are congruent, they do possess slight discrepancies.

Usually you choose a style according to the topic or subject matter of your paper. Each style handles the format of the paper differently to satisfy the citation requirements for your chosen topic.


Usually your professor will decide the style of composition that you'll apply to your paper. If your professor allows you to decide, then this article will help you to select the right style to use.


Use APA Style for topics pertaining to the social sciences; this may include business, law, and medical studies. The American Psychological Association is the originator of the APA Style (www.apastyle.org) Its flagship handbook, "The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association" covers everything about using APA Style.


Choose MLA Style if you are writing on a subject pertaining to the humanities and liberal arts (literature, mass communications, and media studies). The Modern Language Association manages the structure of MLA Style (www.mla.org). For college students, use the "MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers" (often abbreviated to MLA Handbook) as the compendium to adhere to MLA Style. For post-graduates and industry trade professionals, use the "MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing" (often abbreviated to MLA Style Manual) to view formal rules and instructions for MLA Style.


If you still unsure about which style to use, let me reveal a few formatting contrasts between the two styles. Elect the style that will help you to format and communicate your information to your readers in the most functional and proficient way.


This difference in this category is quite clear: APA Style calls for an Abstract page, while MLA Style does not. An abstract is a brief synopsis of your paper.


Both styles mandate that you use the last name of the author(s) in any in-text citation. If you use APA Style, you also need to add the year of publication—this helps your readers determine the relevancy of a particular source, based on its age. MLA Style requires you to add the page number of the information that you've cited with the name of the author(s)—however, do NOT include the year of publication. The age of the source isn't as vital to its relevancy, so MLA Style excludes the year of publication.

With both styles, realize that the in-text citation is a way of providing your readers an easy way to locate the full quotation in the Reference List page or Works Cited page at the end of the paper. You only need brief general details about the source for an in-text citation.


Both styles require you to put the page number in the upper right corner of each page, but each style has distinct information. With APA Style, you must append a running title to the left of the page number on each page. A running title is a two- or three-word extract of the title of your paper. With MLA Style, provide the author's name to the left of the page number on each page.


When itemizing your sources on the Reference List page (APA Style) or Works Cited page (MLA Style), write the full last name of the author (s) in each entry. APA Style also requires you to add the initials of the first and middle name of each author. In MLA Style, you spell out the full first and middle name of each author. (Middle name is not required.)


APA Style needs a title page, but MLA Style does not. If you decide to leave out the title page with MLA Style, simply provide your name, your professor's name, your curriculum, and the date in the upper left-hand corner of the first page. Then center the title on the page, succeeded by your main text.

You'll notice numerous precise contrasts between APA Style and MLA Style in capitalization and punctuation rules. The variations are too many to enumerate here, and they very likely won't alter your selection on which style to use.

© Peter Gallagher, Brian Scott, LousyWriter.com