APA vs. MLA: What is the Main Difference?

When writing a research paper or academic essay, citing sources is a crucial part of the writing process. Two of the most commonly used citation styles are APA and MLA. While both styles serve the same purpose, they have some key differences in format and citation that writers should be aware of.

The Main Difference Between APA and MLA

APA vs. MLA: Choosing the Right Citation Style for Your Writing Pin

APA vs. MLA: Key Takeaways

  • APA (American Psychological Association) style is primarily used in the social sciences, education, and psychology fields.
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) style is predominantly used in the humanities, including literature, languages, and cultural studies.

APA vs. MLA: The Definition

What Does APA Mean?

APA stands for American Psychological Association, APA is a citation style that is commonly used in the social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, and education. The APA style uses parenthetical in-text citations and a reference list at the end of the paper. In-text citations include the author’s last name and the year of publication, while the reference list includes detailed information about the sources cited.

What Does MLA Mean?

MLA stands for Modern Language Association, MLA is a citation style that is commonly used in the humanities, such as literature, languages, and cultural studies. The MLA style uses in-text citations that include the author’s last name and the page number(s) where the information was found. The Works Cited page at the end of the paper provides detailed information about the sources cited.

APA vs. MLA: Usage

One of the key differences between APA and MLA is their citation format. For example, in APA, the author’s last name and year of publication are included in the in-text citation, while in MLA, the author’s last name and page number(s) are included. Here are some examples:

APA: According to Smith (2019), “the results of the study showed that…” (p. 23).

MLA: According to Smith, “the results of the study showed that…” (23).

Another difference is the way that the reference page is formatted. In APA, the reference list is organized alphabetically by the author’s last name, while in MLA, the Works Cited page is organized alphabetically by the author’s last name and is double-spaced. Here are some examples:

APA: Smith, J. (2019). Title of the article. Journal Name, volume number(issue number), page range.

MLA: Smith, John. “Title of the Article.” Journal Name, vol. 1, no. 1, 2019, pp. 23-45.

Let’s take a quick look at the table below to see the differences between the two:

Feature APA MLA
In-text citation (Taylor, 2018, p. 23) (Taylor 23)
List of sources Reference List Works Cited
Title page Required, with a specific format Optional, simpler format
Page format Running head No running-head

Tips to Remember the Differences

To avoid confusion and ensure that you are using the correct citation style, here are some tips to remember:

  • Keep in mind the fields in which each style is typically used: APA for social sciences, and MLA for humanities.
  • Focus on the difference in in-text citations: APA includes the author, date, and page; MLA includes just the author and page.
  • Note the different names for the source list: “Reference List” for APA and “Works Cited” for MLA.
  • Familiarize yourself with the specific guidelines for each citation style, including in-text citation format, reference page layout, and formatting requirements.
  • Use reliable sources, such as style guides or online resources, to help you properly cite your sources.

APA vs. MLA: Examples

Example Sentences Using APA

When using APA style, in-text citations should include the author’s last name and the year of publication, separated by a comma. For example, “According to Smith (2020),…” or “(Smith, 2020).” If there are multiple authors, include all of their last names separated by commas in the first citation and use “et al.” for subsequent citations. For example, “Johnson, Smith, and Lee (2018) found that…” or “(Johnson et al., 2018).”

The reference list in APA style should include the author’s last name and initials, the year of publication, the title of the article or book, the name of the journal or publisher, and the page numbers. For example:

Smith, J. (2020). The effects of climate change on wildlife. Journal of Environmental Science, 10(2), 45-56.

Example Sentences Using MLA

When using MLA style, in-text citations should include the author’s last name and the page number, separated by a space. For example, “According to Smith (45)…” or “(Smith 45).” If there are multiple authors, include all of their last names in the first citation and use “et al.” for subsequent citations. For example, “Johnson, Smith, and Lee found that…” or “(Johnson et al. 45).”

The works cited list in MLA style should include the author’s last name and first name, the title of the article or book, the title of the journal or publisher, the year of publication, and the page numbers. For example:

Smith, John. “The Effects of Climate Change on Wildlife.” Journal of Environmental Science, vol. 10, no. 2, 2020, pp. 45-56.

Related Confused Words

APA and MLA are two of the most commonly used citation styles, but they can be confusing to differentiate. Here are some related words that are often confused with APA or MLA and their correct usage:

Bibliography vs. References vs. Works Cited

In MLA style, the list of sources at the end of the paper is called “Works Cited.” In APA style, it’s called “References.” While in Chicago style, it’s called “Bibliography.” It’s important to use the correct term for the citation style you are using.

Footnotes vs. In-Text Citations

Both APA and MLA use in-text citations to cite sources within the text. However, Chicago style uses footnotes or endnotes instead. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page and endnotes appear at the end of the paper.

DOI vs. URL

In APA style, if a source has a DOI (Digital Object Identifier), it should be included in the reference list. In contrast, in MLA style, URLs should be included for online sources. It’s important to follow the correct format for the citation style you are using.