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Differences Between APA Format vs MLA Format: A Comprehensive Guide

August 19, 2023
7 minutes read
Table of contents

In academic writing, adhering to proper citation formats is imperative, as it authenticates the sources of information utilized. Two prominent citation styles, MLA and APA format, are extensively encountered by students, researchers, and academics. While both MLA and APA serve the quintessential purpose of crediting sources, they are designed with different formats and are recommended for distinct types of work. This guide elucidates the key difference between MLA and APA, thereby assisting in the appropriate selection and application of each style.

History and Standard Guidelines of APA Format

The APA format originates from the guidelines established by the American Psychological Association. Designed to enhance clarity and precision in scientific writing, APA format is predominantly endorsed for works within the social sciences—such as psychology, sociology, and education. This format enables readers to navigate texts effortlessly, promoting the efficient exchange of ideas.

APA Format Standards Include:

  • Double-spaced lines
  • Times New Roman 12, one-inch margins on all sides
  • Upper right part of every page features a page number and a shortened title of the work
  • Footnotes/endnotes are double-spaced
  • In-text citations encompass the author, year of publication, and page (Slezinger, 2016, p.6) for direct quotations. Paraphrased ideas should mention the author’s name and year (Slezinger, 2016)
  • Reference list is organized in bibliographic order
  • Alphabetical order for authors and, when necessary, chronological order for multiple works by the same author
  • Authors’ names in reference list are structured as Last Name + First Initial + Middle Initial (Sloss D.M.)
  • In periodicals’ titles, only the first word is capitalized; quotation marks are not used
  • Title of the paper is centered
  • Abstract inclusion is necessary for extensive papers

History and Standard Guidelines of MLA Format

MLA format, instituted by the Modern Language Association, is extensively employed within the humanities, particularly in writings focusing on literature and languages. Distinct from the APA format, MLA prioritizes the authorship of a work, as evidenced in its citation format, which accentuates the significant role authors play in the humanities.

MLA Format Standards Include:

  • Double-spaced lines
  • Times New Roman 12, one-inch margins on all sides
  • Bibliographical list of works cited
  • Alphabetical order for authors, and alphabetical order for works when an author has multiple publications
  • Direct in-text citations contain only the name and page, without a comma (Slezinger 242); indirect citations reference only the page (According to Slezinger (242), technologies evolve…)
  • No additional line-break between citations
  • Page number accompanied by the author’s name in the upper right corner (Moran 3)
  • Titles of articles are enclosed in quotation marks, and each significant word is capitalized

Generate Citations in a Few Clicks

For students and professionals pressed for time or unfamiliar with these citation styles, there are tools available that swiftly generate citations in APA, MLA, or other formats. These tools are indispensable when compiling a comprehensive list of citations for academic papers and projects. Users simply input requisite information about their source, and these tools will automatically format it according to the selected style guide.

MLA and APA Format: A Comparative Table with Examples

Both MLA and APA formats are prominent citation styles in academic writing, but they serve distinct purposes and exhibit unique characteristics. For example, APA format, established by the American Psychological Association, is predominantly employed within the realm of social sciences. Conversely, MLA format, set forth by the Modern Language Association, is frequently adopted within humanities and liberal arts disciplines.

APA Format MLA Format
Author, A. (Year). Title of work. Publisher. Author, FirstName LastName. Title of Work. Publisher, Year.

Differences Between MLA and APA: Which is Superior?

The query regarding the superiority between MLA and APA formats lacks a universal resolution. The choice between these two styles hinges on several factors: the academic discipline in question, the type of source material being cited, and the specific guidelines mandated by a given institution or professor. For comprehensive literary works, wherein numerous page references are integral, MLA format often proves advantageous. In contrast, for scientific papers that necessitate date-centric citations, APA format frequently emerges as the more suitable option.

APA vs MLA: Does the Subject of the Paper Matter?

Unquestionably, the subject matter of a paper significantly influences the decision of whether to use APA or MLA format. In fields such as Psychology, Sociology, and Sciences, APA format is generally favored due to its succinct citation style, which emphasizes the date of publication. For disciplines within the humanities, including Literature and History, where page-specific citations are prevalent, MLA format is typically the go-to choice.

Examples of How to Format References/Works Cited in Both Styles

MLA: Smith, John. The Great Book. Penguin, 2015.
APA: Smith, J. (2015). The Great Book. Penguin.

Journal Article:
MLA: Johnson, Mary. “Exploring the Unknown.” Journal of Exploration, vol.5, no.8, 2016, pp.89-101.
APA: Johnson, M. (2016). Exploring the unknown. Journal of Exploration, 5(8), 89-101.


Opting between MLA and APA formats is not a capricious decision; it is determined based on the subject matter of the research, the type of source material involved, and specific institutional or publication guidelines. MLA format excels in facilitating detailed, page-specific citations, making it a favored choice in the humanities. APA format, conversely, is characterized by its precision and brevity, rendering it optimal for social science contexts. Regardless of the chosen style—be it MLA or APA—the cardinal principle remains consistent and accurate citation, which is paramount in upholding academic integrity and fostering scholarly respect. For those who may find this process challenging, considering assistance from an APA paper writer can be a beneficial option to ensure the accuracy of your citations.

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