Differences Between APA and MLA Writing Styles

by Michele Cooper

American Psychological Association and Modern Language Association are writing and formatting styles used in papers, reports, and academic essays. APA is predominately used in the social sciences while MLA is predominately used in the liberal arts and humanities. The guidelines provide overall formatting for content, style and references. While they have many similarities, there are also many differences.

Paper Formatting

Both MLA and APA adhere to double-spaced pages, a legible 12-point font, and 1-inch margins on all sides. An APA-formatted paper consists of four parts: title page, abstract, main body and references. The abstract is 150 to 250 words and gives a summary of key points in the paper, including the research topic, research questions, methods, analysis and conclusion. The abstract is a single, double-spaced paragraph. The MLA-formatted paper does not have a separate title page or an abstract and has two major parts: the body of the paper and a works cited page.

Title Page

APA-formatted papers use page headers at the top of every page, including the title page. Page numbers are flush right and the title of the paper is flush left. The title page includes the title, author's name, and institutional affiliation. An MLA formatted paper includes the title on the first page, separating the title from the essay only by a double space. MLA uses a header on the left side of the first page that includes author name, instructor name, course and date. The remaining pages have a right side header that includes the last name of the author and page number.

In-Text Citations

MLA and APA papers have slightly different methods for in-text citations as MLA follows the author-page format and APA follows the author-date format. An APA-formatted paper includes the author's last name and year of publication in parenthesis after the cited text. An MLA-formatted paper includes the author's last name and page number in parenthesis after the text.

Reference Page

APA-formatted papers include a separate page at the end of the paper entitled "References," and MLA-formatted papers include a page entitled "Works Cited." Both list the sources used in the paper alphabetized by the last name of the author and are double spaced. In an APA-formatted paper, if there are two works by the same author, the entries are listed in chronological order from the earliest work. In an MLA-formatted paper, the entries are listed alphabetically by title, and three hyphens are used in place of the author's name after the first entry. In an MLA-formatted works cited page, the second line and subsequent lines for each source are indented five spaces. An APA source is indented one-half inch from the margin after the first line.

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