MLA vs. APA

Why do these three little letters incite so much fear, frustration and anxiety into the hearts of students everywhere? Why do some instructors bleed red all over your citation page? If you already know how to cite research in APA style, why does your English teacher force you to use MLA?

When writing a research paper, collecting the research is only part of the battle. Once you have decided how to use the sources in your paper, you’ll now need to cite them at the end of your essay on a Works Cited page (MLA) or a References page (APA). If you’ve always used APA style and know it well, switching to MLA (or vise-versa) can be confusing, but understanding the differences between the two citation styles – as well as the similarities – will make the task less daunting.

Modern Language Association, or MLA, is used to cite sources in most humanities courses. The final page of your research paper will list all the sources you used in your paper, the Works Cited page. MLA focuses their citations on the author of texts, so in-text citations in your paper will reference the last name of the author. 

The American Psychological Association, or APA, is used to cite sources in the social or other sciences. In the sciences, the emphasis of citations is on the date of publication. This makes sense, right? The currency of research is much more important to social scientists, who need to keep abreast of the most current trends and often include tables and statistics in their research.

In-text Citations

In-text citations are needed in the body of a paper to direct readers to the Works Cited (MLA) or References (APA) page if they would like to know more about the sources cited in the paper. In-text citations appear immediately after quoted material.

MLA

When referencing an author in the body of your essay, MLA utilizes the author’s last name, followed by the page number when available. So, depending on if you have included the author’s name in your text, the citation will look like  

“Quotation” (Author’s Last Name Page Number).

(If the author is not named in a signal phrase) This concern has been expressed (Smith 118). 

(If the author’s name is in a signal phrase) Smith has expressed this concern (118).

APA

APA style for in-text citations also uses the author and page numbers like MLA, but unlike MLA, the year of publication is given as well:

“Quotation” (Author’s last name, year, page number).

(If the author is not named in a signal phrase)

To see chocolate in your dream signifies self-reward. It also denotes that you may be indulging in too many excesses and need to practice some restraint (Ford, 2010, p. 197).

(If the author’s name is in a signal phrase)

Steven Ford (2010) believes that to see chocolate in your dream signifies self-reward. It also denotes that you may be indulging in too many excesses and need to practice some restraint (p. 197).

Notice that APA places commas between citation information and uses an abbreviated “p.” to note the page number.

Works Cited vs. References Pages

For a simple book entry, APA focuses on the year of publication, so places this immediately after the author’s name. MLA also includes the date of publication, but places it after all other information:

MLA

Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.

Henley, Patricia. The Hummingbird House. Denver: MacMurray, 1999. Print.

APA

Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.

Calfee, R. C., & Valencia, R. R. (1991). APA guide to preparing manuscripts for journal publication. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Final Thoughts

MLA and APA are only two of the most commonly used citation styles. You might study journalism, whose professors might ask you to cite according to AP (not to be confused with APA) style. Or you may find a history professor ask you to use Chicago style. No matter what kind of system professors ask you to use, most have more similarities than differences.

Once the nuances between the two citation styles are understood, you should be able to effortlessly create citations for either style. Well, it may take a little effort, but maybe not as much as what you feared.

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3 comments on “MLA vs. APA

  1. Suzanne says:

    Heads up! I see an error here: ““Quotation” (Author’s last name, page number, year).”

    Like

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