You’ve been looking over the different writing styles and noticed that MLA and APA format are similar. Staring at the citation page, you really can’t see a difference between the two. While MLA and APA do have a lot of similarities in the citation pages, there are a few distinct differences that you’ll notice if you really look at them.
MLA vs. APA
If you are comparing MLA and APA citation styles, it’ll come to your attention that they are formatted a little differently. The differences aren’t going to jump out at you and say, “Hey look at me.” While they are subtle, the differences between them come down to what they were created for.
APA (American Psychological Association) is designed for technical works found in social sciences. This format makes citing journals and technical reports a breeze. MLA (Modern Language Association) is for arts and humanities. It helps you to break down citing paintings, books, and other literature.
While you can write a paper in either format, using the right style can make your life a whole lot easier. Therefore, it is important to break down the differences of each.
What’s in a Title?
The most obvious difference that you’ll see in an MLA paper and an APA paper is the title of the citation page. Papers written in MLA format will have a Works Cited page. The APA citation page, on the other hand, will be labeled References. Both titles will be centered at the top of the page and the list of references will be double spaced. The title is an easy way to know which one you are looking at.
It’s All About the Author
Each different style formats how they attribute the author a little differently, as well. And, if you get into multiple authors, this is unique too. Check out each in turn to examine the difference in making a citation.
Author’s name in MLA will take the format: Last Name, First Name
- Henry, John
The formatting of the author will vary based on how many there are. Two authors will be written out with an “and” separating them. With three or more authors, you’ll include the first author and then et al., which is Latin for “and others.”
- Two authors: Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner (notice the second name is written in the first name last name format)
- Three or more: Gillespie, Paula, et al.
In APA, you only write out the last name followed by the first and middle initial.
- Henry, J.
When it comes to multiple authors in APA, you have three different categories. With two authors, you’ll list both with an ampersand (&) separating them. When there are three to seven authors, you’ll list all the names with commas separating them and an ampersand before the last one. If the source has seven or more authors, you’ll list the first six authors, separated by commas, then include an ellipsis (. . .) followed by the last author. Look at a few examples to really understand.
- Two authors: Gillespie, P. H. & Lerner, N.
- Three to seven authors: Gillespie, P. H., Corn, D. P., Son, C. R., Barry, A. B., Harlow, T. & Beck, J.
- Seven or more: Gillespie, P. H., Corn, D. P., Son, C. R., Barry, A. B., Harlow, T., Beck, J., . . . Ruben, H.
Title capitalization is important to style. MLA goes for header capitalization where every major word in the title is capitalized. Also called title case, this looks like:
- Gleason, Jeff. Chaos: A Look at the Stars. RedRiver, 2010.
APA takes its own road. In APA, book titles and such will only capitalize the first word. This is sometimes called sentence case:
- Gleason, J. (2010). Chaos: a look at the stars. New York, NY: RedRiver.
Look at That Period
The final difference that you’ll notice in the basic format for each style is the period. MLA puts a period at the end of all works cited entries. In APA style, a period is not added if the entry ends in a URL or DOI.
Other Subtle Differences
You might notice other little differences between these two styles on the citation page, but these will vary based on what is being cited. For example, MLA typically includes the publication date, at or near the end of the citation. In APA, however, you’ll see the publication date after the author’s name.
Knowing Your Citations
MLA and APA are very similar, but they have their own unique styles. They both use a reference page at the end of the work, align entries to the left and have the title centered. But, how they format their entries is distinctly their own. Follow your teacher’s instructions on which style to use when writing your school paper.