Differences between APA vs MLA: What Format to Use?

Differences between APA vs MLA

Academic world is based on strict regulations when it comes to writing, starting with a college essay and up to science publications. Generally, there are three pretty common citation styles in American higher education: APA, MLA, and Chicago. Their main goal is to provide proper citations, avoid plagiarism, create unified paper structure system. Chicago style is used for history and economics, so, it is usually directly offered together with an assignment. When it comes to APA vs MLA, not everything can be as clear or easy for students. They both are very common, that’s why have similarities as well as differences. So how to choose the right one for your assignment and what are key standards for each one? This article has all necessary information to help you master both APA and MLA.

History and Standard Guidelines of APA

This style originates in guidelines of the American Psychology Association that created rules for journal articles publications and books. It was first established in 1929 to help authors to structure their works, as well as create a unique style of references and citations. Key idea is not to distract a reader, but to provide the most comprehensive text with proper headlines,  works cited list, avoid plagiarism. APA is commonly used for scientific papers, documents, lab reports. It also dictates language use standards when it comes to academic works. Its guidelines are being constantly updated to eliminate sexist, racist or intolerant language. You can always use apa citation generator free to save some time.

APA standards include:

  • Double-spaced lines;
  • Times New Roman 12, one-inch for all margins;
  • Upper right part of every page has a number + short title of the work;
  • Footnotes/endnotes are also double-spaced;
  • In-text citations include author, year of publication, page (Slezinger, 2016, p.6) for direct quotations. Paraphrased idea should include author’s name + year (Slezinger, 2016);
  • Reference list is composed in bibliographic order;
  • Alphabetical order for authors and then chronological for works (if there is more than one work of an author);
  • Authors’ names in references list are given in formula Last name + First Initial + Middle initial (Sloss D.M.);
  • In periodicals’ titles only the first word is capitalized, no quotation marks;
  • Title is centered.
  • Include abstract for long papers.

History and Standard Guidelines of MLA

Difference between MLA and APA starts with history of these styles. This one is provided by the Modern Language Association for literary research and scientific works in the field of humanities. Key difference is that MLA is more detailed when it concerns references and citations. It is also most commonly used in present tense of verbs. MLA vs APA have one more significant difference: the first one is focused on names of authors and treats old sources as well as the new studies. The second one, on the contrary, is focused on year of referenced book or publications, preferably the newest and relevant ones.

MLA standards include:

  • Double-spaced lines;
  • Times New Roman 12, one-inch for all margins;
  • Bibliographical list of works cited;
  • Alphabetical order for authors and alphabetical order for works (if there is more than one of one scientist);
  • Direct in-text citations have only name and page, without a comma (Slezinger 242); indirect citations have only page (According to Slezinger (242), technologies evolve…);
  • No extra line-break between citations;
  • Page number with author’s name on the upper right corner (Moran 3)
  • Articles’ titles are taken in quotation marks, every word should be capitalized.

MLA versus APA format: A Comparative table with Examples

Here’s a short table of key differences between formats, so you can easily use MLA or APA.







Times New Roman 12

1” margins

Times New Roman 12

1” margins

Direct in-text quotation

(Moran, 2017, p.16)

(Moran 16)

Indirect in-text quotation

(Moran, 2017)

According to Moran, this is a controversial case (16).

Bibliography Name


  1. Mitchell, M. (1936). Gone with the  wind. New York: The Macmillan Group.

Works Cited

  1. Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind. The Macmillan Group, 1936.

Order of citations

Alphabetical for authors

Chronological for works

Alphabetical for authors and for works


Title in caps left aligned, page number right aligned.


On the title page:
Running head: TITLE   1

On other pages:

Student’s last name and page number right aligned:


Last Name 1

First page

Used as a Title page:

  1. Title
  2. Name
  3. Academic Institution


There is no Title page. On the upper left corner:

  1. First and Last Name
  2. Professor
  3. Class
  4. Date
  5. Title
  6. Text


Heading and subheadings are used

Not recommended, but may be required

APA vs MLA: Does Paper Subject Matters?

Before you decide when to use MLA or APA you need to check assignment – maybe your professor has depicted citation format already. If not, you can choose one on your own. Generally, they differ in subjects they are used to. So whether you need to pick APA or MLA is defined by the field of science you are conducting the research at.

  • APA is used for social sciences, such as: Psychology, Sociology, Nursing, Criminology, Social Work, Business, Education.
  • MLA format is used for humanities, such as:History, Literature, Language, Philosophy, Arts, Theatre, Religion, Anthropology, Law and Politics.

Example How to Format References/Works Cited in Two Styles


MLA: Moran, Dylan. Greek Theater. Macmillan Group, 2017.

APA: Moran, D. (2017). Greek Theater. London: Macmillan Group.

An Article:

MLA: Slezinger, Sarah and Julio M. Down. “Cognitive Tools in Children’s Home Education”. American Psychology, vol.37, no.3, 7 Feb. 2015, pp.110-116. University of Michigan Online Library, doi: 11.12007 / tox.30567. Accessed 11 April 2018.

APA: Slezinger, S., and Down J. (2015). Cognitive tools in children’s home education. American Psychology, 37(3), 110-116. doi: 11.12007 / tox.30567.


MLA vs APA format is not an impossible choice, especially when one is writing for a particular subject. However, it may be complicated to apply, as there are so many details that should be followed. Maybe you think that it’s better to use your time and concentrate on the research itself, then you can seek professional help with editing. WestWriters professionals can help you with any citation format and edit your assignment so that it’s a masterpiece. As an alternative, try free mla citation generator at WestWriters on your own. This way you can always be sure that your citations are in the right place.

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