What is the Difference Between APA & MLA (with examples)

In this article, we’ll be looking at the strict differences between the APA and MLA writing styles (with examples) — and how to use them.

Andrew Newman
Updated on

Uniformity is essential in the academic world because it enhances faster communication, accessibility when reading, and coherence. This is why there are various writing styles that you must follow in order to get good grades. This article will be discussing the significant disparities between APA and MLA writing styles and how to use them.

The Difference Between APA and MLA 

The modern Language Association prefers the MLA format for primary subjects in literature, humanities, and history.

The desired format by the American Psychological Association is APA which is mainly used in social-oriented subjects such as criminology, sociology, and psychology.

These are the two most common ways of citing your sources. To avoid plagiarism which is an academic offensive, one must appropriately cite the sources he/she borrowed information. Below is a well-detailed comparison of the rules with examples for citing using MLA and APA formats. To avoid losing marks and ensure that your paper meets the professional standards, follow this keenly.

The Bibliography

This is the section where you list all the authors and editors you cited in your paper.

  • The MLA format prefers to call it: Works cited
  • The APA style calls it: References 

Before writing a bibliography, you must add in-text citations beside the information you borrowed from another author.

Organizing Entries in your bibliography

There is a difference in how you should organize your entries in MLA and APA. The MLA requires you to arrange your authors and titles alphabetically.

Example:

Deciding to Start a New Career

The Joy of Letting Go

The APA format also requires one to arrange authors in alphabetical order but also chronologically for their work.

Citing Multiple Works by the Same Author

When citing sources from the same author, the MLA first lists all the works alphabetically and only states the author’s name once.

Each listing of various works by a similar author starts with the following formula: three hyphens, a period, space, the name of the title, a period.

Example :

James, Smith. Deciding to Start a New Career. 2018

—, The Joy of Letting Go. 2006

—, Hi, How are You? 2019

In APA, the author’s name is in all listings, and the works are arranged according to release dates (chronologically).

Example:

James, S.(2006) The Joy of Letting Go.

James, S. (2018) Deciding to Start a New Career.

James, S.(2019) Hi, How are you?

The Titles of Articles

  • The MLA style requires you to place all the article titles in quotation marks and capitalize all the significant words.
  • The APA does not require you to use quotation marks for titles. Instead, only capitalize the first word.

In-text Parenthesis 

  • As you cite in the actual text in the MLA style, insert the author’s last name and page number in the parenthesis.
  • When inserting in-text citations in the APA format, you should include the author’s last name, a comma, and the year of publication.

Sample Citations

Below are several examples of how APA and MLA citation styles differ:

When Citing a Book

Structure your MLA book citation should follow this order;

  • The author’s Last Name, their First Name;
  • The title of the Book in italics;
  • The City of publication, the Name of the Publisher and the Year of Publication;
  • The Publishers
  • Other Citations (if you’re citing multiple books);
  • And any additional information.

MLA Citation Example:

James, Smith. Deciding to Start a New Career. Newyork. Warner Books, 2018. Print

APA style requires you to follow this structure when citing a book;

  • The author’s Last Name, the initials of the First and Middle Name;
  • The publishing Year in parenthesis;
  • The title of the Book in italics;
  • The City and State where it was published, a colon, and the Publisher’s name.

APA Citation Example:

James, S.(2018). Deciding to Start a New Career. Newyork: Warner Books.

When Citing an Article

Follow this structure when citing your article in MLA Format:

  • The author’s Last Name, their First Name;
  • The Article Title in Quotation marks;
  • The Journal Title in italics;
  • The volume;
  • The release number;
  • The Date;
  • The name of the Database;
  • The DOI number (if available -otherwise use a URL/permalink);
  • The Day Month Year when the article was accessed.

MLA Citation Example:

Jones, Duncan, and Wilmshurst, Peter. “Dividing and oxygen.”BMJ.317.7164. https://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/10/27/dividing-and-oxygen.doi: 10.1136/bmj.317.7164.996.27 October 2011.

When citing an article in the APA format according to these rules:

  • The author’s Last Name, Initials of the First Name;
  • The Year of Publication in parenthesis;
  • The Article Title and subtitle;
  • The Journal Title in Italics;
  • The volume;
  • The release number in parenthesis ;
  • The Page (s);
  • The doi number.

APA Citation Example:

Wilmshurst, P.(1998).Diving and oxygen. BMJ.317(7164): 996-9.doi: 10.1136/bmj.317.7164.996

What are the Differences Between APA and MLA: Comparison Table

The following is a table summarizing the differences between APA and MLA formats.

APAMLA

Spacing/Font/Margin
Double spacing;Citations use a hanging indent Times New Roman 121” margins
Double -spacing ;
Citations use a hanging indentTimes New Roman 121” margins
Title pageFirst pageHeader(Although institutions may require specialized page)


The title page requires:
Title: Theories of Behavioral Psychology.Student Name: Brenda GreensInstitutional Affiliation: The University of California.Course Name: PSYC 101Instructor Name: Loretta M.BrassellDate: January 2, 2021
A header is required on the first page with a surname on the flush right of the paper.
On the flush left of the first page should be the student’s name, professor’s name, course, and Date.
Student Name: Brenda GreensProfessor’s Name: Loretta M. BrassellCourse: PSYC 101Date: January 2, 2021Below should be a centered title.

Bibliography Name 




References 

Shotton, M.A.(1989). Computer addiction? A study of computer dependency.London, England: Taylor & Francis
Works cited

Mathy, Jean-Phillippe.French Resistance: The French American Culture Wars. Minnesota UP, 2000.
Order of citationsAlphabetical for authors Chronological for works
Alphabetical for authors and works.
Section headingsHeadings and subheadings are used to organize the paper.There are no strict guidelines on using headings and sub-headings.
Direct in-text citation(Smith, 2019, p.150)(Smith 150)
Indirect in-text citation(Smith,2019)According to Marx, capitalism was set to collapse(23).
Running headersThe new APA 7th Edition does not require students to insert running headers.You are required to include a header with only the page number.


On each page: the author’s surname name and a page number both flush right.
Arthur 1
Short quotationsAccording to Luther(1945)
“If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live”(P.23).
Arendt writes that “we must turn to Roman antiquity to find the first justification of war…”(13)
Long quotations/Long Quote ruleQuotes that are four lines or longer are blocked, meaning indented two tabs. 
Computer users often disagree about which operating system is best: Mac or PC. For example, Oyler (2010) stated that one operating system is not better than the other but may be better suited for different purposes. She explained that Macs are often the best option for users who wish to work with video or picture manipulation. Macs are also user-friendly, which may benefit consumers who are new to computers. PCs, however, run Microsoft Office Suite the best. Therefore students might find that a PC is their best option because it can run Microsoft Word and Powerpoint the smoothest.(Oyler, 2010,p.48).
Conversely, Jones (2010) disagreed with the statement that Macs work with graphics such as video and pictures better than PCs, stating that PCs can be modified to work well as Macs.


















Quotes that are forty words or more are indented on one tab.
Chinese-American historian  Iris Chang Offers the following statistics in her effort to illustrate the full scope of the Nanking massacre:

One historian has estimated that if the dead from Nanking were to link hands, they would stretch from Nanking to the city of Hangchow, spanning a distance of some two hundred miles. Their blood would weigh twelve hundred tons, and their bodies would fill twenty-five hundred railroad cars. Stacked on top of each other, they would reach the height of a seventy-four-story building ( Chang 5).
Subjects where citation style is commonSocial sciences -Psychology, Sociology, Social work; Medical sciences-NursingHumanities- Literature, history, speech, Theater
Author names in citationsAuthor names are listed last name, initial of the first name (Marcus, L)Authors names are listed last name, first name (Marcus, Leigh)
DOIsDOIs are included in citations on the references list.doi: 10/1111/j.1471-8847.2007.00193. xDOIs are included in citations on the works cited list.doi: 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2007.00193.x

As shown, there are significant differences between MLA and APA citation styles. Below are the rules and examples, where applicable for formatting the text of your paper.

Spacing:

Both MLA and APA formats have their different approach to spacing text throughout the paper.

The rules are as follows;

  • MLA: Double-spacing on the header and in body text.
  • APA: Double-spacing on title page and in body text.

Font and Margins

The APA and MLA use similar font and margins.

  • MLA : 12-pt, font, 1”margins
  • APA: 12-pt, font, 1” margins

Parenthetical Citation:

Parenthetical citations are for citing sources in between the paper.

  • This is the desired method in the MLA format:

(Name[Space] Page Number) or : According to XXX, abc is an xyz(Page Number).

MLA Example :

According to Smith, fear is a parasite that feeds on our dreams (12).

These  are APA:

  • Paraphrased idea : (Name[Comma] Year)

APA Example:

(Smith,2018)

  • Direct quote: (Name[comma]Year[comma] p.# or According to XXX(Year), abc is an xyz.

Example:

(Smith, 2018, 13)

Or:

According to Smith(2018), fear is a parasite that feeds on our dreams.

Short Quotations

Short quotations are those that fit in three lines or less. For example, you can use the following APA and MLA approaches to quote an author in your paper:

The formula and example used with MLA: Author Name says that Topic can “quotation” (page number).

Example :

Jones says the joy of letting go can “thrill you in more ways than one”(25).

  • The formula and example used with APA: According to Author Name (Year), Topic can “quotation” (p.#).

Example:

According to Jones(1969), the joy of letting go can “thrill you in more ways than one”(p.25)

Long Quotations:

APA and MLA citation styles have different approaches to adding long quotations.

  • MLA: if you are quoting more than four lines, use the following format and make a 1-inch indent on the quoted text.

Example:

Jones discusses the joy of letting go:

Letting go is a concept that grasps the impermanence of existence, yours and mine. The past physically does not exist, neither does the future. The former is the precursor to our present chemical (material) state, while the latter is an unpredictable transformation-all in perpetual motion. The poetry of this implies that embracing change is beneficial. We see the rewards of this throughout nature. (56).

  • APA: Make a block quote (indent the quoted text ½ inches) for quotations with 40 words and more.

Example:

Jones (1969) discusses the joy of letting go:

Letting go is a concept that grasps the impermanence of existence, yours and mine. The past physically does not exist, neither does the future. The former is the precursor to our present chemical (material) state, while the latter is an unpredictable transformation-all in perpetual motion. The poetry of this implies that embracing change is beneficial. We see the rewards of this throughout nature. (p.56).

Title Page/ First Page Header:

These two citation styles have a disparity when it comes to how the title page should look like.

When citing using the MLA format, you should know the following:

  1. No title page is required
  2. You need the header on the first page
  3. You should place the student name, professor name, course, and date on the flush left of the paper.
  4. After, add a centered title at the beginning of the essay.

Example:

Viola Stevens,

Professor Riley Thompsons

Progress Theory

January 1, 2021

The APA style states that you need a separate Title page, written like this:

  • Title
  • Student Name
  • University
  • Course Name
  • Instructor Name
  • Date

All should be centered

Example:

Different Types of Mental Disorders

Catherine Geller

Massachusetts University

ICD-10

Professor Matthew Bunner

September 2, 2021

MLA vs. APA- Which to Choose?

Teachers in elementary and high school prefer to work with the MLA citation style. Most of them argue that it is easier to teach because it is not made for advanced subjects which need in-depth scientific research.

Most students come across APA when they attend college or university because it is more advanced and scholarly.  The APA style deals with scientific papers; most times, students use it for subjects related to reports, tests, and hypotheses.

When professionals in various institutions are going through your work, they check whether you have used either MLA or APA format in your references because it speeds up their grading or research process.

Conclusion

Presenting your work in a sophisticated manner is crucial in the academic world because it enhances faster communication. For instance, one way of identifying an academic is how well they follow instructions such as proper citation. That is why it is vital to learn the different formats and styles used for citing sources for your argument. Furthermore, comprehending these formats will result in you composing credible and top-notch papers, which could open doors to bigger academic and professional goals.

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