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APA vs MLA Format – A Detailed Comparison

APA vs MLA Format

What is a Citation and Citation Style?

Different from general way of writing articles, especially when writing articles in an academic environment, you must clearly mention what materials and opinions your articles refer to. The format of this “marking method” is what we call “Citation Style”.

Due to the differences in major disciplines, each discipline has its own academic publishing organization, and these institutions have introduced different citation format standards for the disciplines of its type. The common citation styles are “APA” “MLA” “Chicago” “Harvard” “AMA” “ASA” and so on.

The most commonly used by students are the four types i.e. APA Format, MLA Format, “Chicago” and “Harvard”.

APA vs MLA – What are the Differences and similarities?

These both writing styles are similar in a way that in both styles, the paper needs double the spacing.

  • The font style should be “Times new roman” and the size should be 12 pt.
  • There should be a 1-inch margin on each side.
  • According to the author’s last name, the list of sources used is arranged in alphabetical order.

Where there are similarities, there is a number of differences between MLA and APA which we are going to mention here in detail:

The MLA style can be understood as a method developed by the “Modern Language Association” to record materials and format papers in the form of academic documents.

On the other hand, the APA style is one of the styles of writing papers, publications, books, journals, etc. introduced by the “American Psychological Association”, and is mainly used in social sciences.

If we talk about parts, there are four main parts in APA format, namely:

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Body paragraph

In contrast, the MLA format contains only two main parts, namely:

  • the main text
  • the cited works.

APA Title Page vs MLA Title Page

In the MLA style, there is no specific title page, so the title is given on the first page, separated from the title of the paper by adding double spaces. In this style, the title of the first page is on the left, showing the name of the author, lecturer, course, and date, while the right side of the remaining pages contains the author’s last name and the number of pages.

On the other hand, in the APA format, the title page contains the title, the author’s name, and the name of the educational institution. In addition, all pages contain a title at the top of each page, including the title page, where the number of pages and the title of the paper are displayed on the right and left, respectively.

The APA guidelines also emphasize the use of consecutive headers and page numbers on the title page. The summary starts with a new page.

APA Paper Format vs MLA Paper Format

Where there are differences between these two to formats, there are also some similarities.  In both styles, the paper presentation is the same as they both followed

  • 12 points font size and
  • time new Romans font style
  • The 1-inch margin on four sides
  • double space
  • All paragraphs are intended
  • Proper citation to credit resources.

Now, the difference between APA and MLA paper format is that endnotes and footnotes are written in MLA paper format to give additional information. Whereas, no footnotes are written in APA paper format style.

APA vs MLA Citation

The APA format refers to the “American Psychological Association Publication Guidelines” published by the American Psychological Association (APA). It originated in 1929 and has been updated to the sixth edition so far. APA is mainly used in subjects such as psychology, education, and social sciences.

The standard format mainly includes two parts:

  • Reference Citations in Text
  • Reference List at the end of the text.

The APA format emphasizes the time of the publication year and does not pay much attention to the name of the original author. Citations often put the publication year before the Initials of the Author’s First Name.

MLA is the abbreviation of Modern Language Association. It is the essay guidance format developed by the American Modern Language Association. It is also the most commonly used reference format for English essay writing in North American universities. The eighth edition has been published. Compared with APA, CMS, and other formats, the MLA paper format is more rigorous and more commonly used.

Reference style APA vs MLA

Referencing style is the major characteristics of APA and MLA format as different citation is used in both of the formats.

The citation will be included in the following way in APA format:

the references are added on the “references” page whereas in MLA format the cited work is added on the “works cited” page.

For Hardcover Books

To cite the hardcover books, the information like name of the author, name of the book, year of publishing, place of publishing, and publisher are added in a different order.

  • APA

There comes the author’s last name and initials of the first name. (year of publication). Name of the book in italic, city, state: publisher.

Johns, H. (2019). The evolutions. New York, NY: Scribner.

  • MLA

In this format, first comes the last name of the author, followed by first name, then comes the main title of the work. In the end, to indicate the kind of book there comes information like city, publisher, year of publication, and print.

Dickison, Emily. Great Expectations. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1998. Print.

For Online Books

Citing online books is different from hardcover books in a way that for online books, online sources like web links are also added. The purpose of adding a web link is to make it accessible afterward.

  • APA

Follow the format:

Petter, R. (2020). London, a social history. Retrieved from

  • MLA

Follow the format for online books:

Binder, Kesa, and Johny L. Cohen. The B2B Social Media Book.Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2021.

For Books From Database

Other than books in hard form and online versions, there is a number of books available in online databases and online publishing sites. APA and MLA formats add links of the book to the main database so that the detailed source is provided to the reader.

  • APA

The rules to cite database books in APA format is:

Bloss, H. (2020). American literacy poets. Retrieved from

  • MLA

The only difference in MLA format is that the date and URL are mentioned web link.

Robert, Harry. 101 Tips for better schooling. New York: Ferguson, 2020. Infobase Publishing eBooks. Web. 16 Mar. 2019.

For Websites and Blogs

Students nowadays rely more on online sources instead of print media and prefer digital mediums to use as a reference in their research. There is a standard rule for citing online sources like websites and blogs

  • APA

Website link is added along with the name of the author and date of publishing. APA style does not add the date on which the website was accessed.

Calvin, K. (2020, June 29). The Negative effects of social media sites on communication. Social Media Today RSS. Retrieved from

  • MLA

The only difference in APA vs MLA format is that MLA follows the same format for online websites and blogs which it follows for the other sources. Whereas APA format has different styles for both sources.

Calvin, Kevin. “The Negative Effects of social media on Communication.” Social Media Today RSS N.p., 29 June 2020. Web. 02 Jan. 2021.

For Print Journals

The most commonly used source that students use in their papers is journal articles. While adding print journals, it is very important to add proper citations by following guidelines to ensure all format requirements.

  • APA

The format follows the name of the author, date of publication, name of the article, name of a journal, and volume along with page numbers.

Juli, W. A. (2005). Public attitudes toward government agencies. American Journal of Political Science, 38(2), 336-361.

  • MLA

In MLA format, only the order in which information is added is different rest is all same.

Juli, William A. “Public Attitudes Toward Government agencies.” American Journal of Political Science 38.2 (2005): 336-61. Print.

For Online Journals

The most frequently used form of an academic journal is online journals.  APA and MLA formats use the following structure to cite the online journals.

  • APA

In online versions,  AP adds a link to the main website title of the paper and digital object identifier (DOI) or date of retrieval to cite the online journals

Potter, U. G. (1996). Female harassment, and the Cold War Battle. The Journal of Modern Language, 68(3), 577. doi:10.1086/245343MLA

  • MLA

In MLA format only the title of the website and the date of a trial are added at the end of references.

Potter, Uta G. “Female harassment, and the Cold War Battle.” The Journal of Modern Language 68.3 (1996): 577. JSTOR. Web. 2 Jan. 2013.

For Database Journals

Along with print and online journals, students also access their journal articles from journal databases. The APA and MLA formats used different styles to cite journals that are accessed from the databases as they mention a link to the database as well so that the readers are able to assess the complete information about where the journal was taken from.

  • APA

Following citing format is followed

David, E. (1932). The new trends of American psychological history. The Science News-Letter, 22(605), 306-307. DOI: 10.2307/3907973

  • MLA

MLA follows the following format to cite database journals

Jacoby, William G. “Public Attitudes Toward Government Spending.” American Journal of Political Science 38.2 (1994): 336-61. JSTOR. Web. 23 Apr. 2010.

APA vs MLA In-text Citation

An in-text citation is the way of reference that is included in the body of your text.  Whenever you find a great quote and want to include it in your text, you need to follow the in-text citation method in order to avoid plagiarism

The purpose of the in-text citation is to give enough information about identifying the source of your reference.

  • APA

When the research paper is in the APA style, the author uses the author-date format for text citations, where the author’s last name and year of publication are mentioned in parentheses after the quoted text.

  • MLA

In contrast, when the research paper is in MLA format, the text citation is displayed in the author-page format, that is, the author’s last name and page number are indicated after the cited text.

For a Single Author

APA and MLA use different methods for singe author.

  • APA

The format for the single author is “(Author’s last name, year of publication, page numbers)”. Present specific parts of books and journals in parenthesis.

Sheril’s theory of evolution inconsistent. (Peter, 2015, p. 15).”

If the author’s name has already been mentioned in the sentence, just indicate the year (add the number of pages if necessary), and still, need to use parentheses. The same is true for multiple authors.

Peter (2015) argues that Sheril’s theory of evolution is inconsistent (p. 15).

  • MLA

The last name of the author along with the page number is added at the end of the sentence.

“Sheril’s theory of evolution is inconsistent. (Peter 15).”

If the author’s name has already been mentioned in the sentence, just indicate the page number.

Peter (2015) argues that Sheril’s theory of evolution is inconsistent (15).

Two Authors

Authors’ last names must be sorted in the order of their names in their published articles. If both authors quote in parentheses, the “&” symbol must be added in the middle of the name; if they are not in parentheses, use “and”.

A recent study found a possible genetic cause of alcoholism (Pauling & Liu, 2005). Pauling and Liu (2005) discovered a possible genetic cause of alcoholism.

Multiple Authors

  • APA

To cite multiple authors in APA format, add last names of all authors and years of publication separated by coma and & signs, in first in-text.

Artificial intelligence has a significant role in business marketing (Williams, Smith, & Shaw, 2015).

For all in-text after the first, only add the name of the first author followed by et al. and year of publication.

Artificial intelligence has a significant role in business marketing to run a successful marketing campaign (Williams et al., 2015).

  • MLA

The difference in MLA format is that it uses the name of the first author along with et al. and page number for all first and subsequent in-text. It does not use the name of all authors in first in-text like APA style.

Artificial intelligence has a significant role in business marketing to run a successful marketing campaign (Williams et al. 50).

For Sources Without Authors

When you are working with digital media it is very common that you find many sources without any author name as sources come from images, movies, videos, dictionaries, and encyclopedias.

Quoting this type of source is it’s frustrating for the students as it is very difficult to give an exact reference to the source without any author name.

In this case,  in APA style mention the first few words of the article and Year of Publication.

According to new research, artificial intelligence may be the future of human advancement (“Genetics and Genes,” 2014).

If the title of the study is mentioned in a sentence then only the year of publication is added.

According to the “Genetics and Genes” study (2014), artificial intelligence may be the future of human advancement.

In MLA citation, the title of the study is written followed by a parenthesis and quotation marks. In case if the title of the study is too long, a short version of that name is used, provided that it conveys the same meaning.

“Greenhouse gases are the result of human activities, making mankind more negligent towards our planet” (“Go Green”).

In both APA and MLA, the same process of citation is used for all online sources. But in case if no information about the author and date of publication is mentioned then just add the title of the paper.

Always be very careful while using in-text citation methods.

APA vs MLA Headings and Subheadings

As the MLA format is mostly used by the literature and social arts students it does not strictly follow the headings and subheadings pattern. The research on this subject mostly follows the paragraph patterns. However, there is no hard and fast rule that you cannot use the headings and subheadings in MLA citation papers. If anyone desires to section their papers in the heading is there is a suggested format for it:

  1. Heading 1

1.1. Subheading 1

1.2. Subheading 2

  1. Heading 2

2.1. Subheading 1

2.2. Subheading 2

This pattern is given just to give you an idea, you can obviously alter and use the pattern according to the requirements of your study. Applied the condition that whatever headings you use, it should be consistent throughout the paper.

Unlike MLA format where there is no strict pattern of headings and subheadings, APA follows a standard heading and subheading pattern. Because APA format is used by scientific Scholars who need to use heading to Section and organize their studies.

This standard pattern of using headings in APA format is:

Level 1 Heading

Level 2 Heading

Level 3 Heading

Level 4 Heading

Level 5 Heading

This structure is strictly followed while using headings in APA style papers.

APA vs MLA References

References are added under the title “references” at the end of the paper in APA style paper

References are added under title “works Cited” in MLA style paper.

Arrange all the references and citations in alphabetical order.

APA vs MLA Bibliography

Adding Bibliography is an option and depends on the  writer’s choice if they want to add it in the paper.  Otherwise references and the works cited section is  considered as the references  and there is no need to separately mention in another section of Bibliography.

However, if someone needs to add bibliography,  they follow the same structure of citation as referred by paper citation format.

When To Use APA vs MLA

After knowing the details about what APA and MLA formats are. Here comes the questions.  When to use these formats? Which format is better for what kind of paper?

The answer to these questions are:

  • APA format is used for writing papers in Social Sciences and education fields such as sociology psychology business etc (suitable to scientists)
  • MLA format is used in writing papers in Humanities field such as modern languages philosophy history religion politics art etc (suitable for humanists)

You can select either of the two formats according to the question to be answered with the help of research, the way the research paper is conducted, and the procedure used in the writing process.

It is important to note that no matter which citation format is used, it is necessary to ensure that the citation format is uniform throughout the article. In addition, the format in the reference list of the paper also needs to match with the format cited in the text.

The most important point is to ensure that all the literature information is correct, otherwise, it is easy to be identified as academic plagiarism.

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