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MLA vs APA: Citation & Format Differences

It is useful that you understand the basics of major styles - in particular, difference between APA and MLA. They are, indeed, very popular. If you are required to follow a specific style when writing your paper, you should learn about them, This guide will help you understand some peculiarities of APA and MLA, including the following aspects:

  1. Academic areas these styles are typically used for
  2. General paper format
  3. Rules of making proper citations
  4. Rules of making proper bibliography.

Stay with us and you will learn most of the information you should know about difference between APA and MLA. This short guide would help you grasp the main concept of each style and help you choose a proper one for your paper in case you have to choose for yourself.

APA vs MLA: Applicable Disciplines

Before deciding whether you should use MLA or APA, it is useful to understand what each of these abbreviations means. APA stands for ‘American Psychological Association’. It was developed by this organization and is therefore recommended for:

  • Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences
  • Economics.

MLA has received its name from the Modern Language Association. This organization recommends using this style in such fields of study:

  • Arts
  • Linguistics
  • Culture
  • Other Humanities disciplines.

Students are often instructed to follow a certain style when writing their papers. But if you need to choose whether to use MLA or APA on your own, consider the aforementioned lists of academic areas and it will be quite clear which path to take.

APA vs MLA: Citation

One of a key elements of both styles is a proper formatting of citations. You need to specify all your sources in APA and MLA. Refer to material correctly when citing it in your own text. However, each of these styles requires different in-text references. The order of sources’ details in a bibliography section is also different in each case. Below you will find detailed guidelines on how to cite your sources in APA and MLA.

MLA vs APA: In-Text Citation

Let’s start with MLA vs APA in-text citations. Both styles require parenthetical blocks for citing sources. Difference lies in details put within parenthesis.

In APA, you have to include the last name of source’s author and a year this source was published. A page number is also required when a specific paragraph is directly quoted or paraphrased. Name, year and page number are separated by comma. In MLA, you have to include author’s last name and a page number which is always required.

If you are citing a work by two authors, you need to put an ampersand between their names when following the APA style. In MLA, you should separate them with “and.” In case your source was written by multiple authors (3+), you need to specify the first author’s name and add “et al.” after it, in both styles.

Here are a couple of samples:

  • Single author:
    MLA vs APA Single author In-Text Citation
  • Two authors:
    MLA vs APA Two authors In-Text Citation
  • Multiple authors:
    MLA vs APA Multiple authors In-Text Citation

Works Cited in MLA vs APA Reference List

Another important aspect to consider when choosing APA or MLA: Works Cited section. In both styles, you are expected to provide complete information about all your sources at the end of your papers on a separate page. It is called Works Cited page in MLA and References in APA.

The main differences are the order of a source’s details and their format. In APA, you have to provide an initial instead of an author’s first name and put a publication date right after that. You have to provide a full first name and put publication dates in MLA at the end of your references. The following part – a book, journal or article title – is having each major word capitalized in MLA, but only the 1st word capitalized in APA.

Works Cited in MLA vs APA

APA vs MLA: Format

General requirements of MLA and APA formatting have a number of similarities:

  • Text should be double-spaced.
  • Font size should be 12 pt, Sans Serif (Times New Roman is preferred).
  • 1 inch margin throughout a whole paper.
  • 0.5 inch indent for every paragraph.

However there are significant differences between these styles. Especially, when it comes to the following elements:

  • Title page
  • Title
  • Running head
  • Headings and subheadings.

Let us explore these differences in detail. Pay close attention to each of these elements listed above.

Title Page

What are requirements regarding your title page in APA or MLA?

In MLA, you are not required to create a separate title page. You should however add a header on the first page of your paper. Rules are simple:

  1. Header must consist of 4 lines:
    • your full name;
    • your professor’s name;
    • course title and number;
    • submission date.
  2. Header must be left-aligned and double-spaced.
  3. The paper’s main heading must be centered on a new line under a header. Your instructor may require you to include one, though.

In APA, a separate cover page is required. This is the first page of your paper. It should contain these parts:

  • Title of your paper
  • Your full name
  • Your institution and course
  • Name of your professor
  • Submission date.

An entire page should be centered and double-spaced.

Running Head in MLA and APA

Let us now find out what are the differences between MLA and APA when it comes to the running head.

In MLA, you need to include your last name and the page number into the running head. They both must be aligned to the right. It should appear at the top of every page.

Into the running head in APA you need to include a right-aligned page number, likewise. However it should be preceded by a shortened version of your paper’s title. It must be up to 50 characters long, all in capitals and left-aligned. This header should appear at the top of every page, including the title page.

MLA vs APA Running Head

Headings and Subheadings

Finally let us explore the rules of APA and MLA styles of headings and subheadings. Both styles foresee 5 levels of section headings. Here is how they are to be distinguished:

  1. 1th level
    • APA: centered, bold, title case
    • MLA: left-aligned, bold, no indent
  2. 2th level
    • APA: left-aligned, bold, title case, no indent
    • MLA: left-aligned, italicized, no indent
  3. 3th level
    • APA: left-aligned, bold, italicized, title case, no indent
    • MLA: centered, bold
  4. 4th level
    • APA: left-aligned, bold, title case, indented and ending with period (.) The next paragraph starts from the same line
    • MLA: centered, italicized
  5. 5th level
    • APA: left-aligned, bold, title case, italicized, indented and ending with period. The next paragraph starts from the same line
    • MLA: left-aligned, underlined.


APA vs MLA Headings and Subheadings

MLA vs APA: Examples

If you need some MLA and APA format examples to make it easier for you, we’ve created a few templates for your convenience. Just click on the links below and you will find more valuable information about them. Pay close attention to the implementation of the above rules in these examples.


Significance of Designer Babies: Why the World Needs a Change
Paper type
Essay (Any Type)


Autism in Children
Paper type
Essay (Any Type)

Bottom Line

In this article we have learned together how is APA different from MLA. Also, we figured out different key points which require your attention when analysing peculiarities of both styles. These key points are:

  1. Applicable disciplines
  2. In-text citations and bibliography
  3. General format
  4. Title page, header, headings and subheadings.

Each key point was explained, briefly but concisely. Samples were given to clarify all complicated cases.In addition to this detailed review we have created several templates. They could help to grasp the key differences.

We hope this information will be helpful for you in your studies. Feel free to use it when creating your next paper!

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Frequently Asked Questions about MLA vs APA style

Which format is more common – APA or MLA?

It is difficult to specify which style is more popular so it would be safe to assume that they are equally common. Both APA and MLA are widely used among college students in the US, UK and many other countries.

Simultaneously, MLA is more often preferred among high-school students, who are required to use it in their papers. Apparently, the reason is that it is an easier one for starters.

Which style is easier to use - MLA or APA?

In general, both APA and MLA styles have clear and straightforward rules which do not make any of them too complicated for an average student to use. At the same time a popular opinion is that MLA style requires less effort since its rules of citing references are less complicated compared to APA. This makes it easy to complete an MLA paper in time.

What is the most difficult thing about APA style?

Following rules of APA style is not too complicated for those who are well experienced in writing scientific papers. But if you are a starter, the most difficult element of this style for you would be citing your sources in the bibliography section. The reason is, APA has complex rules of formatting full references, especially when it comes to specific printed issues, volumes and articles in periodicals.

Can I use MLA format in Social Sciences?

Typically, rules of choosing a style are pretty strict when it comes to a highly specialized paper of a senior grade student. So, MLA format cannot be used in an academic paper in Psychology, Economics, Social Sciences or anything else from a related area. Instead, you should use APA format for such disciplines. In any case, the best way is to consult with your instructor beforehand.

Emma Flores knows all about formatting standards. She shares with StudyCrumb readers tips on creating academic papers that will meet high-quality standards.

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