APA vs MLA: exploring the difference

The MLA and APA styles are separate approaches to formatting a scholarly paper. Each has its regulations and instructions for referencing sources, arranging pages, and language usage, such as when to write numbers in words. As these formats are commonly associated with distinct academic disciplines, you will likely need to utilize both at some stage, requiring you to understand their distinctions.

This guide will discuss the question “What’s the difference between MLA and APA format”, covering their referencing styles and formatting approaches. It will also provide examples in both MLA and APA to demonstrate proper usage of each style.

APA vs MLA: exploring the difference

What is the difference between APA and MLA?

APA and MLA differences have distinct guidelines for the appearance of an academic paper. Each has instructions for citing sources, organizing the structure of the paper, and formatting the pages. Additionally, they offer style guidelines such as determining which words to capitalize in titles, formatting authors’ names, and spelling out numbers when necessary.

The choice of format usually relies on the subject being addressed. MLA format is preferred for disciplines such as languages, literature, philosophy, religion, ethics, and the arts, like film or painting. On the other hand, the APA format is commonly utilized in the social sciences, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, education, specific business topics, and even engineering.

MLA vs APA vs Chicago

Three main formats are used in academic writing: the MLA, APA, and Chicago styles. Although they share many similarities, each format has citations, grammar, and page layout rules.

The selection of your preferred style depends on the subject you are writing about or the limitations of your assignment and it is not about choosing your favorite. Earlier, we mentioned that MLA and APA suit specific subjects, while Chicago is commonly used for history and historical topics.

Difference between MLA and APA referencing styles

The referencing styles are the primary difference in MLA and APA formats, despite variations in formatting and grammar. Each style has its approach to managing citations, encompassing both the broader aspects, such as constructing the bibliography page and the finer details, like the inclusion of publication years in in-text citations.

APA vs MLA citation

If you are wondering “What’s the difference between APA and MLA citations” here is the answer. In-text citations, placed directly within the text, serve as brief acknowledgments to the sources you used for your information. In contrast to the comprehensive citations found in the bibliography, in-text citations only include the essential information and omit the specifics. The challenge lies in determining what should be included in these in-text citations, as MLA and APA have separate criteria.

When using MLA format, it is crucial to include the author’s surname and the relevant page number when citing sources in the text. However, the page number can be omitted if the information is general. It is not necessary to use commas or abbreviations for the word “page.”

The story of Sisyphus from Greek mythology is a fitting comparison to the challenges humans face in trying to make sense of the senseless nature of life. Camus (78)

In APA style, when citing within the text, you include the author’s last name, the publication year, and the page number. Unlike MLA style, APA style separates these elements with commas in parentheses. Abbreviations like “p.” for page and “pp.” for pages are also used.

Extroverts were less impacted due to their “strong sense of control over time,” therefore, experiencing a temporary loss of control did not have a significant effect on them (Sobol et al., 2021, p. 455).

Just like in MLA format, the page number is unnecessary in APA style if the information is general. However, it is required when citing a direct quote.

In both MLA and APA, it is possible to substitute the page number with a different type of marker to indicate the location. In cases where you have to mention a source that isn’t a book, such as a documentary film or a poem, instead of using a page number to indicate its location, you can opt for a timestamp or line number.

MLA vs APA bibliography

The bibliography page in MLA and APA differs primarily in the name used to identify it. MLA calls it the “works cited page” while APA refers to it as the “reference page.” On this page, all sources used in the document are listed with their complete citations.

The guidelines for creating a complete citation vary depending on the format and the nature of the source. To illustrate, the citation format in MLA differs from APA. In MLA, the year of publication is placed in a distinct location, and the author’s name is formatted differently.

However, even using the same format, various sources such as books and journal articles have distinct citation formats. We provide specific guidelines for citing each source type in MLA, APA, and Chicago style. To conveniently refer to these guidelines, you can refer to the master list in the central guides for APA and MLA format, which includes all the necessary links.

To illustrate how complete citations should be written in each style, we have provided examples in APA and MLA formats for the book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which is relevant to psychology and philosophy.

MLA format:

Smith, John. Contemplating, Quick and Steady. Harper, Collins and Associates, 2011.

APA format:

Smith, J. (2011). Contemplating, Quick and Steady. Harper, Collins and Associates.

Observe the variation in the way the author’s name is presented. Both formats reverse the order of names. However, MLA writes out the first name entirely, while APA uses an abbreviation. Another noticeable difference is the placement of the year of publication; MLA adds it at the end, while APA includes it at the beginning, within parentheses following the author’s name. Lastly, in MLA, the book’s title is capitalized according to title case, whereas in APA, it is capitalized using sentence case.

Regarding formatting the bibliography page, the structures of both MLA and APA formats are pretty similar. Both MLA and APA adhere to these guidelines when creating their bibliographies:

The list is arranged alphabetically based on the author’s last name.
In the top middle section of the page, you will find the title (in MLA format, it is referred to as “Works Cited” while in APA format it is called “References”).
Every entry is structured with a hanging indent, meaning that the first line is left unindented while all the following lines are indented by half an inch.
There is double spacing throughout the entire page.

Nevertheless, do not be deceived by the similarities. The citations contain numerous small details that can confuse them. It is advised to consult our guides to ensure that you employ the appropriate source format.

I suggest using Do-My-Exam.com’s Citation Generator to guarantee that your essays have impeccable and plagiarism-free citations. Try it when encountering challenging MLA and APA citations such as images, movies, and YouTube videos.

APA vs MLA: Style and paper format

APA and MLA also have differences in terms of grammar and the way papers are formatted. These distinctions, although subtle, can be challenging to remember, mainly if you are accustomed to one style and need to transition to another. Hence, we have compiled all the critical disparities between MLA and APA in one convenient resource for easy consultation.

MLA vs. APA: Style

To begin with, MLA and APA recommend using a formal style when writing academically. They both discourage contractions and informal language, such as slang or colloquialisms. They both advise using title case for headings in your paper and including the Oxford comma.

However, there is a notable distinction in how each format deals with numbers. In APA, a precise method is employed: words are used for zero to nine, while numerals are utilized for 10 and beyond.

MLA style necessitates a more detailed method. It recommends spelling out numbers that can be expressed in one or two words, and using numerals for the remainder. Consequently, following MLA guidelines, you would write out “one million,” but utilize numerals for “101”.

There are a few minor deviations from these guidelines in each format (elaborated in the primary APA and MLA guides), such as utilizing digits for measurements or listing items in a series. However, both formats concur that numbers should be written out if they commence a sentence.

APA vs MLA: Title page and paper format

In APA format, a title page is required and must adhere to specific formatting rules. Conversely, in MLA format, a title page is not obligatory.

The title page for an APA format student paper contains the school’s name, course number, instructor’s name, and the due date of the assignment. In MLA format, this information is included at the top left corner of the first page before the text commences.

There is a difference between MLA and APA regarding footnotes and endnotes. Both styles prefer using in-text citations, but they have different rules for when to use notes. Footnotes are employed in APA style to provide commentary and acknowledge copyright ownership. On the other hand, MLA allows footnotes for citing multiple sources simultaneously, indicating editions or translations, or clarifying uncommon documentation practices such as using alternative line numbers when quoting a poem.

Moreover, there are slight variations in the criteria for using block quotes between APA and MLA. According to MLA guidelines, a quote should be formatted in block quotes if it exceeds four lines of text. In contrast, APA dictates block quotes for forty words or longer passages.

Both MLA and APA require the same format for block quotes. The first line of the passage does not require any extra indentation, but the entire paragraph should be indented by half an inch. If there are multiple paragraphs, the first line of each additional paragraph should be indented by an additional half an inch.

However, there are numerous common formatting elements between MLA and APA styles. For example, both require running heads on each page, displaying the page number at the top. Moreover, both styles advocate for the use of 8.5-by-11-inch paper, accompanied by 1-inch margins on all sides (excluding the running head). Furthermore, they recommend the utilization of straightforward fonts like Times New Roman and Arial, ensuring that the font size falls within the range of 10 to 12 points.

MLA and APA take practice

Initially, the dissimilarities between MLA and APA styles might appear overwhelming, mainly if you are unfamiliar. Nevertheless, you can employ the guidelines effortlessly once you become acquainted.

In the end, most of your writing won’t fall into the troublesome categories mentioned before – these are primarily rare situations that only happen a few times in a paper. The important thing about your writing should be the substance of your content, regardless of whether you follow APA or MLA guidelines.


APA and MLA styles employ parenthetical in-text citations for source citation and provide a comprehensive list of references at the conclusion; however, they vary in other aspects.

  • In APA in-text citations, the author’s name, date, and page number are provided (Taylor, 2018, p. 23), whereas MLA in-text citations solely include the author’s name and page number (Taylor 23).
  • The list of references in APA is labeled as “References,” while in MLA it is referred to as “Works Cited.”
  • The formatting and information order of the reference entries vary.
  • APA necessitates the inclusion of a title page, while MLA mandates the integration of a header in its place.

Check if your university or course guidelines specify which citation style should be used. If you can choose, ponder the citation style most frequently employed in your field.

  • APA Style is a widely used citation style in the social and behavioral sciences, making it the most popular choice.
  • MLA format is the second most widely utilized style, primarily employed in academic disciplines within the humanities.
  • The Chicago notes and bibliography style is widely used in the humanities, particularly in history.
  • The author-date style, popularly known as the Chicago style, is commonly employed in scientific writing.

Other styles are designed specifically for fields like law, such as Bluebook and OSCOLA.
Selecting a single style and employing it consistently throughout your writing is crucial.

Professionals, researchers, and social and behavioral sciences students, such as education, psychology, and business, commonly use the APA format.

Refer to the guidelines provided by your university or the journal you wish to publish to confirm the appropriate style.

The MLA Style is the second most commonly used citation style, following APA, and is mainly utilized by students and researchers who focus on humanities fields like literature, languages, and philosophy.


To sum up, MLA and APA are two separate citation styles used in academic writing. They each have their own distinct set of regulations and methods. MLA is primarily utilized in fields related to humanities, while APA is commonly adopted in the social sciences. The significant disparities between MLA and APA can be found in the subject areas they cater to, the format of in-text citations, the layout of the reference page, and the overall formatting and structure of the papers. Researchers, students, and writers must comprehend these distinctions to properly reference sources and adhere to the demands of their specific fields.