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MLA vs. APA Writing


MLA and APA writing styles are two of the most common writing styles for any kind of academic papers. Knowing the differences of these two styles will help you both write your own papers following the style asked and to recognize what style is used when reading academic papers. Always check that you are fully following one writing style and any additional instructions not necessarily part of either MLA or APA writing styles but given to you by your professor or supervisor as personal choices.

MLA Writing

MLA is an abbreviation of Modern Language Association and the MLA writing style is used to format papers by using specific rules. These rules include how to format the paper, how to cite references and where to put your name on the paper. All these rules are created to protect the writer from possible accusations of plagiarism. MLA writing style is most often used in social science papers.

APA Writing

APA is an abbreviation of American Psychological Association. Like MLA writing style, APA writing style is also used to format papers by using specific rules. APA and MLA writing styles have differences but the rules cover the same topics, and APA writing rules are also created to protect the writer from possible accusations of plagiarism. APA writing style is most often used in humanities papers.

Formatting

Both MLA and APA writing styles use no larger than 8.5 by 11 inch white paper. In addition, both styles require double spacing your paper and typing it with 12-point type size using either Times New Roman or Courier font. Use 1-inch wide margins on all sides of the paper and insert one space after all punctuation marks. The only differences between MLA and APA writing styles involve adding a 75- to 100-word abstract to an APA style paper and indentation of all the paragraphs by 1 inch in MLA writing style. In APA writing style, you leave the first paragraph of a section not indented. In addition, MLA papers are written in present tense while APA papers are written in past tense.

Citations

Citations between the two writing styles have several differences. When you cite within the document, MLA style requires you to place the author's last name and the page number of citation in parenthesis without a comma between them. APA writing style, on the other hand, requires you to place the author's last name, the year when the cited reference was published and the page number of the citation with the page abbreviation in parenthesis with commas separating the three pieces of information.

You will find more differences on the bibliographic list. MLA writing style calls its bibliographic listing a Work Cited section while APA calls it References. In addition, MLA style lists entries alphabetically by author and then by their work; author names include last, first and middle initial; article titles are put in quotation marks; and et al is used for four or more authors. APA style, however, lists entries alphabetically by author and then chronologically by their work; author names include last name and first and middle name initials; article titles are not put in quotation marks; and et al is used for six or more authors.

Cover Page

MLA style does not use a cover page. Center the title of your paper on the first page, create a page header and write your last name and the page number at the upper right corner of the header. APA style, however, includes a separate title page. The title page needs to include a running head no more than five words from the full title and a page number at the top right corner. Center the full title of the paper on the center of the title page and then center your name and any other required information on the lower half of the title page.

About the Author

Eija Rissanen is a freelance journalist living in Hawaii. She has a journalism and environmental studies degree from Hawaii Pacific University. Her articles have been published in Kalamalama, the student newspaper of Hawaii Pacific University, and some other environmental and travel publications and Web sites in Europe and the United States.