How to Switch From MLA to APA

As discussed in the seventh edition of the "MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers," Modern Language Association and American Psychological Association formats represent two major styles of documentation for research papers. MLA often applies to the humanities, while APA is used in sciences, social sciences and nursing. Changing the formatting of a paper from MLA to APA requires careful attention to fulfill all the necessary requirements.


Papers and publications in science, social science and nursing typically need to use more up-to-date information than those focused on literature and language. Therefore, APA format focuses more on dates than MLA does, which is reflected in the in-text citation style. While MLA gives an author's last name and a page number, APA includes the publication year and usually gives a page number only for direct quotes. For instance, the MLA citation (Jones 33) becomes (Jones, 2011) or (Jones, 2011, p. 33) in APA. Note that APA also introduces a comma between the elements in the citation.


The importance of dates comes across on the APA references list, as well, because dates appear immediately after the author's name in each entry rather than toward the end as in MLA sources. MLA style does not generally require URLs or other electronic identifiers beyond listing "Web" as the publication medium, but APA electronic sources give a DOI or URL at the end of the entry, as well. MLA capitalizes the first word and subsequent important words in article titles and encloses them in quotation marks, but APA capitalizes only the first word and does not use quotation marks around the article name. An MLA online periodical entry might look like this:

Jones, Pat. "Psychological Concepts in the Classroom." Scientific Journal (italicized) 33.4 (2011): 122-129. Web. 4 April 2013. The entry gives author, article title, journal name, volume, issue, publication date, pages, publication medium and access date.

The same entry in APA appears like this:

Jones, P. (2011). Psychological concepts in the classroom. Scientific Journal, 33(4), (italicized) 122-129. doi: 10/4355.335 The entry gives author, date, title of the article, journal title, volume, issue, page numbers and the digital object identifier.


Book entries also vary because of the difference in the emphasis on dates. In MLA, the date appears toward the end of the entry, followed by the publication medium. In APA, the date appears immediately after the author. Capitalization also differs. MLA capitalizes the first and all important words in book titles while APA capitalizes only the first word and proper nouns for book titles on the references page. An MLA entry looks like this:

Jones, Pat. The Book of Psychology in the Classroom (italicized). New York: Penguin, 2011. Print. The entry gives author, title of the book, city of publication, company, year and medium.

The same entry in APA style looks like this: Jones, P. (2011). The book of psychology in the classroom. New York: Penguin. The entry gives author, date, book title, city of publication and company.


Changing from MLA to APA also requires changing some general format. The Works Cited page becomes References. APA also uses a title page with the paper's title, your name and the name of the institution, all centered, rather than putting the details on the upper-right corner of the paper's first page. As explained in the sixth edition of the "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association," APA papers also include a running head that gives the paper's title on the left side of each page, including the title page, and the page number on the right. Your name does not appear on each page because submissions for some publications must be read blind. You also need to include an abstract on a page between the cover page and the body. The abstract summarizes the ideas in your paper in about 150 words.

About the Author

Kristie Sweet has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado.

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