Documentation styles create consistency in formats across similar disciplines to make comparisons and overall reading easier. The format from the Modern Language Association generally applies to papers written on language and literature, while the American Psychological Association style is more appropriate for social sciences, hard sciences and business documents. Changing from MLA to APA format requires focus on both citations and the references page.
According to the "MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition)," the differences between the two styles stem from differences in purpose. MLA format applies to papers written about language and literature because such works often remain unchanged after publication. Theories presented years ago may still be relevant today in these fields. On the other hand, theories presented in sciences and business rely on having the most current information from noted authorities in the fields, so emphasizing dates and authors is more important in APA format.
Because of this shift in emphasis, changing MLA citations to APA involves adding more attention to dates and authors. MLA citations include the author's last name and a page number. According to the "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition)," APA citations include the author's last name and the year of publication to emphasize how current the information is. APA format uses page or paragraph numbers only for material quoted directly from the source. Punctuation differs, as well. The MLA citation (Jones 33) becomes (Jones, 2012, p. 33) in APA.
The bibliographical information also differs. Although the purpose is the same, the title of the page changes from Works Cited to References. For books, instead of an author's full name in the entry, APA uses only the first initial. Again, since the date is paramount in APA style, it appears immediately after the author's name instead of after the publisher information. In APA, capitalize only the first word and any proper nouns in the title of the book rather than all important words. MLA includes the medium of publication, such as print, but APA does not. An MLA book entry might look like this: Smith, Sara. Title of the Book (italicized). New York: Penguin, 2009. Print. The same information in an APA entry would look like this: Smith, S. (2009). The title of the book (italicized). New York: Penguin.
For periodicals, APA entries include a DOI or URL and typically leave out a retrieval date, since such details tend to come from academic journals or other sources that do not change over time, while MLA uses access dates and leaves out Web address information. For MLA style, other types of sources such as personal interviews must be included on the Works Cited page, but APA requires only the in-text citation for any type of personal communication like interviews and email. Instead of just giving the source's name in the citation, APA citations include the first initial of the source, the type of communication and the specific date. The MLA citation (Smith) becomes (T. Smith, personal interview, March 3, 2013) in APA format.