APA style and MLA style are used in offices and classrooms across the country. While the goals of each are similar -- they are intended to create a standard appearance for documents, as well as to provide ease of access to the presented data — the final products are quite different, and there are many divergent characteristics.
Fields of Study
MLA style is widely used by those writing in the humanities fields, particularly when discussing language and literature. Created by the Modern Language Association, it is utilized primarily by academics or instructors, though MLA works are published in, among other publications, newsletters, magazines and literary journals. APA style, on the other hand, is utilized by scientific writers in an attempt to make their works clear and concise. It was crafted by the American Psychological Association and is most commonly used by those in the social and behavioral sciences.
Papers written in MLA and APA style will differ clearly in physical appearance. This difference is noticeable immediately, as an APA paper will always have a title page at the start of the document, followed by an abstract (a brief description of the document). A paper written according to the "MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers," Seventh Edition, will only have a title page under special circumstances. The bodies of the two documents will also look a bit different. According to the "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association," Sixth Edition, you should set off quotes longer than 40 words by indenting them one tab space. In MLA, quotes that continue for more than four lines are indented two tab spaces.
In both styles, you will compile a full list of reference sources and attach it to the end of the document. In APA, your reference page will have the word "References" at the top, but in MLA, the references will be found on a "Works Cited" page. Throughout the bodies of each type of document, you will need to alert the reader when you are citing another person's ideas. In MLA style, these are called parenthetical citations and will include the last name of the author, as well as the number of the page on which the cited information can be found. In APA, they are called in-text citations, and they include the author's last name and the year the source document was published.
MLA style aims to be concise and simple and tends to lean away from lofty language or visual aids like graphs and charts. The goal of APA style, on the other hand, is to highlight intellectual ideas, regardless of the devices used. This often results in addenda to APA papers, which could include such informative documents as research questionnaires or charts.