Differences between APA vs MLA: Which One is Better For Essay Writing?

Many academic styles are being actively used in the USA and worldwide. The two most popular styles are APA and MLA, known probably to every student. In their latest editions, these style guides are very similar but still have some essential differences. Let’s explore what are the features of both styles and which serves best essay writing.

What Is APA Style?

Created by psychologists and maintained by the American Psychological Association, this writing standard is the most popular citation style in the academic world. It has been prevailingly used in the fields of psychology, social work, and business. Despite such a niche, APA is currently an accepted standard among healthcare, humanities, and natural sciences as well. Check the requirements for your field of studies when you’re hiring a writer to order a coursework to avoid incorrect formatting.

a collection of various books

It is a popular perception, that APA and other academic standards refer to citation rules solely. Indeed, it’s a crucial element of the APA Publication Manual. But it is a whole ecosystem of guidelines for academic writing. It includes guidelines on grammar, punctuation, references, formatting, and a separate guide on bias-free language.

What is MLA Style?

Guidelines on MLA are created and updated by the Modern Language Association. It is an organization interested in the development of the English language and literature and other languages. This writing style is second most popular after APA being used mostly for various humanities subjects. The main are linguistics, languages, and literature.

A brief analysis would show that MLA Style guidelines focus more on citations, references, bibliography, and everything related. But the latest edition also offers sections on grammar and other language aspects. The dedicated webpage of MLA Style Center offers many templates, advice, and even a space where the most common questions regarding style use are answered.

Common Requirements APA and MLA Pose

What makes both academic styles so important and necessary is their regular update by respective organizations. That is why in this article we refer to APA, 7th Edition and MLA, 9th Edition. These are the latest updates that are already being used by most educational facilities and thesis writing services. The requirements of these editions are very similar. It is good news for students but may be confusing when it comes to nuances.

These APA and MLA requirements are essentially identical:

  1. 1-inch margins
  2. Fonts – commonly used and readable sans serif and serif fonts (Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri)
  3. Font size – 11 or 12 pt, except for tables, charts, formulas, or footnotes
  4. Double spacing
differences between apa vs mla

You would be smart though to check specific requirements for each assignment, even if you know the rules very well. Sometimes professors add unconventional requests in part of the formatting for practical reasons.

Crucial Differences Between APA and MLA

While having many similarities in formatting, APA and MLA have different rules in many aspects. Probably, you would not remember all the tiny details by heart, but we analyze here a few key differences that may affect your grades dramatically.

1. Formatting Differences

In APA, a separate title page is required. In MLA papers, if not instructed otherwise, you can only put left-flushed lines with name, affiliation, professor’s name, and date, directly followed by a paper title.

Professional papers in APA and all papers in MLA style would have a running head on all pages of the paper. In APA it’s a capitalized shorter title and the page number. In MLA papers only the last name and page number go in the running head. Student papers not aimed for publishing have slightly different requirements, so be careful with the instructions.

2. In-text citations

The most challenging rules for many students relate to proper referencing in the body of the paper. APA requires the author’s name and date to be put in parenthesis for every citation, and a page number in case of specific paraphrasing. MLA uses the author’s last name and page number without a comma.

Let’s practice with the book Two Treatises on Government by John Locke, published by Wentworth Press in 2019.

APA: (Locke, 2019) or (Locke, 2019, p. 25)

MLA: (Locke 25)

3. Full references in a bibliography

Something you wouldn’t want to make mistakes about is a bibliography. Correcting the formatting of a list of dozens of sources is a tedious task. So, better pay attention to the details right away.

How would we reference the book that we’ve cited in the paper body? APA uses the last name and initial when MLA requires full last name and first name separated by a comma. Order of information like data and publication location also differ.

APA: Locke, J. (2019). Two Treatises on Government. Wentworth Press.

MLA: Locke, John. Two Treatises on Government. Wentworth Press, 2019.

4. Multiple authors’ works

A quick read of any research paper or a study would indicate another difference in citation styles. In older versions of style guides citations of works written by more than two authors differ drastically. Now the rules are almost aligned but in a somewhat counterintuitive way.

APA style for a full reference:

Russell, J., Lintern, F., Gauntlett, L., & Davies, J. (2016). Cambridge International AS and A Level Psychology Coursebook. Cambridge University Press.

APA style for in-text citation:

(Russell et al., 2016)

MLA style for a full reference:

Russell, Julia, et al. Cambridge International AS and A Level Psychology Coursebook. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

MLA style for in-text citation:

(Russell et al. 54)

The Best Academic Writing Style for Your Essay

Probably in most cases, you would not have a choice to use one style or another. Usually, a tutor would indicate a specific style to follow through the whole course or in a given assignment. But in other cases, professors suggest using any of the most popular styles, if you use them correctly.

So, what you need to consider when choosing a writing style for your essay:

  • Check if your school or university has unified recommendations for writing style, even if an individual professor gives freedom to choose.
  • Analyze which style fits best your field of studies – APA serves psychology and related sciences best, while MLA is more appropriate for humanities.
  • Consider your goals for the essay – is it just a part of the course work or a paper to publish in professional journals.
  • Opt for a version with easier citations in your specific case.

The writing style you chose has little effect on the content and language aspects of your paper. Therefore, there is not much sense in long contemplations on what style to use. Focus on the content and any formatting style that would help you frame it properly.

Complying with the academic writing requirements and standards is a challenge. It may be quite frustrating at times, especially for the freshmen. But academic styles exist and are loyally maintained by the academic society to promote high-quality standards to the research and unify the approach to a scholarly discussion that, in turn, would facilitate inter-institutional cooperation and scientific progress.

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