APA vs MLA: The key differences

The main differences between APA and MLA style

APA and MLA are two of the most commonly used citation styles.

The APA manual (published by the American Psychological Association) is mostly used in social science and education fields.

The MLA handbook (published by the Modern Language Association) is mostly used in humanities fields.

In both styles, a source citation consists of:

  • A brief parenthetical citation in the text
  • A full reference at the end of the paper

However, citations look slightly different in each style, with different rules for things like title capitalization, author names, and placement of the date.

There are also some differences in layout and formatting. Download the Word templates for a correctly formatted paper in either style.

APA template MLA template

This article follows the 8th edition of MLA style and the 6th edition of APA style. The 7th edition of the APA manual is expected to be widely used from spring 2020 onwards.

In-text citations in APA and MLA

Both MLA and APA use parenthetical citations to cite sources in the text. However, they include slightly different information.

An APA in-text citation includes the author’s last name and the publication year. If you’re quoting or paraphrasing a specific passage, you also add a page number.

An MLA in-text citation includes the author’s last name and a page number.

The two styles also have different rules about when to shorten citations with “et al.” Check the table to compare in-text citations for APA and MLA.

APA MLA
1 author (Taylor, 2018, p. 23) (Taylor 23)
2 authors (Taylor & Kotler, 2018, p. 23) (Taylor and Kotler 23)
3–5 authors First citation: (Taylor, Kotler, Johnson, & Parker, 2018, p. 23)

Subsequent citations: (Taylor et al., 2018, p. 23)

(Taylor et al. 23)
6+ authors (Taylor et al., 2018, p. 23) (Taylor et al. 23)

APA reference list vs MLA works cited list

In both APA and MLA style, you list full details of all cited sources on a separate page at the end of your paper. In APA this is usually called the reference list; in MLA it is called the works cited.

The formatting of source entries is different in each style. Using the interactive tool, you can switch between APA and MLA citations for common source types.

 

You can automatically create your in-text citations and references in either style using the free Scribbr Citation Generators.

APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator

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Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:

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MLA vs APA formatting

The general formatting guidelines for APA and MLA are similar. Both styles recommend:

  • 12 pt Times New Roman font
  • Double spacing
  • 1-inch margins

The main differences between APA format and MLA format involve the title page, running head, and block quoting guidelines.

Title page and header

In APA, a separate cover page is required. It lists the title of your paper, your full name, and the name of your institution, all centred and double-spaced.

APA title page example

 

In MLA, no title page is required (though your instructor may require you to include one). Instead of a title page, you add a four-line heading on the first page.

The heading is left-aligned and double-spaced, and lists your full name, your instructor’s name, the course title or number, and the submission date. The paper’s title is centred on a new line under the heading.

The main differences between APA and MLA style

Running head

Both MLA and APA require a running head to be included on every page.

In MLA, the running head is your last name and the page number, both right-aligned.

MLA running head

An APA running head is the title of your paper (up to the first 50 characters), all in capitals and left-aligned, and the page number right-aligned. On the title page, the words “Running head:” appear before the title.

APA running head

Block quote formatting

Block quotes are long quotations that are set on a new line and indented as a block, with no quotation marks.

In APA, any quote of 40 words or longer should be formatted as a block quote. In MLA, block quote formatting is used for quotes of more than four lines of prose or more than three lines of verse.

In both styles, the in-text citation is added after the period at the end of a block quote.

The reader quickly becomes familiar with Nick Carraway’s relationship with Jay Gatsby, as the very first mention of the character illustrates both his admiration and disdain:

Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 4)

The reader quickly becomes familiar with Nick Carraway’s relationship with Jay Gatsby, as the very first mention of the character illustrates both his admiration and disdain:

Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. (Fitzgerald 4)
Is this article helpful?
Shona McCombes

Shona has a bachelor's and two master's degrees, so she's an expert at writing a great thesis. She has also worked as an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

3 comments

Bliss
September 20, 2020 at 3:11 PM

This piece was really helpful; so self explanatory.
Thanks a lot.

Reply

Mileah
August 22, 2020 at 11:21 AM

If my college professor asked for an annotated bib in APA format, does that mean a full paper including an abstract, graph, and pie chart? Or do I just do a regular annotated bib but with the APA style. For example, just the title page and the correct margins and headers.

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
September 16, 2020 at 3:32 PM

Hi Mileah,

It's best to check with your professor directly, but I would guess that you simply need to submit an annotated bibliography with the title page, headers and references formatted in APA style.

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