APA vs MLA: The key differences

APA vs MLA: The key differences in citation and formatting.

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 7th edition of APA Style. The APA 6th edition rules can be found here.

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.

When there are two authors, APA Style separates their names with an ampersand (&), while MLA uses “and.” For three or more authors, list the first author followed by “et al.” in both styles.

APA MLA
1 author (Taylor, 2018, p. 23) (Taylor 23)
2 authors (Taylor & Kotler, 2018, p. 23) (Taylor and Kotler 23)
3+ 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 style citations for common source types.


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

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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, your institution and department, the course the paper is for, your instructor’s name, and the due date, all centered and double-spaced.

APA title page - student version (7th edition)

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 centered on a new line under the heading.

MLA heading

Page header

In MLA, your last name and the page number appear in the header of every page, both right-aligned.

MLA page header

An APA header also includes a right-aligned page number. In manuscripts that will be submitted for publication, you should also include an APA running head with a shortened version of your paper’s title (up to 50 characters long), all in capitals and left-aligned.

This running head is not required in student papers (unless instructed otherwise).

APA running head (7th edition)

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)
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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.

2 comments

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.

Reply

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