APA vs MLA Research Paper: Understanding The Difference

When you are assigned a research paper, you will most likely be required to use the MLA or APA styles. These styles were developed by important professional organizations, the Modern Language Association and the American Psychological Association. Both styles were designed so professional and academic papers would have consistency, so the content could be analyzed, rather than the writing style. While the two styles are quite easy to use and they have several similarities, there are a few subtle differences that writers should know.

Titling the Citation Page

Most of the differences between the two styles comes with formatting the citations in the bibliography section of the paper. They both have a section where the sources are listed in alphabetical order. The MLA section is called “Works Cited” and the APA section is called “References.”

Details in the Citations

The small details that are also different include the way the date and the author’s name is used in the citations. In the MLA style, author’s name is written out completely, so the first and last names are used. In the APA style, only the last name is used completely, the other names are only listed as initials. So, if the author’s name is John Smith, the APA style would be J. Smith.

Using Capitals in a Citation

Another difference is in the way that styles include capitalization. In every title, MLA users need to capitalize every word and they need to underline the whole title, too. In the APA research paper style, the only words that are capitalized are the first words as well as all proper nouns. The title should be italicized in an APA paper, too.

In-Text Citation Differences

Both styles require writers to use in-text citations in the research paper, but the way they are cited is different. In the MLA style, the writer needs to be sure the last name of the author is included as well as the page number. In the APA style, the last name of the author is used and so is the date. If the author’s name is not available, the first available word in the source is used. If a page number is used, the MLA style does not use any initials like p. or pg., but in the APA style, the initials p. is used for single pages and pp is used for multiple pages in a source.