The two most popular formats used in writing research papers are the APA and MLA format. The APA style, created by the American Psychological Association, is the preferred choice in the fields of psychology and social sciences. The MLA format, on the other hand, was produced by the Modern Language Association and is widely used in the fields of liberal arts and humanities. Being aware of the differences between the two will help you easily recognize the styles upon seeing them and enable you to follow the correct guidelines when writing your own paper.

As stated earlier, the users of the different styles belong to different academic fields. The APA format is mostly used in technical writing as well as in scientific papers. The MLA format is believed to be “[g]enerally simpler and more concise” according to the Modern Language Association. It can also be seen used in press releases, literary journals, and even in corporate reports.

The format of in-text citations between the two formats also differ slightly. The MLA format requires the author’s last name and the page number while the APA format requires the author’s last name and the date within a parenthesis.

While both formats require you to cite your sources in a bibliography, they use different labels for it. The MLA format refers to this section as “Works Cited” while the APA style uses the term “References.” Both of the styles list the citation entries alphabetically according to the author’s last name. However, how the names are listed within each entry differs. For the APA style, the last name is followed by the first initial. The MLA format, on the other hand, lists the last name followed by the first name. For entries with more than 3 authors, the MLA format allows the use of “et al.” following the name of the first author. The APA format will require you to list down the names of up to 6 authors. The “et al.” is only used if the source has more than 6 authors.

The title page and the headers in both formats also differ. The MLA style does not require a title page but the APA style does. The title page for the APA style includes the title of the paper, your name, and the name of the institution you are affiliated with. While both styles ask that you use headers, they require different details to be included. The APA style will require “Running head:” followed by part of your title plus the page number on the title page. Subsequent pages will only require the title and the page number. The MLA format also has a header on the first page but will only include the author’s name and page number.

One other difference that you should take note of is the tense used in each format. The MLA style is written in the present tense while the APA style is written in the past tense.

Author's Bio: 

The author of this article has written several scientific papers using the APA format and literary ones using the MLA format.