What Is the Difference Between APA & MLA (with Examples)

The academic world likes things to be uniform, because uniformity means faster communication. That’s why there are several writing styles that you must stick to, to get full marks. In this article, we’ll be looking at the strict differences between the APA and MLA writing styles — and how to use them.

The Difference Between APA and MLA

The format preferred by the Modern Language Association, MLA, is mainly for subjects in the humanities: history, literature, etc.

The format preferred by the American Psychological Association format, APA, is for social science-oriented subjects: psychology, criminology, etc.

These are citation styles, i.e. the preferred way to cite your source for your point of view in your paper. Proper citation is extremely important because it prevents the academic crime of plagiarism.

Find below a comparison of the rules with examples for citing using MLA and APA formats. Follow these strictly and carefully to avoid losing marks and to ensure having a professional paper.

The Bibliography

When writing your bibliography, arrange the list of authors and editors you cited in your paper.

  • The MLA style prefers to call it: Works Cited.
  • The APA style calls it: References.

To connect these citations to what’s in your paper, add a brief citation in parentheses beside your sourced statement.

You might also be interested in discovering how to write an annotated bibliography

Organizing Entries in your Bibliography

Organizing your entries differs between APA and MLA. The MLA style wants you to arrange your authors and titles alphabetically.


Dedicated to Bobby Jameson.
The Joy of Letting Go.
Hi, How Are You?.

The APA style asks you to arrange your authors alphabetically, but chronologically for their work.

Citing Multiple Works by the Same Author

The MLA style cites the same author’s works by first listening all the works alphabetically, and only stating the author’s name once.

Every listing of the other work by the author begins with the following formula: three hyphens, a period, a space, the name of the title, a period.


Jones, Duncan. Dedicated to Bobby Jameson. 1984
—. The Joy of Letting Go. 1969
—. Hi, How Are You?. 1999

The APA style simply lists the works chronologically (according to release date), and includes the author’s name in all listings of that author’s work.


Jones, D. (1969) The Joy of Letting Go.
Jones, D. (1984) Dedicated to Bobby Jameson.
Jones, D. (1999) Hi, How Are You?.

The Titles of Articles

  • In the MLA style, place all of the article titles in quotation marks, and capitalize all major words.
  • In the APA style, only capitalize the first word. There is no need to use quotation marks for titles.

In-text Parenthesis

  • When citing in your actual text in the MLA style, place the author’s last name and page number in parentheses.
  • When citing in the APA style, insert the following structure into your parentheses: the author’s last name, a comma, the publishing year, a comma, and then a “p.” and the page number.

Sample Citations

Here are some more examples of how APA and MLA citation styles differ.

When Citing a Book

Structure your MLA book citation in the following way:

  • The author’s Last Name, their First Name;
  • the Title of the Book in italics;
  • the City of Publication, the Name of the Publisher and the Year of Publication;
  • the Medium of Publication;
  • other citations (if you’re citing multiple books);
  • and any additional information.

Jones, Duncan. The Joy of Letting Go. Scottsdale, AZ, Penguin Books, 1969. Print.

Your APA book citation must follow this structure:

  • The author’s Last Name, the initials of their First and Middle Name;
  • the Publishing Year in parentheses;
  • the Title of the Book in italics;
  • the City and State where it was published, a colon, and the Name of the Publisher.

Jones, Duncan. Jones, D. (1969) The Joy of Letting Go. Scottsdale, AZ: Penguin Books.

When Citing an Article

Cite your article in MLA format according to this formula:

  • The author’s Last Name, their First Name;
  • the Article Title in quotation marks;
  • the Journal Title in italics;
  • the volume;
  • the release number;
  • the Date;
  • the Page(s);
  • the Name of the Database;
  • the doi number (if available – otherwise use a URL/permalink);
  • the Day Month Year when the article was accessed.

Jones, Duncan. Wilmshurst, Peter. “Diving and oxygen”. BMJ. 317. 7164. https://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/10/27/diving-and-oxygen. doi: 10.1136/bmj.317.7164.996. 27 October, 2011.

Cite your article in the APA format according to these rules:

  • The author’s Last Name, their First Initial;
  • the Publication Year in parentheses;
  • the Article Title and subtitle;
  • the Journal Title in italics;
  • the volume;
  • the release number in parentheses;
  • the Page(s);
  • the doi number.

Wilmshurst, P. (1998). Diving and oxygen. BMJ. 317 (7164): 996–9. doi: 10.1136/bmj.317.7164.996.

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Comparison Table

The following is a table summarizing the differentiations between APA and MLA formats.

Spacing/Font/Margins Double-spacing;
Citations use a hanging indent

Times New Roman 12
1” margins

Citations use a hanging indent

Times New Roman 12
1” margins

Title page
First page
(Although universities may
require specialized title page)
Title page is required:

Theories of Behavioral Psychology
Loretta M. Brassell

The University of California

Header is required on the first page, then centered title at the beginning of the essay:

Loretta M. Brassell
Professor Terry Mason
Psychology 101
25 June 2016

Bibliography Name References

Shotton, M. A. (1989). Computer addiction? A study of computer dependency. London, England: Taylor & Francis.

Works Cited

Mathy, Jean-Philippe. French Resistance: The French-American Culture Wars. Minnesota UP, 2000.

Order of citations Alphabetical for authors
Chronological for works
Alphabetical for authors and works
Section headings Headings and Subheadings are used to organize the paper No Headings or Subheadings
Direct in-text citation (Burrell, 2017, p.16) (Burrell 16)
Indirect in-text citation (Burrell, 2017) According to Moran, this is a controversial case (16).
Running headers On every page; the title of paper flush left, and page number flush right.

On title page:

On all other pages: THEORIES OF DEVELOPMENT 4

On every page; author name and page number both flush right:

Connor 3

Short quotations According to Vonnegut (1982), “if you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them” (p. 150). Arendt writes that “we must turn to Roman antiquity to find the first justification of war . . .”(13)
Long quotations/Long quote rule Quotes 4 lines or longer are blocked, meaning indented 2 tabs.

Computer users often disagree about which operating system is best: Mac or PC. Oyler (2010) stated that one operating system is not better than the other, but that one may be better suited for different purposes than the other. She explained by saying that

Macs are often the best option for users who wish to work with video or picture manipulation. Macs are also very user-friendly, which may benefit consumers who are new to computers. PCs, however, run Microsoft Office Suite the best. Therefore, students might find that a PC is their best option because it can run Microsoft Word and PowerPoint the smoothest. (Oyler, 2010, p. 48)

Conversely, Jones (2010) disagreed with the statement that Macs work with graphics such as video and pictures better than PCs, stating that PCs can be modified to work as well as Macs.

Quotes with 40 words or more are indented one tab.

Chinese-American historian Iris Chang offers the following statistics in her effort to illustrate the full scope of the Nanking massacre:

One historian has estimated that if the dead from Nanking were to link hands they would stretch from Nanking to the city of Hangchow, spanning a distance of some two hundred miles. Their blood would weigh twelve hundred tons, and their bodies would fill twenty-five hundred railroad cars. Stacked on top of each other, they would reach the height of a seventy-four-story building. (Chang 5)

Subjects where citation style is common Social sciences – Psychology, Sociology, Social work; Medical Sciences – Nursing Humanities – English, Speech, Theater
Author names in citations Author names are listed last name, first initial (Banner, B.) Author names are listed last name, first name (Banner, Bruce)
DOIs DOIs are included in citations on the references list. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2007.00193.x DOIs are included in citations on the works cited list. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2007.00193.x

As we’ve seen above, there are essential differences in the minor details between the two formats in terms of citation. Below are the rules (and examples, where applicable) for formatting the text of your paper.


Both the MLA and APA styles have their own approach to spacing text throughout a paper. The rules are as follows:

  • MLA: Double-spacing on header and in body text
  • APA: Double-spacing on title page and in body text

Font and Margins:

One thing MLA and APA agree on is the usage of font and margins.

  • MLA: 12-pt. font, 1” margins
  • APA: 12-pt. font, 1” margins

Parenthetical Citation:

Parenthetical citations are for citing sources in the middle of your paper.

  • This is the preferred method in MLA format:
    (Name[Space]Page Number) or: According to XXX, abc is an xyz (Page Number).

According to Jones, Bobby Jameson did not make Techno music (169).

  • These are APA:
    • paraphrased idea: (Name [Comma] Year)

(Jones, 1984)

  • direct quote: (Name[Comma]Year[Comma} p. #) or: According to XXX (Year), abc is an xyz.

(Jones, 1984, 169)
According to Jones (1984), Bobby Jameson is not a Techno musician.

Short Quotations:

Short quotations are those which feature three lines or less. If you need to quote an author in your paper, MLA and APA have the following approaches:

  • The formula and example used with MLA: Author Name says that Topic can “quotation” (page number).

Jones says that the joy of letting go can “thrill you in more ways than one” (25).

  • The formula and example used with APA: According to Author Name (Year), Topic can “quotation” (p. #).

According to Jones (1969), the joy of letting go can “thrill you in more ways than one” (p. 25).

Long Quotations:

The two styles have differing approaches to adding long quotations.

  • MLA: If you’re quoting more than four lines, use the following format and make a one-inch indent on the quoted text:

Jones discusses the joy of letting go:

Letting go is a concept that grasps the impermanence of existence, yours and mine. The past physically does not exist, neither does the future. The former is the precursor to our present chemical (material) state, while the latter is an unpredictable transformation — all in perpetual motion. The poetry of this implies that embracing change is beneficial. We see the rewards of this all throughout nature. (56)

  • APA: For quotations with 40 words and more, indent the quoted text ½ inches – also known as making a block quote:

Jones (1969) discusses the joy of letting go:

Letting go is a concept that grasps the impermanence of existence, yours and mine. The past physically does not exist, neither does the future. The former is the precursor to our present chemical (material) state, while the latter is an unpredictable transformation — all in perpetual motion. The poetry of this implies that embracing change is beneficial. We see the rewards of this all throughout nature. (p. 56)

Title Page / First Page Header:

The two styles have contrasting positions on how to introduce a paper. To use a title page, or simply add a header on the first page?

  • The MLA refers to its first page as the First Page — no Title Page required. You need a header on the first page. After, add a centered title at the beginning of the essay.
    • Name
    • Lecturer/Professor
    • Subject
    • Date

Joseph Biersehn
Professor Tom Hong
Progress Theory
31 February, 2020

  • The APA style states that you need a separate Title Page, written like this:
    • Title
    • Author’s Name
    • University

Hypotheses of Progress
Joseph Biersehn
Brigham Young University

MLA vs. APA – Which to Choose?

In elementary and high school, teachers prefer to work with the MLA style. To them, MLA is easier to teach because it is not made for advanced subjects which require in-depth scientific research.

Because APA is advanced and scholarly, most students will not come across it until they attend college or university. The APA style deals with scientific papers, and students use it for subjects connected with hypothesizing, testing, and reporting.

In university and other places dealing with referencing, the professionals checking the sources care about whether you’re using MLA or APA because it speeds up their grading or research process.


The academic world thrives on efficient communication. Academics recognize other academics by how well others follow rules like proper citation. This is why it is crucial to learn the different formats and styles used for citing sources for your claims. The better you understand these styles, the more sophisticated and credible your papers will be, allowing you to pursue bigger academic and professional goals.

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