MLA Versus APA Style

Writing professionally, you run into things you may not have seen in awhile. The world is getting so informal and unprofessional that some of the old things go flying out the window. It takes a minute to catch up on concepts you learned years ago and get ready to apply them today.

The difference between MLA and APA is just one of those things. In fact, you just might at this moment be thinking what in the world they even are. Some of you might have a faint memory that they are documentation guidelines. But, you might not be able to remember much more than that.

If you have any kind of document to present in whatever venue you need, whether your boss needs a research journal or your professor needs an essay, you have guidelines to follow. They may have given you some guidelines on their own. But, you also have a style that your paper needs to conform to upon presentation. That style could either be MLA or APA.

MLA Style


The Modern Language Association (MLA) was formed in the late eighteen hundreds as a forum for the study of literature. Lasting throughout the years, it has become the authority on the format for documents written in scholarly pursuit. College students writing English papers or professional writers making their contribution to literature would use the MLA style.

The MLA publishes the MLA Style Manual, which answers every question for how to format your paper. If you want to know how to set the margins, it has the answer. It will tell you how to space your document and create a cover page. It will tell you how to paginate your pages and where to put the appendices. But, I think the most important role the MLA Style Manual serves is how to cite the works of others when you use them in your paper.

Plagiarism isn’t just a blatant disrespect for the work of others. It continues into cases where a work wasn’t cited properly. If you mention an author’s name in the paragraph where you are discussing that author’s work, you only need to add that work of literature to the “Works Cited” page at the end of your document. But, the guidelines are technical regulations so that there are no confusions. Plagiarism can definitely come into play when you quote or paraphrase another writer’s words, but the source of those words is unclear to the reader.

It might be considered a small infraction to you when you miss a period or a comma in your listing of a work you cited. And authors could really care less about a small period in your “Reference” list even though it’s a significant part of the MLA Style of citation. They will make a note that you don’t know how to pay attention and don’t know what you’re doing, which takes away from your overall credibility. But, they really don’t care when you make a small mistake like that. What they get upset about is when you blur the lines and you don’t make it clear that you used their work to support your own. Of course, there is more to it. But, when you are writing a paper in the pursuit of Academia, it is my personal opinion that this is the main concern in the field of scholars.

APA Style


The American Psychological Association (APA) is an equally authoritative organization based out of Washington, D.C. USA. Among the many things APA does, it publishes what is profoundly looked upon as The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. It offers guidance for writers too, but it governs an entirely different body of writers.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is an editorial style manual for writers in the fields of the social and behavioral sciences. Just as in MLA Style, APA Style will tell you how to punctuate your paper and how to add tables. It offers guidance for present statistics and select headings. But, its main thrust again is to help writers properly cite works they use to support their own papers.

A well-written paper is not one that stands alone. This is debatable, but I don’t think one novel thought exists anymore. If you have a thought that is insightful or groundbreaking, I’m sure others have thought along those lines before. It’s called cumulative thinking. But, that’s not a bad thing.

When you write a paper that contributes your thoughts to the scientific community, there has to be thousands of other works that support your groundbreaking work. In other words, you’ve reviewed their works and come to your own conclusions. That’s your contribution. So, learn how to give other writers credit and get it right.

There are other editorial styles for formatting your paper. They include Associated Press, Chicago and Oxford among others. It is in my distinguished experience that if you work in journalism, the Associated Press Stylebook is the one that governs you. If you belong to an organization or work in a field like anthropology that prefers The Chicago Manual of Style, then that’s your style guide. Likewise, the Oxford Style to Guide is the UK’s equivalent to US’s Chicago Manual.

But as far as the US is concerned, MLA or APA is the editorial style you’ll most likely use. You should know what is required of you. If you haven’t been told, then follow the guidelines I just gave you. MLA is in the field of Academia. APA governs social and behavioral sciences. I guess this blog entry implicitly welcomes a view from the UK, one I cannot provide since I am a US based writer.