Differences between APA and MLA formatting styles

by Samantha Smiles   Google

In order to write academic papers you need to abide to particular styles and rules. There are number of styles for writing but the most widely used are American Psychological Association (APA) and Modern Language Association (MLA). The article discusses similarities between the two formats as well as major differences in their vision of writing. The style which will be applied to the paper depends on the purposes and subjects.


APA is predominantly used in social sciences including:

  • geography
  • psychology
  • political science
  • other disciplines that are concerned with studies of social processes

The MLA style refers mostly to:

  • liberal arts
  • humanitarian science

The two styles have major differences in their ways of formatting.

Let’s start with APA. Headers are included on every single page of such documents. On the top left side of the paper you are required to include the title of your research. The first page has words “running head' with the title. It is also mandatory to provide page number on the top left side of the page.

MLA uses the same way to include page numbers but there is a difference in citing the page title: it is only acceptable to provide it on the very first page. On the following pages students have to include their names on the right top side.

The front page of APA gives the information about the author as well as the education establishment. It is separated from the main text while MLA has it started from the first page and this information is only separated by a double space.

In-text citations

APA requires the information about the author of the source and the year of publishing of the cited document. It is very important to include citations in order to show the readers where the information was taken and proves that it is reliable and appropriate for the conducted research. The second page of APA paper provides the summary of the paper. The summary usually consists of 150 to 250 words and provides the reader with important information on the research: methods of research, main points and author’s comments. It is to be written subjectively but provide individual view on the subject.

There is no special abstract page in MLA. The text starts right after the information about the author and university and ends before the data about the sources that has been used in the paper. The page with sources is called “Works cited'. The one from APA has a different title, which reads “References'.

All pages in both styles are double spaced, including the sources page. The used books and journals should be listed in the alphabetical order according to APA. MLA has the same approach and requires stating them by the alphabet, using the surname of the authors. The MLA style follows indention of five spaces for each given sources while APA uses one-half inch. The indention starts from the very first line of sources information.