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Difference between APA and MLA: Simple Guide

Difference between APA and MLA

Understanding the difference between APA and MLA is the first significant step to writing a perfect paper. As a learner, you need to recognize that the academic sector operates in uniform since it facilitates faster communication. That is why you need to know the difference between MLA and APA to get full marks. Today is your lucky day since this article highlights the exact difference between MLA and APA format – and how to utilize them effectively.

What is the difference between APA and MLA?

Both APA and MLA are the commonly applied citation styles. The format followed by the Modern Language Association (MLA) covers subjects in the humanities sector. Examples of these subjects include history and literature. Comparatively, the American Psychological Association (APA) format is often used in science-related subjects. Some of these include psychology and criminology.

One can use these two citation styles to reference the sources of information in a paper. Following the proper citation styles is highly recommended as it helps to avert plagiarism cases, which is an academic crime. Notably, the section below compares rules with examples when learning the difference between MLA and APA citations. You should follow these guidelines strictly to reduce the chances of losing marks on your professional paper.

Source Citation

The only similarity between APA and MLA is in the source citation.

  • Both have parenthetical citations in the text.
  • A complete reference page must appear at the end of the paper.

However, there is a significant difference between MLA and APA, with different rules emerging in title capitalization, author names, and data placement.

The Bibliography

When composing your bibliography, you need to arrange the list of authors and editors you cited inside your paper.

  • The MLA citation style refers to this as “Works Cited.”
  • The APA citation style calls it “References.”

You should add a brief citation in parenthesis beside the sourced statement as a principle of connecting references to what is written in your paper.

Difference between APA and MLA in In-text Citations

Parenthetical citations are subject to apply in both MLA and APA when citing sources used in the research in the text. However, a slight difference exists between them.

In APA, the author’s last name and publication year are included in the in-text citation. Notably, when quoting or paraphrasing information obtained from a particular page, you must add the page number.

In MLA, the author’s surname/last name and the page number are used in the in-texting.

If the source being used is written by two, the APA styles differentiate the authors’ names with an ampersand (&), while MLA separates the author’s names with “and.” However, if three or more authors write the source, MLA lists that first author and uses “et al.” to refer to other authors. Again, you can name at least three authors in this referencing style and use “et al.” when the authors exceed four.

This illustration is summarized in Table 1:

One author (Smith, 2021) (Smith 67)
Two authors (Smith & Taylor, 2021) (Smith and Taylor 67))
Three authors (Smith, Taylor, & Tisdale, 2021) (Smith et al. 67)
4+ authors (Smith et al., 2021) (Smith et al. 67)


 Difference between MLA and APA in Formatting

Both APA and MLA are similar when it comes to the general formatting rules. In this case, both styles recommend following the following guidelines:

  • 12 pt Times New Roman font
  • Double spacing (unless the instructions state otherwise)
  • 1-inch margins

However, the main difference between APA and MLA comes in the title page’s formatting, running head, and citing block quotations.

What is the difference between APA and MLA in Title Page and Header? 

APA requires a cover page in its formatting style. One needs to include specific elements on this cover page, which vary from one institution to another. These include the paper title, student’s full name, institution and department name, the course title, the instructor’s name, and the date due, which all have to be centered and double-spaced.

Distinctively, in MLA, no title page is required in its formatting. Instead, one is needed to add a four-line heading on the first page of the work. Most importantly, this heading is aligned to the left, containing specific elements per institutional requirements. The significant components to include in the header are the student’s full name, the instructor’s name, the course title or course number, the submission date.  In MLA, the paper’s heading is at the center, written on a new line under the header.

Difference between APA and MLA in Page Header

In MLA, the author’s last name or surname and the page number must appear in each page header, aligned to the right. Comparatively, in APA, only the page number is right-aligned. However, one must include the shortened version of the title (all in capital letters) in the running head, aligned to the left. The characters for the shortened title must be less than 50. Again, depending on institutions, the running head may not be necessary for student papers unless the instructions state otherwise.

Difference between MLA and APA in Block Quotations

There is a significant difference between APA and MLA when it comes to blocking quotations. Block quotation refers to the long quotes that generally appear on a new line but are indented as a block, without quotation marks.

A quote that exceeds forty (40) words must be subject to format as a block quote in APA styles. However, in MLA, blockquote formatting applies to quotes beginning from four lines or a verse containing more than three lines. Lastly, in-text citation only appears after the period, generally written at the end of the blockquote.

Title Capitalization in References

What is the difference when it comes to title capitalization? Well, there is some notable difference between these two citation styles. In MLA, the header capitalization is mandatory, whereby it is mandatory to capitalize every vital word. In some instances, one may refer to this as title cases:

Keyhani, Salomeh et al. “Risks and Benefits of Marijuana Use: A National Survey of U.S. Adults.” Annals of Internal Medicine, vol. 169, no.5, 2018, pp.282-290.

In APA, title capitalization is different. The book or article titles in references are subject to capitalization in the first word, sometimes referred to as sentence case. For the same example above, one can write APA as follows:

Keyhani, Salomeh et al. (2018). Risks and benefits of marijuana use: a national survey of U.S. adults. Annals of Internal Medicine, 169(5), 282-290.


One is likely to excel in the academic world through efficient communication. Most importantly, academics recognize their peers based on how well they follow specific scholarly guidelines, such as proper citation. Consequently, anyone needs to know the difference between APA and MLA when citing the information sources used in their research. Therefore, the ability to understand and master these differences increases the likelihood of writing a credible paper, enabling the scholar to pursue bigger academic and professional goals.

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