When it comes to writing research papers, it is critical to cite your sources. Whenever using information, statistics, and insights from other authors or publications, you need to let those reading your research paper know where the information came from and provide credit to that author. There are several different research styles. Regardless of the form you end up using, it is important to understand the difference between MLA and APA. Although they seem similar, there are some key differences between them.

These different styles dictate how information is sourced and the overall formatting of the paper. There are even some universities that have unique styles that are used, including the University of Chicago and Harvard. However, while there are varying methods to format and cite research information, the two most commonly used formatting methods are MLA and APA. Typically, when writing your own research paper or journal, you're able to select whichever form works best for you, although it may also be dictated by the school you're enrolled in or the journal you're publishing your findings to.

MLA Style

Short for Modern Language Association, MLA has been a publishing format used since 1985 (although it didn't become widely used for another several decades). Over the years there have been several upgrades and alterations to tweak the styling, so the original styles used by the Modern Language Association of America have changed over the decades.

In general, MLA is most commonly used when it comes to English paper publications and contextural papers focusing on the humanities. It is also the default style used for media studies, comparative literature, cultural studies, and literary criticism. Basically, if there are any humanities publications or English papers, MLA is the default style to use.


When typing a paper using MLA style, you will double-space the header and body of the text. You do not use a title page; instead, the title and headlining information are placed in a header at the top of the page. You should use 12-point font with one-inch margins around the paper.


When citing a source within the text, you will use the last name of the author's name followed by the page the information is found on. For example, if John Smith published a book you're citing and the information you're using is found on page 178, within the body of the paper you will type "(Smith 178)". You can also directly call out the parenthetical citation within the paper by writing "According to John Smith's English Narrative Journal (178)."

When using MLA style you will title the references page "Works Cited." You need to make sure and format the bibliography correctly. A single entry into the Works Cited page would look like this:

Smith, J. English Narrative Journal. New York, NY: Top Page Publishing, 2018, Print.

You will use a hanging indentation where the first line has the standard justification and all secondary lines are indented.

With the MLA style you do not use a title page. Instead, on the first page you will have a header which is centered using the title. You'll then include your name under the title followed by the professor's name (when necessary) and class name (when necessary). You will then include the date you finished the paper to conclude this information. From here you will then begin the paper.

Title and Quotes

You will have a running header at the top of every page. This running header will include your name (the author's name) and the page number. This information should be right aligned.

For a short quotation you're citing, you will use the book author's name followed by the quote and page number (John Smith says "this is the best paper ever" (187). If you are using a long quote, you will indent the entire block of text quote so it is easily distinguished from the rest of the text. This would be:

John Smith discusses the concept:

"According to the stories found within this book that is what you will need to do, and you will write an excellent research paper."

You will need to know the difference between MLA and APA when it comes to writing your research paper and deciding the correct method for creating your paper.

APA Style

The APA format, short for American Psychological Association, has been around since the 1920s, so when comparing the difference between MLA and APA you'll see there is a substantial difference in the age. Many of the MLA changes are based on updating the APA style. However, unlike MLA, which is used for humanity publications and English research, APA is most commonly used for scientific journals.


While there is a big difference between MLA and APA, there are similarities between the two formats. For example, APA also uses double-spacing for the body text and uses 12-point font with a one inch margin around the borders. However, unlike the MLA, which uses a header, APA uses a title page.

When using APA for citing, it is necessary to use the last name of the original author as well as the publication date. If there is a direct quote, the page number is included.

For example, if John Smith writes a book in 2018 that you are using to cite information from, you will cite it within the text as "(Smith, 2018)." If you're using a direct quote from the book that is on page 187, you will cite it within the text as "(Smith, 2014, p. 187)." You can also call direct attention to the citation by saying "According to Smith (2018), this is the best book ever."


The bibliography of APA style is titled "References" and not "Work Cited," which is one difference between MLA and APA. It also uses a hanging indentation where the first line is not indented while the secondary lines are. However, the order of the information is slightly different. An APA style bibliography looks like this:

Smith, J. (2018) English Journal. New York, NY: English Journal Publishing, Inc.

The very first page for the APA style is a title page. The title page will center aligned in the middle of the page. The title page will also be double-spaced like the rest of the text. However, beyond this there is no difference in the text size or font type. For the title page, the first line is the title, the second line is your name (the author's name), and the third line will be the school you are enrolled in.

Title and Quotes

There is a running header on every page. The title of your paper should be left aligned in the upper left corner of the page, and the page number should be on the upper right corner of every page. Only the title page will not have a page number.

When using a short quote using APA style, you will say: According to Smith (2018), when writing a research paper "it is possible to be truly great."

When using a long quote which is anything over 40 words (for MLA, a long quote is anything over four lines), you will also use the same format as MLA, where the text is all indented. However, the difference here is you will conclude the quote with a "p" before the page number (APA is p. 187 while MLA is just 187).

How to Choose Which is Right to Use When Considering The Difference Between MLA and APA?

There are several ways to choose which of the two formatting methods is right for you. First, if you are writing an English research paper or anything to do with the humanities you will use MLA. However, if you are writing a scientific research paper, you will use APA.

If you are enrolled in school and this is a research paper for school, your professor will tell you what format to use. Even though MLA is most commonly used for English and APA is most commonly used for scientific research, always default to what your professor says. This way, when you hand in your research paper you will have followed their specific instructions.

If you are not writing a research paper and are not writing an English or scientific study paper, you can use whatever format works best for your particular needs. There are also other formats to consider though, so look into these other formats to see which works best for your particular needs.


woman typing on a laptop

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When you look over the difference between MLA and APA, you will find that there are many slight variations with how the papers are formatted. While the general difference between MLA and APA is not drastic, it is still important for you to follow the specific formatting instructions. This way, whether you are writing a research paper for school, for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, or just for your own desire, you can decide which format is right for you.

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