APA vs MLA format in academic papers: how to choose?

When you write a lot of academic papers, you need to have good writing skills to present your ideas properly. But also, you have to format the text correctly.

The focus is on citations and bibliography. This is the most important requirement for any academic paper because the originality of the work is the key. If you use someone else’s words or data, the sources must be credited. Otherwise, your work will be considered plagiarized and ruin your career.

The chosen format will define how exactly you should present these credits. Two formats are favored by all colleges: APA title page and MLA.

Spheres of use of APA vs MLA

In most cases, the teacher assigns you a task to write some academic paper and defines which format you should use there at once. If not, you can choose a suitable format for yourself. It must be one format; it is not allowed to switch between the several styles in one work.

The Scope of the APA format

APA format is mostly applied to the studies in the Social sciences like history, sociology, or psychology. It is also widely used for studies on educational topics and business courses. APA citation format is the most common and universal format, and many colleges choose to use it by default for all their works. This format aims to present a clear and concise text with proper structure. Also, it is the right format when you have to deal with the most up-to-date sources – articles (including web), video interviews, etc.

The Scope of the MLA format

MLA format is applied to the works in the Humanities like literature or theatre. This format is better when you deal with solid classical book sources in large volumes. MLA format focuses on the citation’s details more, because it is necessary to define the exact book source with its number of pages and publisher’s details. Most often it is used for the older book sources. 

APA vs MLA: similarities and differences

Both formats have the same requirements as the fonts, spacing, and margins. They also use the same components to compose the correct citation syntax, but the difference is in the order of these elements and their form.

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Same features which APA and MLA formats possess

No matter which format you work with, adjust the settings of your text editor in the following way:

  • Font type: Times New Roman
  • Font size: 12 pt
  • Margins: 1 inch (for them all)
  • Spacing: double-spaced

Distinction Features of APA and MLA

Bibliographic List


  • The section is called References and is not marked in any way – no quotation marks, no bold or italic.
  • The sources are sorted alphabetically by author.
  • If you refer to several works of the same author, they must be sorted chronologically – the newest ones at the top.
  • The name of the author should be present for each entry.


  • The section is called Works Cited without quotation marks or bold or italic style.
  • The sources are sorted alphabetically by author.
  • Several works of the same author are also sorted alphabetically.
  • For a group of works of one author, the name of the writer is present for the first entry only. For the next work of the same author, the name is replaced with three hyphens.

Author’s name format


  • The correct format of the author’s name is using the last name and the initials. You must include the first initial (for the first name), the second initial is optional. 
  • The last name must be separated with a comma and space from the first initial. 
  • Put a period after each initial. The second initial must be separated with a space from the first initial.

E.g.: Wiegers, K.

Wiegers, K. E.


  • The correct format requires to provide the last and the first names divided by a comma.
  • If the initials of the middle name are used, they should be placed after the first name. Put the period after each initial.
  • If the person is an editor or a compiler, you add the “identifier” – the abbreviation “ed.” or “comp.” next to the name and separated by a comma.

e.g.: Weir, Andy

Delany, Samuel R.

Bates, Harry, ed.

Titles of the cited sources


  • The titles of books and articles are in italic. Note that you mustn’t put the title into the quotation marks. The period is put after the title.
  • The title should look like the standard sentence: the capital letter for the first word and the rest of them are shown according to the standard grammar rules. 
  • The year of publishing is in parenthesis and precedes the title.
  • The place of publication and the publisher follow the title, they are separated by a colon.

e.g.: Patton, M. Q. (2019) Blue marble evaluation: premises and principles. New York, NY: The Guilford Press


  • The titles of books are in italic.
  • The titles of articles or separate stories from anthologies and edited books are in quotation marks, and the title of the “container” is in italic.
  • All the important words in the title are capitalized. Conjunctions, articles, and prepositions are not capitalized.
  • The publisher and the year of publishing follow the title.

e.g.: Weir, Andy. The Martian. Broadway Books, 2014

Asimov, Isaac. “Runaround.” I, Robot. Gnome Press, 1950

Citations in the text


  • For direct quotation, you need to mention the author’s last name and the details of the work you refer to the year of its publication, and the number of the page, all separated by commas, in parenthesis.

e.g.: (Patton, 2019, p. 87)

  • For the paraphrased quotation you need to provide the same details except for the number of pages. The details are divided by a comma and put into parenthesis.

e.g.: (Patton, 2019)


  • For direct quotation, you need the last name of the author and the page number. These details must be separated by a comma.

e.g.: (Delany, 105)

  • For indirect paraphrased quotation you need to name the author and add the number of the page in parenthesis.

e.g.: Weir considers that the long-term expeditions to Mars will be feasible by 2035 (25)

It should be mentioned that both these formats are not stable, there are regular amendments for the guidelines. So, you will need to check if there are any new details in the regulations before you start formatting your work. But the bases remain the same, as described above

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