APA and MLA Style Guides

By Maeve Maddox

Research is a messy business. Even when the object of the research is as limited as looking for a car or renting a house, materials accumulate: newspaper and magazine clippings, brochures, envelopes and bits of paper with names, prices, phone numbers and dates of availability jotted on them.

Keeping track of these materials can be a nuisance, but for the shopper, once the desired transaction has been completed, all the source material may be discarded.

Academic or scientific research intended to result in a written presentation is a different matter. All of the notes, clippings, and online documents consulted during the course of the research must be organized and presented in such a way that anyone who wishes to verify the findings may do so.

That’s where the APA and MLA guidelines come in. They provide writers of research papers a systematic way to organize and present information gathered in the course of their investigations.

APA = American Psychological Association (Amazon link)
MLA = Modern Language Association (Amazon link)

Students need to know at the outset whether they will be using MLA or APA. They can save time by recording their sources in the appropriate format for in-text citations and the bibliography.

A citation is a reference quoted in the text of the research paper.

A bibliography is a list of books and other source materials used in writing the research paper. It follows the text.

Unlike professional scholars, who may decide for themselves which guide to use, students writing a paper for a school assignment depend upon their teachers to specify which guide to follow. Teachers of art, history, language, literature, music, philosophy or religion will most likely recommend MLA. Teachers of biology, math, health, journalism, or psychology may specify APA.

APA- and MLA-formatted papers have slightly different appearances. An APA paper includes an abstract at the front; MLA does not. Long quotations are indented differently. The list of sources at the end is headed “References” in APA and “Works Cited” in MLA. Sources are formatted a little differently. For example, APA emphasizes publication date:

According to Pernoud and Clin, “the chivalric rules of previous centuries had fallen into disuse” (194).

According to Pernoud and Clin (1986), “the chivalric rules of previous centuries had fallen into disuse” (194).

Both guides stress the importance of avoiding plagiarism by crediting ideas to sources. Both address the topic of suitable expression, but APA goes into more detail than MLA in specifying vocabulary perceived to be offensive.

APA format was designed for researchers in the field of psychology. The emphasis is on such sources as technical reports, proceedings of meetings, and dissertations. Its format addresses the inclusion of extra materials (addenda) such as charts and questionnaires.

MLA was designed for the study of the products of creative thought. It provides numerous examples of how to cite books, anthologies, audiovisual material, (including motion pictures), and sources like interviews, advertisements, websites, and cartoons.

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1 Response to “APA and MLA Style Guides”

  • Precise Edit

    Nearly all of my clients getting advanced degrees in education are required to use APA. It, too, contains a fairly complete guide for various types of reference materials, but once in a while, I will find something not covered. Overall, though it works well and is fairly straightforward.

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