APA vs. MLA Citation: What’s the Difference?

APA vs. MLA Citation What's the Difference
Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega

Study Consultant at Gradehacker

Citation styles like APA and MLA can be a headache when it comes to essay writing. You have to convey your thoughts correctly, analyze them, and put them in a coherent form. On top of this, you also have to make sure that your references are correctly cited.

This detail might seem unimportant at first glance, but incorrect formatting can be the reason why you lose some valuable points in a college academic paper. This formatting situation can be decisive in your final grade or, even worse, passing your entire class.

The good news for you is that MLA and APA citation styles have very subtle differences. It is not like you have to learn a completely different way to highlight your sources. Once you recognize the small differences, you will make your college life a whole lot easier. However, these similarities can be a double-edged sword since they are precisely what makes people confuse them all the time.

Luckily for you at Gradehacker, essay writing is part of our daily work, so we offer you a straightforward guide to understanding MLA and APA citation’s main differences. This way, you won’t need to freak out every time you need to mention the sources used in your essay.

First of all: What do MLA and APA Mean? When Should You Use Them?

According to the proofreading and editing website Scribbr,  MLA stands for Modern Language Association, and it is usually used for writing that involves arts and humanities. It helps you break down citing for paintings, books, and other literature.

On the other hand, APA stands for American Psychological Association and is designed for technical works found in natural sciences. This format makes citing journals and technical reports more detailed and precise. Since APA is an effective style for multiple academic areas, it is often preferred by many online colleges and universities.

Both styles require your paper to be double-spaced and have a 12-pt. font and one-inch margins from all sides.

How Do You Structure a Citation?

For both MLA and APA, the formatting requires similar information you need to include: the author’s name, source title, publisher, and year of publication. However, the order in which this data is organized varies a little between each other as you can see here:

How to Structure an APA Format Citation:

Here, you will need to pay more attention to the punctuation since it changes between commas, periods, and semicolons depending on the information before. Also, you need to add the place of publication.

  • Author’s last name, author’s initials. (Publication year). Source Title in Italics. (Edition Number). Place of publication: Publisher

Example: Smith, J. (2020). Best Essays in Universal History. (3rd ed.). United States: Gradehacker Publications.

How to Structure a MLA Format Citation:

Here, you will need to pay more attention to the punctuation as it varies only between commas and periods. Remember to put the source name in italics!

  • Author’s last name, Author’s First name. Source Name in Italics., Edition number, publisher, publication year

Example: Smith, John. Best Essays in Universal History., 3rd ed, Gradehacker Publications, 2020

Luckily for you, many online resources will organize your source’s information if you are in a hurry or just want to make sure that everything is set correctly. Citation Machine and Scribbr Citation Generator for APA and Citation Generator for MLA are great options when you find yourself struggling too much.

How to format an In-Text citation for MLA and APA?

The in-text citation always seems challenging because the citation formatting is more flexible. You can place elements such as names, page numbers, and years of publication in different parts of the text, depending on if you are citing directly or indirectly.

In this case, you have to remember the following:

  • For MLA in-text citations, you will need the last name of the author and page number.
  • For the APA in-text citations, you will also need the author’s name, number of the page, and the year of publication.

Let’s see then how you can in-text cite MLA and APA.

How to format MLA direct quotations:

It is said that "essay writing services are no longer a luxury. They are a necessity" (Smith 25).

How to format MLA indirect quotations:

Smith mentions that essay writing services are a necessity and not a luxury (25).

How to format APA direct quotations:

The author claims that "essay writing services are no longer a luxury. They are a necessity" (Smith, 2020, p. 25)

How to format APA indirect quotations:

In 2020, Smith mentioned that essay writing services are a necessity and not a luxury (p. 25).

As Smith (2020) mentions, essay writing services are more a necessity than a luxury (p. 25).

What happens if the work you cited has multiple authors?

Academic writing is often a team effort, so you will find that a book or journal has more than one author. Some sources might have between four or six co-authors. What happens in this case? Should you include them all? Well, it depends on how many you have and which format you will be using. The rules are as follows:

Citing multiple authors with MLA:

When you have two authors, you have to add “and” in-between both names.

“Essay writing should not be a difficult experience” (Smith and Doe 25)

For three or more authors, you only put the last name of the first author and add “et al.” which is the abbreviation of “et alia” (and others)

"Essay writing should not be a difficult experience" (Smith et al. 23).

Citing multiple authors with APA:

When you have two authors, you have to add a & sign in between both names.

"Essay writing should not be a difficult experience" (Smith & Doe, 2020, p. 25).

For 3 to 5 authors, you have to separate their names with commas and add a & in between the last two names:

"Essay writing should not be a difficult experience" (Smith, Johnson, Phillips, & Doe, 2020, p. 25).

For the rest of the essay, the same citation will follow this pattern:

(Smith et al., 2020, p. 25)

For six or more authors, you only have to mention the first author’s last name from the beginning, like this:

(Anderson et al. 2020, p. 23)

How to format everything on APA and MLA: A summary

MLA and APA are citation formats that work very similarly to each other. However, some differences require your attention:

APA Vs MLA Citation_ What's The Difference

To answer the question of the difference between MLA and APA, it is possible to say that the two formats are quite similar. Still, APA requires more data about the publication, while MLA focuses more on who wrote it and where to find it in the cited text. Nevertheless, depending on the format that your professor decides to use, you have to stick to the citation style selected, so you don’t lose any points on your grade only because you used the wrong format.

Still we understand that this process can be bothersome, above all when you are in a hurry or you have too many authors to cite. Our clients most of the time manifest that this is one of the most challenging processes when they write an essay or create a discussion post. If you feel like you still need an extra push, you can check our article about essay writing tips so you get some inspiration to finish your assignments as soon as possible. If you still are not feeling like writing at all, you can always  contact Gradehacker today to find help  on writing an essay or discussion in the citation style you need to get the A you deserve.

Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega is a Study Consultant and Content Creator for Gradehacker. She has a degree in Education and Literature and is currently working on getting a master’s degree in Linguistics. Even though words, languages, and books are her thing, science and psychology were her hidden passion for many years. Luckily, Gradehacker has allowed her to use all that knowledge by helping many clients with everything they need. Javiera considers herself a proud nerd who likes to learn and read about everything she can find. From movies and comics to microbiology and genetics, every topic is interesting for her. Her curiosity has no limits. Find her on LinkedIn

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