Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) are two standard style guides used for writing academic papers. Liberal arts and humanities primarily use MLA. Social sciences use APA. Some examples are psychology, education, as well as sociology. However, MLA and APA formatting are typical styles all writers must be familiar with.

If you are just starting to write papers for college, or are a graduate student, your instructors will include the style requirements for assignments in the assignment guidelines. Also, they may need additional preferences. Such as a different style of the cover page. Pay attention to these requirements. Realistically, instructors will remove grade points if a student does not follow the formatting for approved grammatical and citation requirements.

It is a recommendation that students study and learn the requirements of the style early on in their education career. They should keep updated as MLA releases various additions. Currently 3rd edition and APA currently 6th edition. Having a sound knowledge of the style will help the student write more efficiently. Additionally, another recommendation is to have the style book by your computer as you work. That way, you can check punctuation and citations as you write. You should highlight the most commonly used punctuation and other information with a highlighter and post-it notes. Because the answer surely will come up again.

Also, both APA APA style and MLA have Websites and search engines that can help if you have a terrible style problem. Also, most colleges have Writing Centers or online tutorials. They are to assist you with ensuring that your use of the style guidelines in your academic paper is perfect.

Here are some major differences in the two styles.

Reference Examples:

APA Style

Jelfs, A., Richardson, J., & Price, L. (2009). Student and tutor perceptions of effective tutoring in distance education. Distance Education, 30(3), 419-441. doi:10.1080/01587910903236551.

Mellers, B.A. (2000). Choice and the relative pressure of consequences.  Psychological Bulletin, 126, 910-924.

MLA Style

Jelfs, Anne, John T. E. Richardson, and Linda Price. “Student and tutor perceptions of effective tutoring in distance education.” Distance Education 30.3 (2009): 419-441. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 16 Feb. 2010.

Palmer, William J. Dickens, and New Historicism. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997. Print.

In-text Citation Examples:

APA Style This is the citation format when there is a quote:

According to Black (2009), “all clowns scare children to death” (p.3).

MLA Style

According to Kenneth Black, “all clowns scare children to death” (3).

Other Comparisons




Double space, 12 pt font Double space, 12 pt font

Spacing after punctuation

One space One space

“and” or “&”

Uses “and” in all cases “&” used in citations


1 inch on all sides 1 inch on all sides


Write one, five, twenty-one, one hundred, sixteen hundred, but write 8½, 301, and 5,820.

Spell out numbers when used as the first word in the sentence and nine and lower

Page numbers

Top right Top right


Two types – bibliographic notes and content notes Four types – author, content copyright, permission and table notes




Professional Editing

If you need help with academic writing, there are several options. Especially when you are writing a thesis, or submitting a paper for publication. Many editors, like the editors at FirstEditing, specialize in academic writing. They will offer to edit a paper based on word count or pages and the type of editing required. Just to give you an idea. Academic editing will cost more than a standard edit. These editors are professionals who have a lot of experience editing papers in different style formats. Rest assured they can provide expertise for the severe editing issues such as footnotes and endnotes. As well as charts, tables, and citing references.



Not sure what YOU really need?

Get Professional Help

Get a free editing sample outlining areas you need to fix before publishing. Discover what works!