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May 09, 2014

Comparing MLA and APA: Citing Resources

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By David Becker

Last week, we touched on the general differences between MLA and APA styles. Today, I talk about what is probably the biggest difference between the two styles: how to cite resources. These divergent rules can make transitioning from one style to the other a frustrating process, particularly for students. A few style errors can mean the difference between an A and a B on a paper. As an English major who only used MLA Style in school, learned APA Style for my job, and then relearned MLA Style for a few online courses, I can personally attest to the difficulty of mentally juggling two sets of style rules.

Style Frustration

Despite their differences, the APA and MLA citation systems have the same overall function in a research paper—sources are acknowledged via in-text citations, each of which corresponds to an entry in an alphabetical list of works at the end of the paper, referred to as “Works Cited” in MLA Style and “References” in APA Style. However, the MLA Handbook also mentions some variations, such as a “Works Consulted” list, which contains sources not cited within the body of the paper, and an annotated bibliography, which includes a brief description or evaluation of each source. APA Style does not use these alternate methods (see our posts about reference lists vs. bibliographies and some topics the Publication Manual doesn’t cover).

The differences between the two styles become even more apparent when one is creating text citations. MLA Style includes the author’s last name and the page number, whether citing a direct quotation or not. However, APA Style text citations also include the publication date, because the timeliness of research is important in science writing, and the page number is required only for direct quotations. Below are some hypothetical examples of parenthetical citations in both styles:

MLA

(Adams 42)
(Lennon and McCartney 999)
(Hexum, Martinez, and Sexton 123)

APA

(Adams, 1979) or (Adams, 1979, p. 42)
(Lennon & McCartney, 1968) or (Lennon & McCartney, 1968, p. 999)
(Hexum, Martinez, & Sexton, 1994) or (Hexum, Martinez, & Sexton, 1994, p. 123)

These citations lead readers to the reference list, which is where the differences between the two styles are most apparent, a topic I cover in my next post. In the meantime, I hope this overview has been helpful to those of you transitioning from MLA Style to APA Style. If you’re new to APA Style, the Publication Manual and this blog are your go-to resources. I also recommend that you try our free tutorial on the basics of APA Style and visit our FAQ page, as well as our pages that provide quick answers for citing sources and formatting your research paper. If you can’t find what you’re looking for after checking those resources, feel free to contact APA Style directly via e-mail or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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