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May 15, 2014

Comparing MLA and APA: The Reference List

David Becker



By David Becker

Today, we continue with our series of posts highlighting some differences between APA and MLA reference styles. Last week, I outlined how the two styles handle in-text citations. Today’s post focuses on the reference list (or the “Works Cited” list as it is called in MLA Style). Below are examples of how each style would handle two common sources—a print book and a journal article from a research database. I have color coded the text to help you better visualize the differences in the basic elements of a generic reference. The who is in red, the when is in blue, the what is in yellow, and the where is in purple, all of which can be mixed and matched to form the Frankenreference.

Let’s begin with a print book, one of the simplest sources to cite:

MLA

Gordin, Michael D. The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe. Chicago: U Chicago P, 2012. Print.

APA

Gordin, M. D. (2012). The pseudoscience wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the birth of the modern fringe. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

The two styles vary in a number of ways, including punctuation, capitalization, and placement of the date. Also, unlike APA Style, MLA Style includes the format of the source—either “Print” or “Web”—as an extra piece of “where” information, and it often requires writers to abbreviate publisher names.

Now let’s take a look at something a bit more complicated, a journal article from a research database:

MLA

Shafron, Gavin Ryan, and Mitchell P. Karno. “Heavy Metal Music and Emotional Dysphoria Among Listeners.” Psychology of Popular Media Culture 2.2 (2013): 74-85. PsycNET. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

APA

Shafron, G. R., & Karno, M. P. (2013). Heavy metal music and emotional dysphoria among listeners. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2, 74–85. doi:10.1037/a0031722

The most substantive difference is that MLA Style requires the name of the database from which you retrieved the article and the date of retrieval as well; it does not use the DOI. In contrast, APA Style requires a DOI (when there is one), but doesn’t require the date of access (see p. 198 of the Publication Manual for more detail). In most cases, the name of the database is not used in an APA Style reference, although a few exceptions are outlined in Chapter 7.

Understanding Style

I hope this comparison of MLA and APA styles is helpful to those of you who find yourself transitioning from one to the other. If you are a student switching from MLA to APA, your most important resources will be the Publication Manual and this blog. I also recommend that you try our free tutorial on the basics of APA Style and visit our FAQ page, in addition to our pages on quick answers for citing sources and formatting your research paper. If you have any questions after checking those resources, you can contact APA Style directly or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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