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Difference Between MLA and APA Citation

Top 10 Details Which Distinguish APA Style from MLA Style

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Difference Between MLA and APA Citation
 Julian Borger   Published On Jul 30, 2018 | Updated on Dec 07, 2023  Writing Service

MLA and APA are the two most popular citation styles.

The APA manual (issued by the American Psychological Association) is primarily used in social science and education.

The MLA citation standard (published by the Modern Language Association) is mainly applicable to the humanities fields.

Both the styles use a source citation consisting of:

  • A brief parenthetical citation in the text
  • A complete reference at the end of the document

However, the two citations look slightly different, with varying rules like title capitalization, author names, and date placement.

There are also some distinctions in layout and formatting. Let’s find out the difference between MLA and APA citations.

MLA vs APA: The citation style

What is the difference between MLA and APA? If you compare MLA and APA citation styles, you will notice that they are formatted slightly differently. They are not prominent enough to say, "Hey, look at me." While they are subtle, their differences signify what they were created for.

MLA or Modern Language Association is for arts and humanities. It helps you cite the paintings, books, and other literature. At the same time, APA, or American Psychological Association, is designed for technical works found in social sciences.

Though you can write a paper in either format, using the right style can make your life much easier. Therefore, it is essential to break down the differences between each.

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Difference Between MLA and APA: Title

The most apparent difference between MLA and APA citations is the citation page Title. Papers written in MLA format are mentioned on a Works Cited page. In contrast, the APA citation page is termed as References. However, both titles are centered at the top of the page, and the list of references will be double spaced. The Title is an easy outlet to know which one you are looking at.

APA vs MLA: Differences in the Author

The APA vs MLA differences attributes to the authors' presentation in various stages. It is distinct in the MLA vs APA citation format, highlighting the citations with multiple authors and a single author. Check out each in de to examine the difference in making a citation.


The Author's name in MLA is formed in Last Name, First Name

Henry, John

How you format the Author varies with the count of authors you cite in a single reference. For example, two authors will have an "and" separating the names. You must include the first Author and then et al., Latin for "and others with three or more authors."

Two Authors:

Gillespie, Paula and Neal Lerner

Note: Notice the second name is written in the first name last name format

Three or More Authors:

Gillespie, Paula, et al.


In APA format, you only include the last name and then the initial of the first and middle name.

Henry, G.

When you have to cite multiple authors in APA, you have three different subdivisions. First, you must list both with two authors divided by an ampersand (&). When there is only one Author, you will list all the names with commas separating them and an ampersand before the last one. Finally, if the source has more than twenty authors, you'll list the first nineteen authors, separated by commas, then include an ellipsis followed by the last Author. Look at a few examples to understand.

Two Authors:

Gillespie, P. H., & Lerner, N.

Twenty or Fewer Authors:

Gillespie, P. H., Corn, D. P., Sun, C. R., Berry, A. B., Harlow, T., & Beck, J.

More Than Twenty Authors:

Gillespie, P. H., Corn, D. P., Sun, C. R., Berry, A. B., Harlow, T., Beck, J., Jones, A., Robins, C., Jackson, S., Smith, J. P., Johnson, T., Turney, W., White, K. L., Hunter, B. A., Lewis, H., Beck, J., Winters, N. I., Young, L., Crow, J., . . . Ruben, H.

MLA vs APA: Title Capitalization

Title capitalization is essential to the style. However, Title capitalization in APA versus MLA citation is prominent. MLA goes for header capitalization, where every significant word in the title is capitalized. Also called title case, this looks like:

Gleason, Jeff. Chaos: A Look at the Stars. RedRiver, 2010.

APA takes its road. In APA, book titles only capitalize the first word. It is sometimes called a sentence case:

Gleason, J. (2010). Chaos: a look at the stars. RedRiver.

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APA vs MLA: Period

The final difference that you’ll notice in the basic APA vs MLA format is the period. MLA periods the end of all works cited entries. A period is not added in APA style if the entry ends in a URL or DOI.

MLA vs APA: Other Subtle Differences

As you review the MLA vs. APA format, you might notice the negligible distinction between these two styles. However, the points will vary on what you cite. For example, MLA usually includes the publication date at the end of the citation. In APA, however, you will find the publication date after the Author's name.

Know your Citations

MLA and APA may look alike, but they have their unique styles. For example, they both add a reference page at the end of the work, align citations to the left and have the centered Title. But, how they format their entries is distinctly their own. Follow your teacher's instructions on which style to use when writing your school paper.

Let’s revise:

To sum up, the common differences, let's look at the table.


Citation Style




Science – natural, physical and social science

Human society, culture, humanities, historical literature, arts

In-text citation

Author’s last name, year, page number (James 202o, p.15)

Author’s last name and page number (James, 15)


Author’s last name, initial. Title in sentence case. Year of Publishing. (no use of a period after URL)

Austen, J (1918) Pride, and prejudice. Newton Press

Author’s last name, first name, Title in title case.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice Newton Press,1918

Formatting reference list


Works Cited

Title page


Not required

Running Head

Page Number (Optional running head with Title – all in capital letter)

Last name and page number

Headings and Subheadings

Has defined format

No defined format

Block Quotes

Used for 40 words or more

Used for four or more lines

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