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APA and MLA Essay Format: Key Differences

Two most common types of essay format are the formatting and writing style of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the one of the Modern Language Association (MLA). They are used in different academic papers, essays, research assignments and reports. Typically, MLA is predominant in the papers written in the field of humanities and liberal arts, while social science papers mostly use APA. Each of the formats has a list of guidelines developed to regulate the formatting of all types of papers, including the style, content and referencing. APA and MLA formats have a wide range of similar features, although there are also a lot of differences.

Formatting of the Papers

Both essay formats (APA and MLA) have a list of similar requirements to the papers: 12-point font, double spacing, 1-inch margins on every side. A typical paper formatted in accordance with the APA style comprises the following parts:

  • Properly formatted title page
  • Abstract
  • Main body followed by the list of references.

The required length of an abstract is 150-200 words in a double-spaced paragraph. It summarizes the main points of the paper and covers the topic and questions of the research, analysis, the applied methods and conclusion.

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The paper formatted in MLA does not require any abstract or title page; it comprises two main parts:

  • the main body of the paper
  • page of works cited.

Title Page

The APA essay format requires using page headers on every page and a running head on the title page. The title of the page is on the left, while the page number is on the right. The title page has the details regarding the title of the paper, name of the student, and information about institutional affiliation.

The MLA essay format requires special formatting with the title on the first page, without a separate title page. The title is separated from the text only by one double space. There should be a header on the left with the included name of the student, name of the instructor, course information and date. All the other pages expect the first one include the header on the right with the student’s last name and number of the page.

In-Text Citations

The methods of using in-text citations for the academic essay format APA and MLA are different as MLA requires the format of the author’s name and the page, while APA requires the format of the author’s name and the date. The cited text in the paper formatted in APA is followed with the last name of the author and the publication year in parenthesis, while the cited text in MLA is followed with parenthesis with the included last name of the author and the number of the page.

Reference Page

The essay format APA requires a page with the list of sources entitled References, while in MLA format this page is called Works Cited. A similar feature of those pages in both formats is the double spacing and the alphabetical order of the sources in accordance with the author’s last name. In the MLA format, the listing of entries by the same author is done by the title alphabetically. The first entry is followed with two more where three hyphens are placed instead of the author’s name. In the APA format, in such case the listing of the entries is done chronologically starting from the earlier work. Moreover, the formatting of the last page with sources differs in these styles. The works cited page in MLA has the indentation of five spaces for the second line and all the following lines for every source. In the APA-formatted references, the indentation is one-half inch after the first line from the margin.