How to Write a Term Paper: What’s the Difference Between APA vs. MLA?

When thinking about the difference between APA and MLA, it is easy to think of the two different formats like the laws of two different states. For instance, young drivers in one state may need to be home by 12:00 a.m., whereas in another state they may have a curfew of 11:00 p.m. Both the laws of both of the states are intended to keep young drivers safe and orderly, despite being different. The rules and guidelines of APA and MLA both work toward insuring a paper is well structured and plagiarism free, also despite being different. These APA and MLA rules differ mainly in the content, citation and layout.

The content of your paper often determines whether you will use an APA or MLA format. The MLA format is generally used for humanities topics—discussing liberal arts subjects primarily. It is used in most academic classes, publications and published sources. On the other side of the spectrum, APA format is use for more analytical subjects. The topics of APA papers usually include quantitative data, and some kind of scientific or social study.

In addition to the subject matter of the two writing formats differing, the methods of citations are unalike too. Both APA and MLA formats include citations to give credit to research, and data used that is not your own. This keeps your term paper plagiarism free, and gives credit to original writers, researchers and studies. You will gather a complete list of the sources used in your paper, in your MLA formatted paper this is known as “Works Cited”, and “References” with APA format. This list comes at the conclusion of the term paper. You will also find citations throughout the body of the paper—using parenthetical citations with the author’s last name and source’s page number for MLA, and in-text citations with the author’s last name and source’s year of publication. These citations make readers aware when you are presenting another’s thoughts.

One more major difference between APA and MLA papers is the aesthetic difference. MLA papers have a minimal, streamlined format with the primarily text-based content. APA papers will be of a more scientific effort, so it is common to see extensive data, tables, charts and demonstrations to help support. Consult Purdue OWL’s online writing lab for all of the specifics in APA and MLA formatting.

When writing a college term paper, your professor will most likely state whether they desire an APA or MLA format. Both formats have their own benefits and can produce successful term papers. These formats differ in content, citation and layout—but both serve to support a topic of study with proper credit to outside research.

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