MLA > APA Primer

We often refer to MLA Style, APA Style, or Chicago Style as citation systems, but they entail much more than citations. They entail ways that scholars navigate their research, reading, and writing. As James Paul Gee might say, they are ways writers navigate their worlds, citation systems operate within their discourse communities to arbitrate how the genres in those communities are presented. Of genres, Amy Devitt, Anis Bawarshi, and Mary Jo Reiff say “As sites of social action, genres identify the linguistic ecology of discourse communities, making the notion of community more tangible for teachers and students” (542). Perhaps one way to illustrate that linguistic ecology (probably borrowed from Einar Haugen’s language ecology) is to note the differences in how manuscripts are structured. 

APA Style is bounded by a framework.



Literature Review






Interestingly enough, the Introduction typically is not labeled “Introduction” and sometimes the
Introduction bleeds right into the literature review (Webtexts or web-based articles might have an
Introduction page). The sections above typically are identified by subheadings. APA style has more
headings than those listed above (for example, Methodology might be broken into Design, Participants,
Procedure, and Limitations), but authors use the headings they need. As a researcher, I know that I can go
directly to Results or even the Abstract to see what the authors discovered. If those results meet the needs
of my research, then I will go back and read the entirety of the article. Perhaps a speech pathologist
researching a treatment might go straight to the results to see whether it is worth trying. 
I used to teach a dissertation proposal writing course for the college of education. My job was to help
students write their Introductions, Literature Reviews, and Methodologies. Every student, whether they
wrote qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods research, employed those three sections. 

The MLA style that English Studies uses has a little less structure. 




Works Cited

The Body might begin with a summary of a literary text as it relates to a certain approach. It may also begin with a definition of an approach as it relates to a literary text. The body will then contain a number of explications of the text that prove the validity of the approach or disprove challenges to that approach.

An approach might be a theoretical approach, or it might be an explication of a prominent idea in a text. 

If I were top step back and consider writing a literary analysis in APA format, I might actually be relieved by the structure that APA could provide me. 

  1. My introduction could announce that in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the key takeaway is that quality is intertwined with reality.

  2. The Literature Review would include a discussion of what theorists such as Locke, Plato, and Barthes have to say about what is real or unreal. It would also include a discussion of what those theorists have to say about quality. Of course, it would begin with a description of how Pirsig discusses quality and reality in the novel.

  3. Technically, I could include a methodology section that describes what is sometimes called a Document Review or a Review of Existing Research. 

  4. The Discussion section would then apply my research in the Literature Review to the novel.

It’s important to note that these manuscript styles were created to provide structure and similarity to researched published in journals. If the articles are published with a similar or the same structure, then the READERS can find the information that they are looking for (And reviewers can easily evaluate submissions to the journal).


Speaking of reviewers, there’s two key differences between APA and MLA manuscript style: The Tile Page and The Running Head. 

In MLA format, my header will identify me and the page number: 

Harris 25

In APA format, my header will identify my brief title and page number: 


When researchers send their research articles to journals for publication, the journal editors send those submissions to at least two reviewers who judge the manuscripts and say whether they are suitable for publication in the journal. The reviewers also provide revision feedback. Reviewers are other researchers with some standing in the field, so it would be unfair if they could identify the authors and then accept submissions from their mates.

Imagine that those submissions were printed in triplicate and then mailed to the journal. In an APA journal, the journal editor would then rip off the title page, save it for organizational purposes, and mail the submission to the reviewers. In an MLA journal, the editor would need to ensure the author removed their name from the header and didn’t include their name on the first page. The editor wouldn’t have those title pages, records of the submissions. That’s all different in our digital world today. 

English Major Concerns

You probably have other concerns, and we can discuss them here. 

First, however, it’s important for me to note that you merely need to go to to find free guides on APA style and to find free guides for MLA style. 

I guess we can begin with a chart. 



Double space EVERYTHING


Double space EVERYTHING except footnotes, which are single spaced. Equations and text in charts may not be double spaced. 

“Always choose an easily readable typeface (Times New Roman is just one example) […], and set it to anywhere between 11 and 13 points.”


“APA Style papers should be written in a font that is accessible to all users.”

Same 10-12 point font throughout entire work, except for tables and figures. 

1 inch all around


1 inch all around

On the first page, left justify the

-name of the author

Instructor’s name

-course name and number,

-“the date”

Then center the title

Keep it all double spaced.

Identifying Authors and the 

First Page

On a title page that typically includes 

-First name, middle initial, and last name of the author

-title of the work

-school name

-course name and number,

-instructor’s name

-“due date”

-page number in header

(Harris 25)

Vanilla In-Text Citation for a Direct Quotation

(Harris, 2021, p. 25)

According to Harris, “quotation” (25).

Alternate In-Text Citation for a Direct Quotation

According to Harris (2021), “Quotation” (p. 25).

-4 lines or longer

-Indent it all ½ inch, and indent paragraph breaks in them an additional ½ inch.

-Citation after quote’s final punctuation.

-Still double spaced.

Block Quotations

-40 words or more

-Indent it all ½ inch, and indent paragraph breaks in them an additional ½ inch.

-Citation after quote’s final punctuation.

-Still double spaced. 

(Harris 25)

Vanilla In-Text Citation for a Paraphrase, Summary, or Reference

(Harris, 2021)

According to Harris, this is not a direct quotation (25).

Alternate In-Text Citation for a Paraphrase, Summary, or Reference

According to Harris (2021), this is not a direct quotation. 

Author last name and page number right justified


Papers: Page number right justified

Manuscripts: page number right justified and Running head (shortened title) in all caps left justified

½ inch

Indent Paragraphs

One tab key, ½ inch

Nonstandard fare

Headings and Subheadings

Standard fare

Works Cited Page

Author last then first name, title of work, publication information, year of publication. 


References Page

Author last name and first initial, (year of publication), title of work, publication information. 

The first letter of each word is capitalized.


The first letter of the first word and the first letter of the first word after a colon are capitalized.


One space after a period is recommended

Comas in Lists

Use a comma before the final item in a list

Now that the chart is there, there’s more. 

Citing Books


Bellum, Sarah. Brain Games. Penguin, 1981.


Bellum, S. (1981). Brain games. Penguin. 

Citing Journal Articles


Bellum, Sarah. “Brain Games.” Journal of Brains, vol. 20, no. 2, 1981, pp. 50-



Bellum, S. (1981). “Brain games.” Journal of Brains, 20(2), 50-60.

Citing Electronic Journal Articles


Bellum, Sarah. “Brain Games.” Journal of Brains, vol. 20, no. 2, 1981, pp. 50-



Bellum, S. (1981). “Brain games.” Journal of Brains, 20(2), 50-60. 

Note that APA does not include the final period because it could be confused as part of the URL.

In both cases, citations for electronic works with a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) can include the DOI reference instead of the URL, which might look like this (doi: 23.9978/pmc/2022.9800) or this ( without the parenthesis. 

Citing Web Pages


U.S. Census Bureau. U.S. and World Population Clock. U.S. Department of   



U.S. Census Bureau. (n.d.). U.S. and world population clock. U.S. Department

      of Commerce. Retrieved January 9, 2020, from

Need to split a super-long URL over a few lines? Manually enter a line break at a slash.

In-Text Citations

Take note of the example bibliography entries above. They begin with the last names of authors just as in-text citations include the last name of authors. In fact, the identifying information in a parenthetical citation should be the same as the information in the bibliography entry. If I am looking for “Harris” in a bibliography that has multiple pages or dozens of works, I can easily scan for it by looking for the name. Indenting the second line and beyond of entries facilitates this scanning process. 

Attributing Sources: Indirect


In Brain Games, Sarah Bellum states that brains are contained in skulls, for the most part (25).

Perhaps brains are contained in skulls (Bellum 25).


Bellum, S. (1981) states that brains are contained in skulls, for the most part.

Perhaps brains are contained in skulls (Bellum, 1981).

Attributing Sources: Direct


In Brain Games, Sarah Bellum states that “brains are contained in skulls, for the most part” (25).

Perhaps “brains are contained in skulls” (Bellum 25).


Bellum, S. (1981) states that “brains are contained in skulls, for the most part” (p. 25).

Perhaps “brains are contained in skulls” (Bellum, 1981, p. 25).

See how this works? In an APA article, I can scan the References for “Bellum, S. (1981)” if I’d like to find the book. 

Note that in APA style, the title of the work typically is not identified in the text. That raises the question of what do these genres value? Since those in the sciences often use APA format, they value currency. It’s important to include dates in citations so readers can quickly ascertain how recently the science was conducted. Or consider how new McWhorter claims written language is. A linguist might value APA to ascertain how recent or relevant language data is. 

On the other hand, in MLA format, researchers value writers and their texts. For that matter, they are identified by their names and the titles of their works.