Home > SparkCharts > Study > Research Style & Usage: APA/MLA > How to Use This Chart

Research Style & Usage: APA/MLA


How to Use This Chart



  • This chart is a basic guide to the two most commonly used references on format of research papers and other forms of academic writing:

    • American Psychological Association (APA) style

    • Modern Language Association (MLA) style

  • This chart is only a summary and does not provide a comprehensive guide to all APA or MLA writing rules. Complete guidelines can be found only in the two associations’ official style handbooks:

    • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (currently in 5th edition)

    • MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (currently in 6th edition)

  • Some instructors and editors prefer that their students and writers follow other style manuals, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Always be sure to follow your instructor or editor’s specific guidelines. If you’re unsure about which rules to use, ask for


When to Use APA vs. MLA

  • APA style is the standard used for writing in the social sciences, psychology, sociology, criminology, health sciences, business, economics, and education.

  • MLA style is the standard used for writing in the humanities (literature, history, philosophy, art, etc.).

  • APA and MLA style rules are similar in many ways, but there are a number of specific differences that reflect the different needs of scientific research vs. research in the humanities. For example:

    • In the sciences, scholars place emphasis on current, timely research. Therefore, APA rules require that all citations include not only the author but also the date of the cited work. This rule applies both to in-text citations and to citations on the final “References” page.

    • In the humanities, scholars place emphasis on the author and the structure and quality of the argument. Therefore, MLA rules for in-text citations emphasize the author. Dates of cited works are listed only on the final “Works Cited” page.

  • In all cases, follow the guidelines that you’ve been given.


General Style Points

  • Regardless of the specific style rules you’re following, universal techniques for clear and effective writing always apply:

    • Always write clearly and simply. Don’t adorn your writing unnecessarily in an attempt to sound more scholarly.

    • Make sure each paragraph begins with a topic sentence that develops your argument. Develop only one specific component of your argument in each paragraph.

    • Use transitional words and phrases to guide your reader through the flow of your argument. Sudden, unintroduced leaps in your reasoning disorient your reader.

    • Vary sentence length and structure. Too many short sentences make your writing choppy, whereas too many long sentences make your writing tedious and hard to follow.

    • Check spelling and grammar carefully. Errors distract your reader and make your writing less effective.

  • Make sure that you do not plagiarize in any way. Plagiarism, even if unintentional, is a serious offense that immediately damages your credibility. Be sure to keep track of all your sources carefully and cite them using the guidelines ahead.