Dr. Lila Harper

                                                                                                                                     Thesis Editor

Moving from MLA to APA


Rhetorical examination of style manuals

  1. Prescriptive                            Develop. Res.        More guidance on paraphrasing
  2. Permissive
  3. Descriptive                             Editorial staff         Less guidance on paraphrasing


MLA is the most focused on developing researchers. The APA is less so, focusing on those elements that are specific to psychology; such forms as American Chemical Society and Council of Biological Editors are more focused on editorial staff such as editors of journals. Ideally, students should be familiar with MLA first; that is the assumption made by the other discipline styles. Styles differ because their audiences and goals differ and it helpful to consider the differences between styles rhetorically.


The good news is that there is consistency between MLA and APA. Students can transfer the same rules for use of quotations learned with MLA to APA. APA just adds a "p." to the page number in parentheses: (p. 45). Yes, a page number is needed for direct quotations; however, using a page number for a paraphrase is optional; this is a major difference between the styles and it may create problems for students. Students should paraphrase the same way they learned in MLA. Unfortunately, many believe a paraphrase only requires minor changes in wording. That is not true. Students must recast the sentence entirely. Generally, APA prefers that students summarize most source material rather than rely on quotations. The use of large blocks of quoted material is a major concern and one that should be avoided. If block quotes are used, they are placed in the usual way, except that the left-hand indent is the same as the paragraph indent, one-half inch, not one inch as in MLA.


As with MLA, there must also be a one-to-one correspondence between text references and entries in the Research page. However, personal communication, such as interviews and letters, are only cited in text and are not represented on the Reference page.


The big difference is that APA is an author-date system rather than an author-page number system. Currency of sources rather than location in a text is of primary importance and this is also reflected in the Reference citation entries, which use the same order of citation entry information as MLA, except that the date follows the author's name in parentheses.


Commonly, APA documents will cite several authors in a single parenthetical citation. The entries are placed in alphabetical order and separated by a semicolon. Rather than the word "and" APA uses &, but only in the parenthetical citation: (Mack & White, 2001). Notice the comma between the name and the date. If the citation is in the context of the sentence, "and" is used: Mack and White (2001). If there are multiple works by the same author with the same date, the letters a and b are added to the date: (Mack & White, 2001a).


Parenthetical placement of dates follows the name in a sentence: Brown (1999). Citations are placed in each sentence, not at the end of the paragraph. The date need only be declared once per name per paragraph so long as the citation record is transparent. Another pattern is to have the name and date in a parenthesis: (Brown, 1999).


References in text of book titles and article titles follow standard English capitalization rules. Those titles, however, are lowercased in the Reference page. Only the first letter of a title, a subtitle, and proper nouns are capitalized. Journal titles receive standard capitalization.


With the 5th edition of APA, there is no underlining. All underlined elements are italicized. Italicize titles of books (not articles), journal titles, volume numbers (but not issue numbers), and the statistical symbols found in the table of statistics.