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A Comprehensible Guide to APA and MLA Formatting

One of the reasons why professors assign writing essays is to teach students to format the paper according to the formatting style requirements. Therefore, formatting mistakes are not less important than structure or language ones. In addition, formatting is something, which depends not on students’ prior knowledge or intelligence, but on their efforts. Thus, following the styles’ guidelines will show your professor either that you take learning seriously or that you are a careless and undedicated student.

The requirements are so much detailed that there are separate manuals and websites dedicated to them. Here, I will try to create a comprehensible guide you can use for APA and MLA formatting of your paper (most common and my favorite styles), pointing out to the details students tend to overlook.

General Layout Demands Applicable to Both Styles

There are the unified requirements to the layout of the academic papers in APA and MLA formatting styles, which ease the reading.

These demands are:

A Comprehensible Guide to APA and MLA Formatting  1-inch margins at all sides;

A Comprehensible Guide to APA and MLA Formatting  readable font (Times New Roman 12 is preferred);

A Comprehensible Guide to APA and MLA Formatting  double spacing between all the lines;

A Comprehensible Guide to APA and MLA Formatting  no extra spaces should appear between the paragraphs or after the headings, which is a common mistake;

A Comprehensible Guide to APA and MLA Formatting  Longer quotations, over 40 words (APA)/ longer than 4 lines (MLA) should be presented as a block quotation.

The block begins on the new line, all lines indented ½ inch. No quotation marks are needed. Double spacing and font remains. The parenthetical citation is put after the closing punctuation mark. Mind that block quotations are appropriate only for longer works. For shorter essays, avoid including quotations, which are 40 words or longer!

APA

  • Page numbers and headers

Each page should have a number starting with 1 on the title page.

On the first page, your header should look like this:

Running head: TITLE OF THE PAPER                                                                                     1

On all other pages, it looks like this:

TITLE OF THE PAPER                                                                                                             2

It is better to type the header next to the page number. To make the first header differ, set “different for the first page” in the page number formatting and add a page and a header for the first page again.

If your title is long, use the shorted version of the title for the headers (up to 50 characters).

  • Title page

Three lines, centered:

Full Title of the Paper Capitalized

Student’s name

Institutional affiliation

  • Abstract

The manual of APA suggests all papers formatted in this style should have an Abstract, but professors rarely demands it. Actually, you have to write and abstract only when this demand is clearly stated in the requirements to the paper.

If you have to, place it on a separate page following the title page and type the word ‘Abstract’, centered, before the text.

  • Subheadings

Subheadings are required for all longer works. Here is how they should look like in APA style:

[Level 1] Bold Standard Capitalization Centered

[Level 2] Bold Standard Capitalization Flush Left

[Level 3] Bold Standard Capitalization. Put in the beginning of the paragraph.

  • Title of a work you mention in text

Do not confuse this with references or information you give in parenthetical citations! This is when you indicate what books or articles some author has authored or what the title of the film based on the book is.

Titles of longer works such as books, edited collections, movies, television series, documentaries, or albums should be capitalized and italicized:

Nicolas Carr, the author of the books The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, argues ….

Shorter works (articles, television series episodes, and song titles should be capitalized and put in quotation marks:

In the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, Nicolas Carr (2008) argues…

  • In-text citations.

1.  General format

To show, where the information comes from, APA uses an author-date format.

If the author or authors are mentioned in the signal phrase (sentence), just indicate a date of the source in the parentheses next to the names. If these are not mentioned, include a name/names and a date in the parentheses at the end of the sentence before the punctuation mark.

Good news! You do not have to indicate the page unless you give a direct quotation from the source.

According to Jones (1998), APA style is a difficult citation format for first-time learners.

APA style is a difficult citation format for first-time learners (Jones, 1998).

The researcher of the use of the style states that, “Students often had difficulty using APA style, especially when it was their first time citing sources” (Jones, 1998, p. 199).

Sometimes, the authors cited in the signal phase and in the parentheses may differ. This happens when you are citing indirect sources. You have to indicate this adding “as cited in” before the citation:

Jones argued that…(as cited in Smith, 2003).

2. Two and more authors

Use “and” to introduce the last author in the sentence and the sign “&” to do this in parentheses:

If the paper is authored by 3-5 authors, indicate all of them when citing the paper in the text for the first time. Then, only use the first author’s name followed by “et al.”. If the paper is authored by 6 or more authors, only use the first author’s name followed by “et al.

Kernis, Cornell, Sun, Berry, and Harlow (1993) studied …

The study demonstrated that … (Kernis, Cornell, Sun, Berry, & Harlow, 1993). Furthermore, the researchers have revealed that … (Kernis et al., 1993).

If the fact/concussion you cite has been mentioned in several sources, just indicate them all in the patentees, separating the citations with “;

The link between the two concepts has been established in several reputable studies (Markes et al., 2001; Tailor & Smith, 2010; Harlow, 2012).

3. Author or date information is missing

If there is no author mentioned in the source you use, use the title of the organization/ governmental agency that authored the text. If this does not apply, cite the source by its title (Note, it is given in quotation marks and not capitalized, comma goes before the quotation marks are closed).

Use full forms when citing the source for the first time and shorter forms for all subsequence in-text citations:

According to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) (2017), children …

Children … (Administration for Children and Families [ACF], 2017). This situation is further complicated by … (ACF, 2017).

Users’ disclosure depends on… (“Computer-mediated communication effects on disclosure, impressions, and interpersonal evaluations,” 2005). In addition, it promotes … (“Computer-mediated communication,” 2005).

If the source does not have date of publication, include “n.d.” = no date instead of the year in the parentheses.

4. Same surnames or same years for one author

If you have two different authors with same surnames, use first initials before surnames:

… (E. Johnson, 2001; L. Johnson, 1998). 

If you cite two or more different papers by the same author written in the same year, use a, b, c with a year to differentiate between the sources:

Research by Berndt (1981a) illustrated that…

  • Layout of the reference list page

Reference list page should begin from a new page with a centered word “References”. All new entries should begin from a new line. No extra spaces on the page! All lines but for the first one should be intended 1/5 inch. 

NB: Only the sources, you have cited in the text may appear in the reference list!

  • Citing sources in the References list

Formatting of works and indication of names in the Reference list differs from that for the in-text citations, so be attentive!

I will give formulas for the most commonly cited sources and then will point to some differences you might overlook

A book:

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of work: Capital letter for a subtitle (ed.). Location, postal abbreviation: Publisher.

Helfer, M. E., Kempe, R. S., & Krugman, R. D. (1997). The battered child (5th ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

A chapter in an edited book:

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Year of publication). Title of chapter. In A. A. Editor & B. B. Editor (Eds.), Title of book (pages of chapter). Location: Publisher.

O’Neil, J. M., & Egan, J. (1992). Men’s and women’s gender role journeys: A metaphor for healing, transition, and transformation. In B. R. Wainrib (Ed.), Gender issues across the life cycle (pp. 107-123). New York, NY: Springer.

An article in a scholarly journal:

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article. Title of Periodical, volume number(issue number), pages.

Harlow, H. F. (1983). Fundamentals for preparing psychology journal articles. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 55(2), 893-896.

An article from the Internet:

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date). Title of article. Title of Online Periodical, volume number(issue number) – if available. Retrieved from
http://www.someaddress.com/full/url/

Cave, S. (2016). There’s no such thing as free will: But we’re better off believing in it anyway. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/.

Pay attention to:

  • Capitalization

Unlike in the in-text citations, no works are placed in quotation marks. Only the first words after and the first words after a hyphen or semicolon should be capitalized.

BUT: For journal titles and newspaper titles, all major words are capitalized.

  • Multiple or unknown authors

If you have up to 7 authors – mention all of them. Always use “&” to introduce the last name.

Wegener, D. T., Berndt, T. J., & Petty, R. E.

For more than 7 authors, name first 6, put “…”, then, the name of the last author:

Miller, F. H., Choi, M. J., Angeli, L. L., Harland, A. A., Stamos, J. A., Thomas, S. T., . . . Rubin, L. H.

For the unknown authors, use the full title of the organization that authored the source or the source’s title – the ones you have actually used for the in-text citations.

If you have a source, which has not been mentioned here, check a Perdue OWL guide. 

If you need a piece of advice when formatting your paper or you are short of time and want me to format it for you – feel free to message me using the service at the top of the page.   

MLA

  • Page numbers and headers

Each page should have a number starting with 1 on the title page.

Type your name and surname next to the page number in the header:

Tom Smith 1

  • The title page

The MLA does not have a title page, but the first page should be formatted the following way:

Four lines, flush left, then – the title of the paper capitalized and centered:

Student’s name

Professor’s name

Course

Date

Title of the Paper

  • Subheadings

Subheadings are required for all longer works.

You may use either numeric system or distinguish levels by formatting as long as they remain consistent. For example:

Level 1: 1. Flush Left Capitalized.

Level 2:  1.1. Next level subtitle.

or

Level 1: Bold Standard Capitalization Flush Left

Level 2: Italics Flush Left

Level 3: Bold Standard Capitalization Centered

  • Title of a work you mention in text

Do not confuse this with references or information you give in parenthetical citations! This is when you indicate what books or articles some author has authored or what the title of the film based on the book is.

Titles of longer works such as books, edited collections, movies, television series, documentaries, or albums should be capitalized and italicized:

Nicolas Carr, the author of the books The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, argues …

.

Shorter works (articles, television series episodes, and song titles should be capitalized and put in quotation marks:

In the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, Nicolas Carr argues…

  • In-text citations.
  1. General format

To show, where the information comes from, MLA uses an author-page format.

If the author or authors are mentioned in the signal phrase (sentence), just indicate a page where you found the information in the parentheses at the end of the sentence. If these are not mentioned, include a name/names and a page in the parentheses at the end of the sentence before the punctuation mark. No comma, no p. before pages in the parenthesis!

According to Smith (78), MLA style is a difficult citation format for first-time learners.

MLA style is a difficult citation format for first-time learners (Smith 78).

The researcher of the use of the style states that, “Students might have difficulty using MLA style” (Smith 78).

Sometimes, the authors cited in the signal phase and in the parentheses may differ. This happens when you are citing indirect sources. You have to indicate this adding “qtd. in” before the citation:

Jones argued that…(qtd. in Smith 78).

2. Two and more authors

Use “and” to introduce the second author either in the sentence or in parentheses.

If the paper is authored by 3 or more authors, use the first author’s name followed by “et al.

Kernis and Harlow studied … (120).

The study demonstrated that … (Kernis and Harlow 120).

Markes et al. have revealed that … (54).

If the fact/concussion you cite has been mentioned in several sources, just indicate them all in the patentees, separating the citations with “;”:

The link between the two concepts has been established in several reputable studies (Markes et al. 54; Tailor and Smith 77).

3. Author or page information is lacking

If there is no author mentioned in the source you use, cite the source by the shortened version of its title (capitalization and quotation marks for shorter works and italics for longer ones remain).

Users’ disclosure depends on… (“Computer-Mediated Communication” 45).

If you use Internet resources and cannot provide a page, you should indicate a paragraph where the information occurs (para.4). However, not all professors demand this and you may just leave out the page if don’t have it: (Smith).

4. Same names or several sources by one author

If you have two different authors with same surnames, use first initials before surnames:

(E. Johnson 12; L. Johnson 89).

If you cite two or more different papers by the same author, cite them by title as described above.

  • Layout of the Works Cited page

Works Cited page should begin from a new page with a centered word “Works Cited”. All new entries should begin from a new line. No extra spaces on the page! All lines but for the first one should be intended 1/5 inch. 

NB: Only the sources, you have cited in the text may appear in the Works Cited list!

  • Citing sources in the Works Cited list

I will give formulas for the most commonly cited sources and then will point to some differences you might overlook.

A book:

Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. 2nd ed. Publisher, Publication Date.

One author: Henley, Patricia. The Hummingbird House. MacMurray, 1999.

Two authors: Crowley, Sharon, and Debra Hawhee. …

More than two authors: Wysocki, Anne Frances, et al. …

A chapter in an edited book:

Last name, First name. “Title of Essay.” Title of Collection, edited by Editor’s Name(s), Publisher, Year, Page range of entry.

Harris, Muriel. “Talk to Me: Engaging Reluctant Writers.” A Tutor’s Guide: Helping Writers One to One, edited by Ben Rafoth, Heinemann, 2000, pp. 24-34.

 An article in a scholarly journal:

Author(s). “Title of Article.” Title of Journal, Volume, Issue, Year, pages.

Bagchi, Alaknanda. “Conflicting Nationalisms: The Voice of the Subaltern in Mahasweta Devi’s Bashai Tudu.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 15, no. 1, 1996, pp. 41-50.

 An article from the Internet:

Author(s). “Title of Article.” Title of Journal, publication date, URL, Accessed date.

Watanabee, Teresa. “Students Challenge Free-Speech Rules on College Campuses”. Los Angeles Times, 1 Jul 2014, www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-free-speech-20140701-story.html. Accessed 7 Mar 2018.

You may even cite an entire website using this formatting:

Editor, author, or compiler name (if available). Name of Site. Version number, Name of institution/organization affiliated with the site (sponsor or publisher), date of resource creation (if available), URL, DOI or permalink. Date of access (if applicable).

Pay attention to:

  • Order of names and surnames in the Works Cited list

Unlike other styles, MLA prescribes to include full names of the authors. For the first author, the name is placed after the surname, for the second – vice versa. For the third… ! There is no third author because MLA adds “et al.” if the number of authors if more than 2.

This article has covered APA and MLA formatting for the most common sources cited in students’ essays. If you need to cite something different – refer to the Purdue OWL guide.  Manuals on APA and MLA formatting styles prescribe how to cite everything starting with the Bible and finishing with YouTube videos and comments to online articles.

If you need a piece of advice or you want me to format the sources for you – just message me using the service at the top of the page!   

 

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