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Whether it is academic writing or an article for a magazine, the process of simply creating engaging material can seem difficult enough without the additional stress of what style to use. APA? MLA? WTH??? Not only do you have the topic, but now you have to figure out what style to use and how to use that style correctly. Luckily, determining which style to use is usually fairly simple as this request is often provided upfront. If they do neglect to mention it, most times they are more than happy to tell you if you just ask. However, sometimes it’s not that simple. And, even if you do know which writing style to use, why on earth does it make a difference?

The two major academic writing styles that are most often used are the APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association). There are, of course, numerous other styles like Chicago and Harvard to name a few but those tend to be more niche-specific.

This style is typically used by students in science and research fields as well as in social and behavioral sciences. As stated on the APA’s website, this style has been specifically developed to help “reduce bias in language,” “avoid charges of plagiarism,” and “cite references in text.” The APA style can be used in a variety of forms of academic writing, including term papers, research reports, empirical studies, literature reviews, theoretical articles, methodological articles and case studies. Numerous articles and online content companies are now also requesting this style.

This is a simpler, more concise style generally used at the collegiate level by those studying the humanities (history, literature, philosophy, etc.). It is also the style taught in middle and high school. The MLA style is favored at that level because it provides more detail about the types of media and references middle and high school writers tend to use, such as audiovisual material, cartoons, advertisements and interviews in addition to the usual books and encyclopedias.

Different Styles, One Purpose
There are similarities and differences between the APA and MLA styles, but both styles exist for the same purpose: to standardize writing. Having a standardized format for citing references used in writing makes it much easier for an instructor, a peer reviewer, or article reader to find and check the resources used in a given piece of writing. Without that standardization, verifying those resources would be extremely difficult and time consuming.

It also is a way to ensure that a specific format is provided in terms of the number of spaces between a period and the next sentence, the way numbers are written, and the number of commas used when a series of items are used within a sentence. Different writing channels and mediums require a specific look and feel so it is good to have a working knowledge of these styles to accommodate all clients and writing projects.

If you are having difficulty with the APA or MLA styles, you can visit APAStyle.org or MLA.org/style or download a copy of these guides to your e-reader. You can even take the “old school” approach and buy a book at Amazon.com or through a bookstore. Alternatively, writing partners and writing services that specialize in academic writing and knowledge of these styles can help. There are plenty of resources both online and off (remember your friendly research librarians!) to help make sure you’ve got the “write” style.

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