MLA vs. APA vs. CMS

The differences between MLA vs. APA vs. CMS

MLA vs. APA vs. CMS
A comparative guide for three major style guides and how to accurately use them.

There are over 13 different types of style guides used worldwide. MLA, APA, and CMS are three style guides that are widely used throughout North America and beyond. They were formulated in the late 19th century and have undergone many iterations and adjustments. These three styles are used to format papers according to the topic, subject matter, and sources. Additionally, each style guide dictates how to format in-text citations, reference pages, and more.

Although following these style rules can be stressful, they improve readability and writing quality for all types of professional and academic papers. For example, they outline how to correctly cite a source written by multiple authors or an unknown author. The best place for finding out how to correctly cite these unique situations is through Purdue OWL or by going directly to the newest MLA, APA, or CMS style guide. 

So, how do you use MLA, APA, or CMS style guides? What are the specific rules of each style? Which one would be best for you to use?


MLA is an abbreviation for Modern Language Association. This style guide is generally reserved for papers written within the subjects of English, Communication, Language, Arts, and Humanities. The first MLA style guide was published in 1977 and has been regularly updated every few years. 

The MLA formatting rules are not as stringent as other styles. For example, a title page is not required. However, MLA requires lines to be double-spaced and paragraphs to be indented. Additionally, authors must include their last name and the page number in the top-left corner.

For academic essays, the first page must have a heading that includes:

● Your full name

● Your instructor’s name

● The name and number of the course or class

● The assignment’s due date

For in-text citations, MLA uses parentheses which include the author’s last name and the page number where the referenced material can be found.

Here is an example:
(Smith 50)

The reference page is titled “Works Cited.” These references generally require the author’s names, work title, publisher, and year published.

Here is an example:
Smith, John. How to Write in MLA. Penguin, 2009


APA is an abbreviation for American Psychological Association, which is the largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists in the United States. This organization created the APA style guide. The subjects that use this style include Education, Sociology, Psychology, Social Work, Nursing, and Social Sciences. 

APA requires authors to organize and order their paper according to four sections: the Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References. 

Similar to MLA, the in-text citations for APA use parentheses. However, APA requires the author’s last name, the date of publication, and the relevant page number.

Here is an example:
(Smith, 1989, p. 87)

APA requires that reference pages be labeled “References.” All sources should be listed in alphabetical order with the author’s name, publication date, work title, publication city, and publisher. The date of a source is listed second because this style prioritizes the relevance of sources. If a source is older, it could be interpreted as less credible.

Here is an example of a reference page citation:
Smith, M. (2006). How to Write in APA. New York, NY: Penguin Group.


CMS, also abbreviated as CMOS, is the Chicago Manual of Style. This style guide is used commonly for History, Political Science, Philosophy, Art History, International Studies, Anthropology, Archaeology, and Publishing. Essays in this style require a title page at the beginning and a bibliography at the end. 

There are currently two different types of CMS citation styles: a notes and bibliography (NB) system and an author-date (AD) system. The NB system is more common and used for most history courses. For history, it is essential to know the origin of a source, and footnotes and endnotes allow for this. The main difference is that in the AD system, the publication year goes after the author’s name.

The following is a demonstration of the NB system. Footnotes or endnotes are used when citing a source within the text, and a bibliography is included at the end of the manuscript. Footnotes generally contain:

  • The author’s name
  • The publication title
  • Publication date
  • Publisher information with the very first citation
  • A page number

Here is an example: 
Philosopher John C. Smith refers to this phenomenon as a “cumulative collaboration of evidence.” 12 

A corresponding endnote can be found at the bottom of the page or in the notes section at 12.

For example:
12. John C. Smith, How to Write in CMS (Los Angeles University of California Press, 1961), 49.

Your reference page should be titled “Bibliography.” All citations should be arranged alphabetically according to the first word, the author’s last name.  CMS citations require the author’s name, work title, publication city, publisher, and publication year.

Here is an example:
Smith, John. How to Write in CMS. New York: Penguin, 2006.

If you’re struggling to apply the appropriate style rules, EdiPro’s expert copyeditors and proofreaders can ensure your manuscript is ready for use or publication.