What Is the MLA/APA and Which Do You Use In Your Discipline?

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    1. For my discipline which is Computer Science & Engineering, we would use the APA style guidelines.

    2. One question that I do have regarding the different style formats is why English and History are more commonly associated with the MLA format while Science and research fields use the APA format? What causes this distinction for the two?

    – Zam Mozumder


    johannah rodgers

    Thanks everyone for these great questions and for looking into style guidelines in your disciplines. To try to answer a few of your questions, I’m going to start at the end with Zam’s, which seems to echo several others, regarding why there is more than one formatting and citation guideline in the first place (there are actually three, but very few people use the third, which is referred to as “Chicago” anymore). This question can only really be answered by looking at the history of the structure of the university and its disciplines. The APA has been traditionally used by social scientists, i.e., researchers in sociology, psychology, anthropology, and (believe it or not!) economics, and the MLA by people working in the huamanities, i.e., English, History, Philosophy. Since the social science research often involves the use of data collection and analysis, my sense is that since the APA dealt with the formatting and citation for this type of information it was better suited than the MLA for the sciences, with which, the applied sciences, i.e., engineering, computer science, have been most closely associated. In terms of why there is not just one set of formatting and style guidelines for academia in general, I have no idea why that is not the case. Perhaps one or more of you would like to do some research on this? If so, I’d love to know what you find out!

    Regarding “teaching” MLA versus APA, my approach to teaching both is this: Both are style and citation guidelines for college writing. There are three major categories that they refer to: 1/ how to format papers, 2/ how to refer to people, places, and things (primarily titles of works), 3/ how to format in-text citations, footnotes, and bibliographies. And that’s it! Basically, you can memorize #1 and #2 for APA or MLA and you will need to often look up bibliographic formats in either an MLA or APA reference guide. Though these guidelines change each year, there are reliable sources on the internet for looking up fairly recent guidelines. If you are interested in reading more about APA/MLA guidelines, please visit my Web site: http://www.digitalcomposition.org/purdue-owlenglish-handbook and click on the link entitled: Comparing MLA and APA Style Guidelines.

    I’m really interested and a bit surprised to hear that some of you describe the MLA as being more “concise.” I’d like to hear more about why believe that. Since my background is in Literature, i.e., the humanities, I actually know very little about using the APA.

    All best,

    Prof. Rodgers

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