MLA v. APA: Weigh in!

I've been thinking a lot lately about style guides after this post of Nels' and some conversations I've been having. My own experience with style guides started in high school, with the de rigueur research paper, using MLA style. At the time, our teachers treated MLA like a religion. We had to bring our MLA handbooks to class every day, and we pulled our desks together in circles and had long discussions about how the title of a book was underlined, but the period after the title WAS NOT underlined, etc. I did everything I was supposed to do, without having any idea why, what the meaning was, or even what the letters "MLA" stood for. Eventually I learned, and everything was fine.

Then, at about the end of my master's program/beginning of my PhD program, I was encouraged to use APA instead. As with MLA style, there was no clearly stated rationale for using APA, but I did it anyway. Now I use APA pretty much all the time; I have it internalized as I used to have MLA style. I've even forgotten a good bit about MLA style.

There are implications here, of course. The choice of style guide is an identification maneuver, especially the choice between MLA, thoroughly ensconced in the humanities, and APA, unambiguously social scientific. I never wished to align myself with the social sciences (not that there's anything wrong with those, and moreover, I've heard it comes in handy to make your research look social scientific for grant applications), so now I want to make an informed decision about what my new default style guide is going to be. So let's analyze this; what are the advantages of using MLA? APA? I'm starting a list of the journals in my field(s) organized by style guide, and I hope you'll add to it:


Community Literacy

Computers and Composition



College English




Whatever Style You Want


I'd also like to include specific series in rhetoric and composition published by university presses.

But there's more to be said about the affordances and aesthetics of each style guide. Like Nels, I prefer that all the words in titles are capitalized, and I don't like the omission of authors' first names in APA, either. I'm not crazy about IMRAD format for research papers, which I've been encouraged to use at times and which APA format espouses. I guess the only thing I like about APA is the dates in citations and the appreciation of placing research in a chronology. I like to be able to see multiple citations in one parenthesis, a survey of the research on a given topic at a glance. That parenthesis tells me quickly how many articles/books have been written on a particular topic, how far back in time the research goes, and when the most recent work has been done. I guess I could do a similar chronology in MLA, though, but in a more narrative form.

What are your thoughts on style guides? I know I've only scratched the surface here. I especially want to hear from those of you who have used several different style guides (notice Chicago isn't even here yet).


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I think style guides are

I think style guides are important, if for nothing else, consistency (oh, who am I kidding? I'm creating a style guide at work currently so I understand how important they can be!).

In my educational career, most of my professors haven't cared which one I use just as long as it is consistent. So, I've used MLA because I know it without having to look anything up. However, I'm looking into an education doctoral program and they require APA. It is such a big deal to me, I'm not sure that I want to go into the program (now, is that brand loyalty or what?).

At work, I used all of the style guides to help me build our style guide. They all have valid information that is useful (including Chicago).

In the end, I'm a die-hard MLA fan. I'm not sure why - probably because that's what my 5th grade teacher demanded and I stayed with it.

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