Mla Vs. Apa Format: Which Citation Style Should You Use For Science Writing?

When writing a science paper or lab report, using the correct formatting style is critical for properly citing sources and presenting your scientific ideas. The two most common formatting styles are MLA and APA, but which one should you use for science writing?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: APA format is generally preferred over MLA for science writing. APA provides guidelines optimized for scholarly scientific communications and publications.

In this comprehensive guide, we compare MLA versus APA format for science writing. You’ll learn when to use each style, key formatting differences, and tips for consistently applying the right citations in your science papers.

When to Use MLA vs. APA for Science Writing

Types of Science Writing

Science writing encompasses a wide range of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science. It can take various forms, such as research papers, lab reports, literature reviews, and scientific articles.

Each type of science writing has its own requirements when it comes to formatting and citation styles.

MLA Usage

MLA (Modern Language Association) style is commonly used in the humanities, including literature, art, and language studies. While it is not the most common citation style for science writing, there are situations where MLA may be appropriate.

For example, if you are writing a science paper that focuses on the historical or cultural aspects of a scientific topic, MLA style may be more suitable.

MLA format typically uses in-text citations with the author’s last name and page number, and a Works Cited page at the end of the document. It is important to provide accurate and complete citations to give credit to the original authors and allow readers to locate the sources you used for your research.

APA Usage

APA (American Psychological Association) style is widely used in the social sciences, including psychology, sociology, and education. It is also commonly used in scientific research papers and articles.

APA style provides a clear and concise way to present scientific information and ensure consistency in citations.

In APA format, in-text citations include the author’s last name and the year of publication. A reference list is also included at the end of the document, providing detailed information about each source cited. This allows readers to easily find and verify the sources you used in your research.

When writing scientific papers, it is crucial to follow APA guidelines for citing sources, as it helps maintain the integrity of the research and allows other researchers to build upon your work.

Key Differences Between MLA and APA Format

In-Text Citations

One of the key differences between MLA and APA format lies in how in-text citations are handled. In MLA format, the author’s last name and the page number are typically used to cite sources within the text. For example, (Smith 42).

On the other hand, APA format uses the author’s last name and the publication year. For instance, (Smith, 2019). This difference in formatting is important to keep in mind when writing scientific papers, as it ensures proper attribution of sources and allows readers to easily locate the full reference in the bibliography.

Reference Lists

Another significant difference between MLA and APA format is how the reference lists are structured. In MLA format, the reference list is called the Works Cited page, and it is placed at the end of the document.

Each entry is listed alphabetically by the author’s last name and includes the author’s name, the title of the work, the publication information, and the medium of publication. In contrast, APA format uses a reference list, which is also placed at the end of the document.

Each entry is organized alphabetically by the author’s last name and includes the author’s name, the publication year, the title of the work, and other publication information.


The use of headings in MLA and APA format also differs. In MLA format, headings are not typically used, as the focus is more on the content and structure of the paper. However, APA format requires the use of headings to organize the content and provide clarity to the reader.

APA format has specific guidelines for the formatting of headings, including the use of different levels (e.g., Heading 1, Heading 2) to indicate the hierarchy of information.

Figures and Tables

MLA and APA format also have different guidelines for the inclusion of figures and tables in scientific writing. In MLA format, figures and tables are often placed within the text, close to where they are mentioned. They are typically labeled as “Fig.” and “Table” followed by a number.

APA format, on the other hand, requires figures and tables to be placed in separate sections at the end of the document. Each figure and table should have a caption that describes the content and a number that corresponds to its order of appearance in the text.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific formatting requirements of MLA and APA format when writing scientific papers. Adhering to the correct citation style ensures that your work is professional, consistent, and easily understandable to your readers.

APA Guidelines for Science Writing

Formatting Research Papers

When it comes to formatting research papers in APA style for science writing, there are a few key guidelines to keep in mind. First and foremost, it is important to use 1-inch margins on all sides of the paper. Additionally, the font should be Times New Roman and set to a 12-point size.

The paper should be double-spaced throughout, including the title page, abstract, main body, and references. It is also crucial to include a running head and page numbers on each page.

Writing With Precision

APA style emphasizes clear and concise writing in science papers. When writing in APA style, it is important to be precise and avoid using vague or ambiguous language. This means using specific terminology, providing detailed explanations, and avoiding unnecessary jargon.

Additionally, APA style encourages writers to use active voice, which helps to make the writing more direct and engaging. By using active voice, the writer clearly identifies the subject of the sentence and makes the writing more engaging for the reader.

Using Active Voice

One of the key aspects of APA style for science writing is the use of active voice. Active voice is when the subject of the sentence performs the action, rather than having the action done to it. For example, instead of saying “The experiment was conducted,” APA style encourages writers to say “We conducted the experiment.”

Using active voice not only makes the writing more engaging, but it also helps to clearly identify the responsible party for the action.

Reporting Statistics

When reporting statistics in APA style for science writing, it is important to provide clear and accurate information. This can be done by using appropriate statistical symbols and formatting, such as italicizing variables and using subscripts.

Additionally, APA style requires writers to include relevant information such as means, standard deviations, and sample sizes. It is also important to clearly label figures and tables and provide a thorough explanation of the statistical analysis performed.

This helps to ensure that the reader can easily understand and interpret the data being presented.

Tips for Applying APA Style in Science Writing

Use Citation Generators

When it comes to applying APA style in scientific writing, using citation generators can be a great help. These online tools automatically generate citations in APA format for various sources such as books, journals, websites, and more.

They save you time and ensure that your citations are formatted correctly, following the guidelines set by the American Psychological Association. Some popular citation generators include Citation Machine, EasyBib, and BibMe.

By using these tools, you can focus more on your research and writing, knowing that your citations are accurate and properly formatted.

Adhere to APA Paper Structure

When writing scientific papers in APA style, it’s important to follow the prescribed paper structure. The APA format typically includes a title page, an abstract, an introduction, a methods section, a results section, a discussion section, and a references page.

Each section has specific formatting requirements, such as the use of headings, subheadings, and proper citation formats. It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with these requirements and apply them consistently throughout your paper.

This ensures that your work is organized and easy to navigate for readers.

Be Consistent Throughout

Consistency is key when it comes to applying APA style in science writing. This means using the same format and style for all citations and references throughout your paper. Make sure to use the correct punctuation, capitalization, and italics when citing different sources, such as books, articles, or websites.

Additionally, pay attention to the order and formatting of the elements within each citation, including authors’ names, publication dates, titles, and page numbers. Being consistent in your formatting not only enhances the readability of your paper but also shows your attention to detail and adherence to professional standards.

Proofread and Revise

Before submitting your scientific paper, it’s crucial to proofread and revise it for any errors or inconsistencies, including those related to APA style. Carefully review your citations and references to ensure they are complete, accurate, and formatted correctly.

Check for any inconsistencies in capitalization, italics, or punctuation. Additionally, make sure your paper adheres to the overall guidelines of APA style, such as the use of proper headings and subheadings.

Taking the time to proofread and revise your work will help you present a polished and professional scientific paper.


For most science writing, APA format is the preferred citation style over MLA. APA provides specific guidelines that optimize scientific communication and publications.

By understanding when to use APA, adhering to key formatting differences from MLA, following APA science writing tips, and proofreading your citations, you can expertly apply APA style for your research papers, lab reports, and other scientific documents.

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