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APA Vs. Chicago Vs. MLA: The Importance of Academic Writing Styles and How They Differ

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Thu, 03/05/2020 - 10:35am

Do you jot down notes? Keep a diary? In those cases, your writing is only intended to communicate important matters to your future self. In other cases, you’re writing to communicate with others. Instead of giving them a bunch of scribbled-down words, you probably strive to use proper grammar and syntax to ensure you're understood and you've presented yourself as credibly as possible.
 
To supplement basic rules of properly written English, academic writing styles provide you with more formal tools and standards to properly make your case and avoid misunderstanding. Find out more about common academic writing styles—MLA, Chicago, and APA, the most common styles used in the United States—to learn how they're used and why they're so important.
 
APA vs Chicago vs MLA

  • APA 
    APA stands for American Psychological Association. As a writing style, it comes from the organization's publication guide. This guide concentrates mainly on citations and style. Because it's mostly used by people in scientific and medical disciplines, the manual also has sections about formatting qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Chicago
    The Chicago Manual of Style is commonly used in arts, humanities, social sciences, and publishing. While it contains instructions for citations and style, it also covers usage and offers frameworks for proofreading or editing. Because the manual offers comprehensive guidance, you may see this style used in a variety of publications, ranging from blog posts to novels.
  • MLA 
    The MLA Handbook is a guide focused entirely upon source citations. MLA does also publish a companion website to offer assistance with other writing-related topics. Typically, students use MLA for essays in English or fine arts.
  • AP
    While we’re on the topic of writing styles, you should know that many writers follow another famous style guide, AP. Not to be confused with APA, AP refers to the "Associated Press Stylebook" and is used by journalists. Rather than focusing upon citations and other aspects of academic writing, AP offers insight into preferred abbreviations, spelling, capitalization, and which terms to use in certain contexts. You might find AP style in journalism, blogging, and some business communications.

 
Commonalities and differences
One common guidance offered by the academic guides—MLA, Chicago, and APA—is that each requires using the serial comma. The serial comma (aka the Oxford comma or Harvard comma) puts a comma before the last conjunction in a series or list. For example, this blog offers a short summary of the MLA, Chicago, and APA. The comma before the “and” in that sentence is a serial comma. The AP recommends leaving it out.
 
For titles, APA and AP capitalize every word with at least four characters. In contrast, Chicago and MLA never capitalize prepositions that aren't the first word. So, "The Man without Gravity" would pass Chicago and MLA style, but APA and AP would use uppercase for without.
 
You can find plenty of other differences between the style guides. Deviating from the rules doesn't necessarily mean that you've used improper English grammar or syntax. But consistently adhering to one style for a particular writing task does have its benefits.
 
The benefit of a writing style
As a student or a professional, it's most important to understand the benefits of adhering to the accepted style for the writing task you have. These styles help avoid ambiguity and promote clarity and consistency. Again, deviating from a style doesn't always signify a poor use of language. It does, however, mean breaking the accepted rules for the assignment. For example, writing styles can help your reader understand the difference between facts and expert opinions and your interpretation. For most writing assignments, you'll need to blend both but make certain that you're clear about which is which.
 
Of course, you can also greatly improve your academic and professional careers by selecting and using the correct style. In school, your professor will tell you which one to use in class. If you make too many mistakes, you may lose points from your grade, even though you did a great job on the content of your assignment. As an employee, you may use the style your employer chooses or the accepted one for your professional field. If you ignore the style's rules, your employer might penalize you, and perhaps worse, you could lose credibility in your profession.
 
Sometimes, you may have the discretion to choose which style that you adhere to. For instance, as you begin to recognize the differences in writing styles, you might notice that a lot of websites rely upon AP, but some use Chicago. Webmasters could be choosing a style based on whether their web pages have a more journalistic or academic slant. They also might pick a style that they believe will best resonate with their audience. By understanding how various styles differ, you can choose the writing style that will best serve your needs.
 
Study in the true academic style
Students have found unmatched academic opportunities at Cumberlands for well over a century. Highly qualified teachers have both academic credentials and experience in their fields. Students also enjoy affordable tuition rates, financial assistance, and knowing they attend a school that relies upon its sense of honor about all things. To get your academic career off to the right start, apply online or request more information about your preferred field of study.