MLA, APA and Chicago Step into the Ring

By February 25, 2014Writing about Writing

MLA, APA, Chicago…so many citation styles, and yet, so little time to sufficiently learn them all. Each citation style is specific to its own field, and as such, contains information relevant to its own field. At the risk of typecasting all our renowned citation styles:

  • MLA (Modern Language Association) is laid-back and only requires author names
  • APA (American Psychological Association), always the contemporary, includes dates to keep track of the latest scientific developments
  • Chicago (AKA Turabian), the most uptight of them all, requires a mini-works cited section in its footnotes.

However, I doubt that anyone has ever posed the question of which citation style is the best.

Right off the bat, we can eliminate Chicago from the roster. Yes, Chicago is thorough and specific. But not only is it cumbersome and time-consuming for the budding historian working on her papers in the middle of the night, it also monopolizes the bottom of every page. With all the “ibids” taking up space within your footnotes, you lose track of what is important–since you already have this information in your bibliography, why do you need to repeat the same information after every sentence?

Bibliography Shelves

This leaves the competition between APA and MLA. While APA does put up a good fight, APA has its neuroses and specifics. Yes, you need to include a date after every author’s name, but do you need to move it into the parentheses at the end of the sentence if you don’t mention the author’s name? And what about “et. al”? What are the specific guidelines for omitting too many authors’ last names? Is it three names? Four? No, APA is much too particular, though not as much as Chicago.

This leaves MLA. Why exactly is MLA superior to APA and Chicago? Isn’t it too bare bones, too generic, too lazy? Though these are reasonable points, these exact features are what make MLA so great. It’s concise, it’s simple, and it’s easy to learn. All MLA requires is the author’s last name and a page number after every direct quote or at the end of a paraphrased section. It’s ideal for both students who are in a rush to complete their term papers and fitting for the busy writer who has everywhere to be in next to no time.

In other words, MLA is the modern writer’s citation style: quick, easy, and absolutely painless.

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