Academic papers and manuscripts are prepared according to several formats. The three most common are known as APA, MLA, and Chicago. All three are updated on a regular basis, and some institutions and publications have their own modified guidelines for papers. While these guides are “publication guides” used by editors and designers, writers are still expected to submit articles and manuscripts in compliance with the preferred style of a publication, academic institution, or other organization.
In some cases, the publication style does differ from what an editor, review panel, or instructor expects of a manuscript. Always consult with editors or course instructors before adopting a formatting guide. As an example, many universities and academic journals still desire manuscripts in either Courier or Times typefaces.
For online academic writing, the Columbia Guide to Online Style, or CGOS is used. Writing for electronic publications follows APA or MLA guidelines, with minor changes to accommodate the medium. The CGOS is maintained by Columbia University.
Our concise guides to styles can be viewed by selecting one of the following:
Instead of memorizing APA and MLA styles, we recommend using dedicated bibliography software. Many schools offer free or discounted bibliography applications. Some bibliographic features are included in newer versions of Microsoft Word, as well.
Who made the organizations behind these style guides the arbiters of style? Quite simply, university presses and libraries did. The standards allow researchers to cross-reference articles, making it a lot easier to use the library or online resources to do yet more and more research. The key to original projects is discovering what was already known and building on the past. There really is a reason for standards: they help us understand each other.
APA style is commonly used in the sciences, especially their bibliographic formats. The APA website states:
The American Psychological Association has established a style that it uses in all of the books and journals that it publishes. Many others working in the social and behavioral sciences have adopted this style as their standard as well.
APA’s style rules and guidelines are set out in a reference book called The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
Please note that when researchers talk about APA style, they may be referring to APA’s system of citations in text and reference format. If you are unsure, you should clarify with your instructor or editor how they define “APA style.”
— http://www.apastyle.org/ (May 2004)
We offer an abbreviated guide to APA style. The complete APA style guide can be located online at http://www.apastyle.org/, though there is a charge for some services. The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of the APA website offers basic tips for students: http://www.apastyle.org/faqs.html
If you are an English instructor or student, the MLA style applies to your papers and manuscripts. The MLA is the Modern Language Association.
Founded in 1883, the Modern Language Association of America provides opportunities for its members to share their scholarly findings and teaching experiences with colleagues and to discuss trends in the academy. MLA members host an annual convention and other meetings, work with related organizations, and sustain one of the finest publishing programs in the humanities. For over a hundred years, members have worked to strengthen the study and teaching of language and literature.
The Modern Language Association does not publish its documentation guidelines on the Web. For an authoritative explanation of MLA style, see the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (for high school and undergraduate college students) and the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (for graduate students, scholars, and professional writers).
— http://www.mla.org/about (May 2004)
As with APA style, we offer an abbreviated guide to MLA style.
The University of Chicago Press maintains the Chicago Manual of Style, originally a guide for authors published by the university and the press staff. Today, the Chicago style is used by many non-fiction publishers. The formatting and style guide applies to manuscripts as well as the appearance of published works.
What would become The Chicago Manual of Style began in the 1890s as a single sheet of typographic fundamentals, prepared by a proofreader at the University of Chicago Press as a guide for the University community. That sheet grew into a pamphlet, and the pamphlet grew into a book—the first edition of the Manual of Style, published in 1906. Nearly a century later the Manual is in use in homes and offices around the world.
— http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/cmosfaq/about.html (May 2004)
The University of Chicago Press maintains a guide for electronic submission, which also applies to students submitting papers from a word processor. See the Electronic Manuscript Preparation Guide at http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/emsguide.html for up-to-date information on the format.
We do offer a guide to the Chicago Manual of Style along with styles other than APA and MLA used by institutions and publishers.
Comparison of Styles
Each style guide is unique. Recognize that these styles do not apply to fiction, periodicals, or online publications. For information on periodicals, see our section on the Associated Press Stylebook.
Selecting a Style
Papers in the humanities, especially those dealing with literature and language, use the MLA guidelines. The sciences favor APA guidelines. However, when preparing a book manuscript, Chicago publication guidelines are followed by most university presses.
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2001. (ISBN: 1557988102)
Turabian, Kate L., John Grossman, and Alice Bennett. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 6th ed. Rev. by John Grossman and Alice Bennett. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. (ISBN: 0226816265, 0226816273)