Let's think of MLA and APA as bottles of shampoo. They're both generic shampoos in that the shampoos are made using identical recipes but are manufactured and distributed by two different companies with different labels, bottles, etc. Out of habit, some people just prefer one brand; some the other. Both shampoos do the same thing; they just look different on the shelf.
So far so good? OK. Open the files (.pdf) Sample MLA paper and then Sample APA paper below. It’s helpful if you can print them in color and lay them out side by side. (You might want to download and save the Citation Format file(s) for future reference too.) You will see what at first looks like two different papers, but they are word for word the same paper. They look different only because one is the MLA brand packaging and the other is in the APA brand packaging. And just like people shopping for shampoos, some instructors prefer one over the other because are used to that brand.So you'll need to use their brand. 
Why do they look different? They are both double spaced; both use 12 point, Times New Roman font……Simply put it’s the how the citation is done.
You might ask, “What’s a citation? Why do I have to use them? Where do they go in a research paper?”
As a child, you might have told someone something important sounding. And the person you told might question your authority by asking, "Oh yea, who says?" Citations answer that question for the person reading your paper.
The premise behind every research paper, no matter if it’s MLA, APA or DIY, is:
This is what I think about this topic. But you don’t have to take my word for it because I’ve got highly respected writers and scholars to back me up. You can see who these people are and what insights I got from them in a list at the end of this paper. I’ll let you know exactly where in my paper I’ve used their ideas to back up what I’ve written by citing them in these little ( ) each time I use one of their ideas.
Now look at the sample papers you just downloaded. You can bypass the cover page, if there is one. Notice the colored words like people's names and page numbers/dates within the ( ) on the little one-paged paper. They are color coded to match the first word in each of the resources listed under the words “Works Cited” or “References” on the next page. When your reader asks, “Who says so?” that list on the last page tells them who told you so. And the little citation with the ( ) tells them which one of those resources in the list you're referring to.
Plagiarism? You know you want to avoid it; so here’s a simple rule of thumb: When in doubt, rewrite.
You have to use your highly respected resources to write a research paper. That’s the point of doing the research, but don’t use their words and their phrasing unless of course you’re quoting them word for word. Don’t even rewrite the idea like they wrote it. The wording should be in your style, not theirs. After all, it’s your paper; own it. If you think it’s your style, then read it aloud or to someone who has read something you’ve written. Does it “sound” like you? Your instructor will know if it doesn’t; trust me. First impressions count.
 • (Just a quick note: this part of the guide is a work in progress. Feel free to let us know if you see a type-o or anything in need of correction.)
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