CMS vs. MLA vs. APA

Citation styles can be confusing; they have so many seemingly arbitrary rules, and there are so many different methods and styles for papers. How do you know which style to use? How are the styles different? Here we break down the three major citation styles used at WKU, and in academic writing in general.

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)

Disciplines used in (generally): History, Anthropology, Archaeology, Political Science, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Art History, International Studies, etc. Also used in publishing, though many publishers will have a house style that is adapted from the CMS.

Citation system

  1. Notes and Bibliography (NB)–uses footnotes or endnotes for in-text citations and includes a bibliography. Footnote or endnotes have a particular format which includes bibliographic information as well as the page numbers of the referenced material.
  2. Author and Date (AD)–uses the author and date in in-text parenthetical citations and includes a bibliography.


Modern Language Association (MLA)

Disciplines used in (generally): English, Literature, Linguistics, Communications, and the arts and humanities

Citation system: Author and page numbers in parenthetical in-text citation and Works Cited page.


American Psychological Association (APA)

Disciplines used in (generally): Psychology, Sociology, Education, Social Work, Nursing, and social sciences. Occasionally used in the sciences.

Citation system: Author, date, and page numbers in parenthetical in-text citation and References page.


We also have general citation-related online resources! Click here for a useful citation style chart from the Purdue OWL comparing these three major styles. Click here for a WKU Writing Center tutorial video on creating citations in each of these styles. The video also includes explanation on some of the differences between the citations in MLA, CMS, and APA.

If you find yourself still confused by your discipline’s citation style, or could use more clarification on the differences between Chicago, MLA, and APA styles, stop by the writing center! Our tutors have experience with working in these styles, and we have resource books and reference sheets on all of these styles. Visit the Writing Center today or set up an appointment online. We’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 127 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in theWe’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 127 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in the Academic Commons in Cravens, Monday through Thursday (9 AM to 3 PM in 127 Cherry Hall on Fridays).


What’s all the hoot about? Why we recommend the Purdue Owl

You might have heard of the Purdue OWL, or Online Writing Lab, from your tutor, your professor, and your especially studious friends.  So what’s with all the fuss about this website?

Simply put, The Purdue OWL is one of the best and most comprehensive guides to writing English papers ever made, online or otherwise.  You need help with the ever-changing MLA format? The Owl’s got that. Confused by comma rules? Yeah, they got that covered.

Speaking in a more serious manner, The Purdue OWL talks about complicated issues like MLA citation in a clear and readable way. They have great diagrams and interactive memory tools that are especially made for college students’ use.  We might have other blog entries covering more specific tools in the OWL, but until then, explore The Purdue OWL on your own. Be warned, though, like TV Tropes, the OWL can be addictive.  Don’t blame us if you spend way too much time reading about commas… Enjoy!

Happy Writing,

This was originally posted on November 3, 2011.