Coursework formatting tips

Coursework formatting tips: useful manuals on different styles

Apr 03, 2013
Styling guides and manuals play a big role in academic writing. In many cases, you'll find that coursework that involves an essay, report, or other documentation will usually require students to adhere to a certain type of styling guide or format. If specific instructions are not given by an instructor (such as details of their own original format), then the guidelines will usually come from popular styling guides such as MLA, APA, or Chicago Manual of Style.
And having to know the intricacies of all of these guides can be a little overwhelming to say the least; so tips, quick reference sheets, and mini-manuals are always good to keep handy. Below is a short reference to be used with the two most popular styles; MLA and APA.

Differences between MLA and APA

The MLA styling guide differs from the APA guide mainly through its work cited listing and author-page referencing method. That is, instead of having a reference page which list sources at the end of a document, the MLA guide has a work cited page that list all of the sources that were cited in a work. Secondly, the APA guide uses an author-date system for in-text citations as oppose to MLA's author-page system. These quick points are good to keep in mind, as they are often the key distinguishing characteristics of a paper written in APA style and a paper written in MLA style. Likewise, it is also good to know because students will often have to flip-flop between the two formats; depending on the various courses they are taking.

MLA - The Modern Language Association

In-text citations (or parenthetical references)

As just mentioned, when citing MLA in-text, the main thing that you want to remember is to use the author-page system for your sources. Other important information is noted below.

When using in-text citations for MLA...

  • enclose your citation in parentheses
  • provide the author's last name with the page number
  • if the page count is less than 99 you need to include the range
  • ranges are indicated with a dash, such as 11-28
  • do not place a comma or anything else between the author's name and the page number
  • the period should follow the close of the parenthesis even if its a direct quote
  • sometimes you will only write the page number if the author's name was already mentioned (see below)
*When not to put the author's name in parenthesis* In many cases when writing your essay or report you'll find that you end up mentioning the author's name as you reference a quote, paraphrase a particular statement. When doing this there is no need to repeat the author's name a second time; simply indicate the page number alone in the parenthesis. Please see below for an example.

Citing a book with one author

"Center culture was such a work of bricolage" (Myerhoff 10).
The author's name being mentioned in a signal phrase -->As Myerhoff noted in her narrative, "Center culture was such a work of bricolage" (10).

Citing a book with two or three authors

Next, the only difference with two or three authors is that you would simply add the names of the authors with a comma (if its three) and then add the word 'and' before the last author's name. This is simple enough; for example;
(Henry, Smith, and Williams 67)

Citing a book with three or more authors

If the number of author's exceeds three than the in-text citation can simply indicate the first author's name with the letters 'et al.' to follow. This term 'et al' means "and others." So when including it to signal the other authors for the work be sure to follow it up with a period and do not italicize it. For example;
(Henry et al. 67)
*Note*: It is not mandatory to use the term 'et al.' in your citation. You can just as easily write out all of the authors names if you'd prefer. But whatever style you choose make sure that it is consistent with the information provided in the works cited page.

Work Cited Page

When following the MLA styling guide you will be required to include a work cited page for your sources. This page comes at the end of the work and entails a separate page with a page number that follows the order of the other pages. The work cited page will be your main source for reference information; it contains all the identifying information required for each source.
Second, the citation format for each source will depend on the type of source that it is. Below are examples of common sources most students will run across.

A Journal Article from a Database

DeBerard, M. Scott, Glen I. Spielmans, and Deana C. Julka. "Predictors Of Academic Achievement And Retention Among college Freshmen: A Longitudinal Study." College Student Journal 38.1 (2004): 66-80. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Apr. 2012.

An Online Article from an Encyclopedia

"Social Psychology." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2013. Web. 27 March. 2013.


1 Author-->
Lasonfield, Birch. The Ties That Bind. New York: Smith & Smith, 2013. Print.
2 Authors-->
Lasonfield, Birch, and Lewis Hampton. Understanding Relationships. New York: Smith & Smith, 2013. Print.

APA - American Psychological Association

The second popular styling guide, produced by the APA, is common to many fields within the social sciences. And as mentioned previously it is coined by its author-date system for referencing. It also utilizes a reference page for end sources rather than a work cited page.

In-text citations with APA

In-text citations for APA differ somewhat from MLA's in-text citations. The key points have been highlighted below;

When using in-text citations for APA...

  • enclose your citation in parentheses
  • provide the author's last name with the date the work was published
  • place a comma after the author's name
  • if adding the page number simply place the letter 'p' followed by a period before it and separate it from the date with a comma as well
  • if there is more than one author their names should be separated with the '&' symbol within parenthesis
  • if the authors names are mentioned in the text of the work the word 'and' should be used instead of the symbol
*Similar to the MLA style it is not necessary to repeat an authors name in parenthesis if it is mentioned in the text with a signal phrase. When this happens the date in parenthesis should be sufficient.

Citing a book with one author

"Center culture was such a work of bricolage" (Myerhoff, 1978, p.10).

Citing a book with two authors

The commitment to the field is indicated by dedication and perseverance (Henry & Williams, 2008).

Citing a book with three to five authors

The commitment to the field is indicated by dedication and perseverance (Henry, Smith, Johnson, Hoot, & Williams, 2008).
*This is with regards to the first mentioning but subsequent mentionings should include the phrase 'et al.'
(Henry et al., 2008)
For works that include more than six authors simply use the above format in the first and subsequent mentionings (i.e. only include the first author's name with the phrase 'et al.' and the date).

Reference Page

Finally, the reference page of your work will be the one page that lists all of your referenced works with their full identifying information. APA's reference page mirrors MLA's works cited page in that listings are in alphabetical order and are listed according to the author's last name. Examples can be seen below.

Journal article from database

Larry, C. (2013, March 1). The human mind. Psych Quarterly, 12 (1), 45-47. Retrieved from Academic Source Complete, EBSCO. Retrieved from

Book with one author

Jourtansen, K. (2010). The beginning of the end. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Article from an online only source

Quark, P. (2010, April 11). The working father. The New York Times. Retrieved from
*Please note that most of these examples are fictional and not connected to any real sources-they are merely being used for illustrative purposes.
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By Martha Buckly. Martha is a good freelance writer and loves sharing posts on different topics including tips and guidelines for articles and academic writing. Her professional experience helps to create interesting and useful material.
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