Which Essay Format to Use - APA, Harvard, MHRA or MLA?

Different Styles

When it comes to choosing an essay format or a referencing convention, there are four common types. These are:

  • The American Psychological Association (APA) style
  • The Harvard referencing system
  • The Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA) style
  • The Modern Languages Association (MLA) style.

Where essay formats for a specific institution or even for a specific discipline or department are concerned, it is important to know which system that institution or department uses. A tutor may instruct you to use any one of the styles described above or they might specify a completely different one. Some institutions or departments even issue style sheets explaining the system you should use. 

It is also likely you will find detailed style guides to the most popular systems online or in your college library. The MHRA style guide is also published by the Modern Humanities Research Association and can be obtained from many bookshops for a few pounds.

The next sections of this article outline the key aspects of the four above-mentioned styles. You should check the other sources we have suggested if you want more information.

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The APA Style

The APA essay format is a system that uses parenthesis. This means the reference appears in the body text in brackets with information that includes the surname of the author, the publication date and the page number(s) of the reference. Another thing to note is that references are always placed at a sentence’s end and before the last period (full stop).  

Entries in APA-style bibliographies are listed in alphabetic order under the author’s surname with the author’s first name initial, publication date [in brackets], the publication title, the publication place, and the publisher’s name. Here is a (fictional) example:

Smith, P. (2005). History of poetry: Noted British poets 1982-1996. Swansea: Oxford Publications.

 Remember to attend to punctuation because this is also an integral part of the referencing system.

The Harvard Style

Like the APA and MLA essay format, the Harvard referencing system is another system that uses parenthesis. The reference in brackets in an essay’s body includes the surname of the author and the publication date. The word “References” should be placed over the list of referenced works at the end of an essay’s main body. Entries in the Harvard system should be listed alphabetically under the surname of the author in similar fashion to the APA referencing system.

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The MHRA Style

In every case, it is important to use the proper essay format and to know the peculiarities of that system. With the MHRA referencing system, brackets are not used to enclose citations in body text. Superscript numbers (e.g. 1) are used instead and these are linked to notes placed either at the end of a page or in their own section at an essay’s end. This note should include full details about each given source.  

The MLA Style    

Another academic essay format is the MLA referencing system, which also uses parenthesis. References should be placed in brackets in the essay’s body and linked to full citation entries in a bibliography at the essay’s end. The information in brackets in the body text should include the surname of the author and the page number(s) the reference is taken from.

If you quote two works or more by a single author, then the information in your reference should contain a short form of the work’s title to make clear which article or book you are referring to.

Bibliographies written in the MLA style should display the information in alphabetic order under the surname of the author. The information in the reference should show (in the following order) the full name of the author, the article or book’s title, publication place, publisher’s name, and date of publication. Here is a (fictional) example of an MLA reference:

“Smith, Peter. History of Poetry: Noted British Poets 1982-1996. Oxford Publications, 2003.” Please pay close attention to punctuation because this is an integral part of the referencing system.