Did you know that, if you get specific, there are about 8 different citation styles for academic writing? This doesn’t include those little quirks your professors sometimes insist on (“If you staple your paper it’s an automatic F!!!!!”).
There are, all together:
Some people will group them — like, Chicago/Turabian/AP. But, believe me, there’s a difference. And it always drives me up the wall.
Each citation style comes from a different association or group. MLA from the Modern Language Association, which sets rules for literary writing and so on. If you’re an English major, you’ll be using this a lot. APA, ASA, and ACA/IEEE is for the sciences — psychology, biology, etc. I hate APA with a passion, but the real kicker is Chicago, AP, and Turabian. They’re all basically the same, have similar or same roots, but they have minor, minor, minor differences from each other and from MLA. Like, Chicago prefers footnotes to in-text citations, while MLA wants in-text citations but likes footnotes for additional information or clarifications.
Once writers leave school, most don’t have to deal with this sort of thing. But it’s the same concept as trying to submit the same manuscript to one publisher who prefers Arial 11 and to another who wants it in Times New Roman 12. Or stapled versus not stapled. Or with the author’s name in the header AND title page versus just on the title page.
Why so many? Are the literary gods still arguing about what’s best, leaving us poor writers to duke out between us? It drives me nuts still, nearly two years after leaving college. Today being Superbowl Sunday, I am one of the few Essay Writing Tutors available, meaning I’ve got multiple sessions going and am trying to tell one student how to use APA and another why Turabian papers need the full citation in the first footnote but abbreviated ones after. And I almost told an MLA student he was missing his running head.
For the record, I personally prefer MLA. With in-text citations and footnotes only if you have extra/supplemental information. And I never staple papers unless I’m told to.