When Writing Styles Collide

Did you know that there are multiple writing styles? Students visiting the Writing Center are usually familiar with MLA style, having learned it in their high school English classes, but different fields and majors may require different writing styles like APA, AP, or Chicago. Different writing styles have different ways of quoting passages, citing sources, placing commas, and even spelling words!

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In the tweet above, Brooke Pryor, a journalist from Kansas City, illustrates what happens when writing styles collide. The tweet includes a text screenshot of Brooke and her fiancé debating whether to use Oxford commas on their wedding website. (An Oxford comma is the comma used before the last item of a list of three or more items, before an “and” or “or”. For example: an Italian painter, sculptor, and architect.) As an English major, Brooke’s fiancé wants to use Oxford commas. As a journalist, Brooke wants to leave out Oxford commas.

So who is right?

Technically both. In MLA style (used in English and other liberal arts and humanities fields) it is correct to use Oxford commas, in AP style (used in journalism, mass communications, and public relations) it is correct to leave out Oxford commas. Both Brooke and her fiancé are correctly using Oxford commas based on their respective fields. Since a wedding website is more personal and not a professional or academic piece of writing, the pair could use either writing style, however they cannot use both. Mixing writing styles can confuse readers. Whatever writing style you choose to use, consistency is key!

If you’re unsure what writing style you should use for a writing piece or how to write in a particular writing style, here’s a quick and easy overview of some of the most common writing styles and when to use them.

MLA (Modern Language Association) Style

Used for:

  • English

  • Liberal Arts

  • Humanities

Defining characteristics:

  • Uses Oxford commas

  • Page numbers and writer’s last name are placed in header

  • Last name of author of source and page numbers included in in-text citation

  • Has a “Works Cited” page

APA (American Psychological Association) Style

Used for:

  • Psychology

  • Education

  • Social sciences (sociology, speech, etc.)

Defining characteristics:

  • Has a title page

  • A running head is placed in the header

  • Last name of author of source and year of publication are included in in-text citation

  • Avoids direct quotes, paraphrases instead

  • Has a “References” page

AP (Associated Press) Style

Used for:

  • Journalism

  • Public Relations

  • Mass communications

Defining characteristics:

  • Does not use Oxford commas

  • Has specific spelling, capitalization, and abbreviation guidelines

  • All sources are cited directly in-text, there is no citation page at the end

Chicago/ Turabian Style

Used for:

  • History

  • Business

  • Fine Arts

Defining characteristics:

  • Uses footnotes

  • Has a “Bibliography” page

For more resources on formatting and citation visit:

MLA:

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_and_style_guide.html

https://style.mla.org/

APA:

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/general_format.html

http://www.apastyle.org/

AP:

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/journalism_and_journalistic_writing/ap_style.html

https://www.apstylebook.com/

Chicago:

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/chicago_manual_17th_edition/chicago_manual_of_style_17th_edition.html

https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html