Formatting Cheat-Sheet for Exhausted Editors: From MLA to Chicago and Back

Michael Purdy


April 8, 2013 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

It’s late at night and you’ve already pulled four 12-hour shifts this week. Yet, six more articles are waiting in your inbox and all of them are due tomorrow morning. Unless you want to frustrate valuable clients and make your boss angry there’s no choice but to pull an all-nighter. When you’re this tired, and Friday is so close that it’s distracting, you might need a little help.

Thus we present the Formatting Cheat-Sheet for Exhausted Editors. It covers all of the popular formatting choices and the essential differences that must be remembered (yes, even when it’s three in the morning).

MLA (Modern Language Association)

Uses: Humanities Fields, Most High Schoolers

Personally, I love MLA. It’s the artsiest, most elegant style, which makes sense because it’s used for the liberal arts. Here are some key elements to remember while editing in MLA:

  • Punctuation — One space should be used after finishing punctuation, but strictly speaking two spaces is permissible. Periods should be placed inside of quotation marks, as should commas.
  • Titles — Italicized, underlined, or placed in quotation marks, titles styles are up to the author as long as they’re consistent. However, italics are preferred. Capitalize every noun and significant word in titles and subtitles.
  • Citations — Required both in-text and at the end of the piece, citations are often neglected by MLA writers. OWL is a great source of citation diagrams for visual learners.

APA (American Psychological Association)

Uses: Research Fields, Advanced Technical Professions

APA can be a little technical and dry if the writer isn’t careful. Of course, it’s meant to cut through the nonsense and make the text more impactful. Here are some of the key details to remember if you’re using APA style:

  • Conciseness — APA hates nothing more than flowery prose and unnecessary adjectives. Avoid them and always keep writing minimalistic.
  • Punctuation — Periods belong inside of quotation marks, though many people misunderstand this rule. APA tends to use more colons than any other format.
  • Titles — Capitalize only the first word of titles and subtitles, except in periodical titles (where you must capitalize all of the significant words).
  • Citations — Unlike MLA, APA does not require writers to cite sources they merely read and reviewed: only works actually used (as in quoted or paraphrased) need to be listed. When quoting an author in-text, writers must include the author’s last name, year of publication and the page number.

Here is an easy, free guide to APA by APA for people unfamiliar to it.

CHICAGO (Chicago Manual Style, or CMS) TURABIAN

Uses: Newspapers, Books, Magazines

Chicago is growing in popularity online because the average writer prefers it. That’s not to say it’s dumbed-down by any means: Chicago is just more accessible for readers because it’s less stylized. Here are a few things to remember when you’re using Chicago:

  • Punctuation — As with the other two popular styles, Chicago places the period inside of quotation marks. The only exceptions are the Brits, who like it outside.
  • Titles — Placed in quotation marks or italicized, titles depend upon the source. For example, book titles are italicized and article titles are placed in quotes.
  • Citations — With Chicago the citations in-text are similar to other styles. The author’s last name and year of publication must appear in the sentence, in addition to an end-of-text source. Here are great examples to learn this concept visually.

A Note About Other Styles:


This style is specific to medical fields and some biology journals. It’s rarely used in any SEM/SEO-related writing.


This style is often used by college students. It’s much less common outside of higher education than formal styles such as MLA.


While most articles online are done in the three classics (towit, MLA, APA, or Chicago), there are subtle differences applied online that must be observed.

  • In titles any word larger than three letters is capitalized (This, Thou, Four, Frog, etc.)
  • Style reigns over any style guide propriety
  • Internet or internet, email or e-mail; the guiding style should be that of the publishing site

Exhausted editors have a hard enough time just staying awake after along week of reading. Anything that makes work easier is worthwhile. What essentially needs to be remembered is that consistency is key: titles should always be in italics or in quotes, and internet should always be capitalized or not.

Share your time saving tips with other tired editors in the comments section, below.


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Michael Purdy

CopyPress writer

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