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Difference Between Harvard and MLA Referencing Styles : A Complete Guide

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Referencing is that inescapable headache that haunts every assignment like a plague. And even though you may hate doing it, you have no option but to go through the painful process of listing every single resource you have used to make your assignment what it is. What makes this horrific nightmare even worse is that you are almost always unable to differentiate one citation style from the other, consequently mixing them up and making blunders in the bibliography section. You can’t really be blamed though as they do look similar on the surface; especially the Harvard and MLA referencing styles.

Well, we are here to clear the confusion you face when trying to reference the MLA and Harvard referencing styles. In this blog, we will discuss the differences between them and will also give examples so that you never mess them up again.

But first, let’s get their definitions out of the way.

Harvard Referencing Style Guide

The Harvard citation format, as is already evident by the name, was invented and introduced by the Harvard University to help its students reference their papers. This style is parenthetical in nature, and its aim is to help students, scholars and writers to incorporate the quotes, ideas and findings of other people into their work. The Harvard referencing style is very popular.

MLA Referencing Style Guide

The MLA citation format was devised and developed by the Modern Languages Association and is widely used in academic writing. The MLA format too is parenthetical in nature. However, you can also make use of it to reference at the end of your paper in the bibliography section.

When to Use Harvard Or MLA Referencing Style

Both Harvard and MLA referencing styles are used by different groups of different students who are pursuing different courses. For example, if you are a student of humanities or behavioral, natural or social sciences, you professors will prescribe the Harvard referencing style for all the assignments you do.

On the other hand, the MLA referencing style too is used mostly in the field of humanities, but its focus is more on documenting subjects that fall under the category of liberal arts. So for instance, if you are a literature or language or culture student, all of your assignments will be referenced in the MLA format.

Formats Of The Harvard And MLA Citation Style

As you know, each referencing style follows a specific format, and this is where the confusion arises. When you just glance over the samples, the similarities between them will be apparent. But when you look closer, you will see some minor changes that will make all the difference.

For example, when you’re making use of the Harvard format to cite your paper, you will have to include an abstract or a brief summary of the topic of your paper. Moreover, in the Harvard referencing style, you are supposed to mention the full list of the resources you have used on the bibliography page.

The MLA style follows a dissimilar format. Papers referenced in this style need not have a separate title page until your professor specifically asks you to. Also, while using this style, you are not supposed to include the full list of the works you have used in the bibliography section. Instead, you are supposed to put them under pages titled ‘Work Cited’ or ‘References.’

We will give examples of referencing in the two styles in a section below so that the differences between the formats of the two become crystal clear.

A Visual Guide To Learn Where to Use Harvard and MLA Formats

If you have been asked to use the Harvard format, then you are in luck as it has specific rules for the citation of figures, tables, different types of visual aids and diagrams. This can be useful as you will be clear on how to cite them. For example, when copying data from an external source, you will have to mention the source then and there. Also, keep in mind to use the word ‘below’ when you include tables and diagrams in your paper instead of using the phrase ‘in figure 3.’

The MLA style is the direct opposite of Harvard in this regard. While Harvard has several rules regarding the citing of visual aids, the MLA style has none. So you are basically free to mention the resources the way you want to. However, it will be wise for you to consult your professor before you reference visual aids in the MLA format.

These were the major differences between the Harvard and MLA styles, and they have been successful in establishing the fact that even though these styles may seem similar, they really are not. They have their own set of guidelines, which set them apart from each other as well as other popular citation styles such as APA, Chicago, Vancouver and the like.

Nonetheless, to establish the differences between them, we’ll now be taking a look at the examples of each.

Samples of Harvard and MLA referencing styles

In this section, we will give you examples of how to cite different resources in both of the styles so that you not only learn about the dissimilarities between them but even get an idea of how to use each of them accurately. Without further ado, let’s move on to the examples.

• Referencing samples in Harvard

Book with a single author: The name of the author comes first, followed by the rest of the details.

Patterson, J. (2007). Maximum ride. New York: Little, Brown.

Books with two authors (or more): The names of both the authors have to be mentioned with their last names first in alphabetical order.

Desikan, S. and Ramesh, G. (2009). Software testing. Bangalore, India: Dorling Kindersley, p.149.

Chapters of edited books: The format you use here is the last name first along with the initial of the first name followed by the title of the chapter, the name of the editor and the rest of the details.

Bressler, L. (2013). My girl, Kylie. In: L. Matheson, ed., The Dogs That We Love, 2nd ed. Boston: Jacobson Ltd., pp. 87-99.

Print journal articles: To cite such sources, you will have to mention the name of the author, followed by the title of the article and then the name of the journal.

Ross, N. (2016). On Truth Content and False Consciousness in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory. Philosophy Today, 61(3), pp. 273-281.

Website journal articles: The process of citing website journals is more or less the same as the print one with the only difference being that you will have to mention the word ‘online’ in brackets as well as the URL.

Raina, S. (2017). Establishing Correlation Between Genetics and Nonresponse. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, [online] Volume 81(3), p. 156. Available at: [Accessed 31 Mar. 2017].

Websites: This needs to be mentioned separately as not all articles on the web have the name of the author mentioned. In that case, you will just have to mention the name of the website, the title of the page and the URL., (2016). M&M’S Official Website. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Feb. 2017].

Ebooks and PDFs: Start with the name of the author, following the usual format and end with the URL and date of access.

Zusack, M. (2016). The Book Thief. 2nd ed. [ebook] New York: Knopf. Available at: [Accessed 7 Jan. 2017].

Archived Sources: Archived resources follow the same format as books, only in the place of the publishing house, you have to mention the name of the university.

Pearson, J. (1973). Letter to James Martin. [letter] The Jackson Historical Society, Civil Rights Collection. Jackson.

Movies and Videos: Simply mention the name of the movie, the country of origin and the filmmaker.

The Color Purple. (1985). [film] Chicago: Alan Metter.

• Referencing samples in MLA

Books with a single author: The name of the author will come first. However, here you will have to mention the full name and not just the initial.

Mather, Jean-Philippe. French Resistance: The French-American Culture Wars. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2002. Print.

Books with two authors (or more): The names of the authors need not be mentioned in alphabetical order as long as they match the order on the cover of the book.

Booth, Wayne, C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 3rd ed. U of Chicago P, 2005. Print.

Chapters of edited books: Not only will you have to mention the name of the author over here, but you will also have to mention the name of the editors.

Browne, Tom J. “The Role of Geographical Information Systems in Hydrology.” Sediment and Water Quality in River Catchments. Ed. Ian Foster, Angela Burnel and Bruce Webb. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. 25-31. Print.

Print journal articles: The format of citing them is more or less the same as the books, and the name if the article will come straight after the name of the author.

Piper, Andrew. “Rethinking the Print Object: Goethe and the Book of Everything.” PMLA 132.1 (2009): 118-25. Print.

Website journal articles: As for website journals and articles, unlike Harvard, the date of access here will come before the URL rather than after it.

Sie, I., M. Thorstad and B.M. Andersen. “Infection Control and Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureu in Nursing Homes in Norway.” Journal of Hospital Infection 80.4 (2009): 278-298. ScienceDirect. Web. 7 Sep. 2010. <>.

Websites: To cite web pages that do not have an author, you will have to mention the name of the article along with the websites name.

Romance Languages and Literatures Resources Page. n.d. University of Chicago. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. <>.

Ebooks and PDFs: Here too, the date at which you accessed the PDF needs to be stated before the URL. Also, don’t forget to mention the edition of the book.

Kerzner, Harold. Project Management: a Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling. 12th ed. Hoboken: Wiley, 2010. Ebook Library. Web. 22 March 2015. <>.

Archived Sources: To cite archived sources in the MLA format, you will have to give a detailed description of the source, which means going as far as to give the detail of which folder it belongs to.

Summers, Clara. Letter to Steven Summers. 30 July 1943. Box 2, Folder 3. MSP 97 Steven and Clara Summers papers. Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center, Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette, IN. 22 September 2015

Movies and Videos: Lastly, to cite a movie in the MLA format, you have to give the name of the movie, the name of the directors as well as the actors in the lead role. 

Back To The Future. Dir. Alan Silvestri. Perf. Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lia Thompson, and Thomas F. Wilson. 1985. Republic, 2005. DVD.

We hope now the dissimilarities between the two are now truly clear to you. If you get stuck, remember that barring a few exceptions, the name of the resource concerned will usually not be italics in the MLA format while it will be so in Harvard.

Too Baffled To Reference Your Academic Papers On Your Own? Call

Referencing is hard, and if you do not understand how to reference your paper properly, you may lose out on precious marks. However, don’t panic just yet. Simply call us and ask us to do your assignment and we’ll do the referencing for free. Our experts are familiar with all the popular citation formats and reference with 100 percent accuracy. Plus, you will get impeccably written assignments at the most affordable prices with zero plagiarism. Call us on the number +441212854112 for more details.

Hi, I am Mark, a Literature writer by profession. Fueled by a lifelong passion for Literature, story, and creative expression, I went on to get a PhD in creative writing. Over all these years, my passion has helped me manage a publication of my write ups in prominent websites and e-magazines. I have also been working part-time as a writing expert for for 5+ years now. It’s fun to guide students on academic write ups and bag those top grades like a pro. Apart from my professional life, I am a big-time foodie and travel enthusiast in my personal life. So, when I am not working, I am probably travelling places to try regional delicacies and sharing my experiences with people through my blog. 

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