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Chicago is a City, Not a Style – Know Your Writing Styles to Make Academic Writing Easier

Well, only part of that is true.

Chicago is a city. However, it is also a style of writing.

It is one of the three writing styles that are required for almost every paper that we will ever write in our academic lives. The format that is required for a research paper is usually specific to a subject field. 

Sounds easy, right? Well, the explanation is pretty much where the ease ends. And although things can get a little (actually, a lot) murkier, don’t panic. Why? Because I like to work smarter, not harder.

So here are the quick and dirty details of the three types of academic writing styles, complete with the place to go for answers. So, in the words of the great Samuel L. Jackson, “Hold onto your butts.”


The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is currently in its 7th edition, and provides a set of guidelines for works that are centered on the Arts and Humanities. English, all types of arts, languages, etc. utilize the MLA style. If your degree involves the words “of Arts”, get comfy-cozy with MLA, because it is going to be your bread and butter.


The American Psychological Association (APA) style is currently in its 6th edition. It is the go-to format for both hard and social sciences, like medicine, psychology, sociology, and social work.


The Chicago Manual of Style, or CMS, is now in its 16th edition. Like MLA, it is used frequently within the Arts (particularly literature). Unlike MLA, CMS is used for research of sources that take place within specific historical frames of time or context. Although CMS is not an uncommon format, it is encountered typically in publishing, graduate, and post-grad work. If you plan on continuing your education into the ultra-awesome realm and/or having your amazing academic works published, CMS is a need-to-know.

Any time you plug any of these style terms into a search bar, your first response will almost always be for Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab. Click that link.

I promise, it’s okay if you are not a student of Purdue University.

It’s okay that it says OWL, and you are not going to school for any kind of avian science.

Purdue OWL is the go-to source for all of your formatting needs. They offer more than 200 resources for academic and professional writing, including research, grammar, writing mechanics, job search writing, and English as a Second Language (ESL). 

Purdue is also the reigning authority for … wait for it … all three styles of academic writing! They have examples of spacing, reference pages, headers, and footers, hanging indentation, weird citations - the works! 

The works. Get it? Okay, so I like a good academic-writing pun. Stop judging me and go write your paper.



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