Writing Bibliographies and Reference Lists: Giving Credit

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Giving credit to the sources you use when writing a research paper shows where you obtained your research; for academic papers, writing bibliographies and reference lists are usually mandatory any time you consult and/or cite sources.

Bibliographies and reference lists are not the same thing, however. The most important distinction between the two is that a bibliography lists all consulted sources, and reference lists include all cited sources.

Writing bibliographies vs. writing reference lists

Writing bibliographies dictate that you include every source you consult during your research. That means articles, websites, books and more that you read during the research process or reading about a topic are included. Even the sources you do not directly cite in your paper are included.

Bibliographies should not be confused with annotated bibliographies, which are in-depth summaries of consulted sources. The best approach to writing bibliographies is to keep a working bibliography, or a list of the sources you consult as you consult them while conducting research and evaluating sources.

Writing a reference list (or works cited page as it is called in MLA format) involves creating a list of only those sources you directly or indirectly quote throughout your paper using in-text citations.

Deciding which reference format to use

The reference format you are required to use depends on two things: the official style guide you are required to follow and/or your instructor’s preference. Some research projects or instructors may require both a list of references and a bibliography. Some instructors also use the terminology for a bibliography and reference list interchangeably, even when they mean one particular format. If you are not positive which format to follow based on your instructions, ask your instructor for clarification.

Official styles guides – reference lists and bibliographies

There are many different official style guides, and each requires either a bibliography or a reference list. Make sure you understand which reference style is required, so you can follow the correct formatting guidelines for specific bibliographic information. Here is a list of the most commonly used style guides and their required reference format:

APA – reference list

MLA – works cited

Oxford – bibliography

Harvard – reference list

Chicago Manual of Style – bibliography

Keeping a working bibliography

Keeping a working bibliography can save you significant time while evaluating or finalizing your research paper. If you keep a running list of every source you consult while researching, you do not have to return to find bibliographic information before preparing your paper for submission.

Whether you use a reference sheet or a bibliography, carefully record all bibliographic information. The purpose of these reference formats is not only to give credit to the original sources, but also to provide readers with a way to find additional information on the topic if they wish to read a source in its entirety. If you use good note-taking strategies and note-taking methods as you research, you should have all the bibliographic information recorded and ready to put into the proper format.