Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

What is a Bibliography?

Most high schools, colleges, and universities require research papers and projects, so students need to know how to write a bibliography to cite the research sources they use. A bibliography is a list of sources one consults and references in a research paper or project. What does bibliography mean? The word “bibliography” is Greek. The Greek words biblio and graphia literally mean “the writing of/about books.”

Bibliographies are required whenever a writer consults a source for their research, whether they directly or indirectly use information from the reference. This application gives credit to the original author of that information. It keeps the person writing the research paper from committing plagiarism or making information from other sources seem like the writer’s own idea. While bibliographies originally were lists of books, in the 21st century, bibliographies can include books, journal articles, websites, newspaper articles, films, and even social media pages -anything that the writer consults in their research.

For any paper or project where research transpires, the writer should include a bibliography. The format and title of the bibliography depend on what citation style the writer uses. For example, a writer using Chicago style would use “Bibliography” as the title of their source page; in APA style, this would be “References,” while in MLA style it would be “Works Cited.” This practice extends to when the writer is researching a topic they might want to do more research on in the future, presenting new information in their field of study, or even critiquing another person’s work, such as in a book review.

Bibliographies not only provide a way to cite sources but also help give the writer credibility. A writer can use references and bibliographies to inform their readers which evidence supports their ideas, who or what influenced the writer’s ideas and work, and what sources were used if a reader decides to use the writer’s work for their research or a critique.

Types of Bibliographies

Although the concept of a bibliography might seem straightforward, many different types of bibliographies exist and are necessary for different situations. These types include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • an enumerative/systematic bibliography,
  • an annotated bibliography,
  • a working bibliography,
  • a period bibliography,
  • and a subject bibliography.

Enumerative Bibliography

The most commonly used type of bibliography is the enumerative bibliography, sometimes called a systematic bibliography. This type of bibliography is simply a list of the sources consulted and cited in a research paper or project ordered in a particular way, usually alphabetically by each author’s last name. Whenever an assignment or instructor requests a “bibliography” without any other details, they typically refer to an enumerative bibliography.

Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a type of bibliography usually used early on in research projects. Annotated bibliographies have a list of sources to support a research project and brief “annotations” about each source. These annotations are usually around 150 words each and explain what the source is about and why it would be helpful to consult in the research project.

Working Bibliography

A working bibliography is similar to a rough draft version of a bibliography. A working bibliography is what one uses in drafting a research project or paper. This means that the working bibliography will change over time as new sources are added to it when the author continues their research. A working bibliography is not always a polished version of the bibliography. Depending on the requirements for an assignment, it might not even be in alphabetical order since the author has not finalized the bibliography yet.

Other Bibliographies

Enumerative, annotated, and working bibliographies are the most common types of bibliographies used in academic settings. Depending on the field of study, however, there are other types of bibliographies one might use. One of these is a period bibliography, which includes sources from a specific era, usually to aid in historical research. These bibliographies might accompany a project, but they might also be published separately just as a list of sources for others to consult if they are researching over that period. A subject bibliography works in much the same way as a period bibliography but covers a particular subject instead of a time.

How to Write a Bibliography

Being able to understand what a bibliography is and how to do a bibliography are entirely different concepts. Many students in high schools, colleges, and even universities might be comfortable writing a research paper but still wonder, “How do you write a bibliography?” The bibliography in a research paper or project is typically one of the last pages of the paper, occurring after the bulk of the writing but before appendices. All bibliographies must include all of the references used to create the paper or project and what bibliographic information is available for a source; this includes:

  • the name(s) of the author(s),
  • the title,
  • the year of publication,
  • the date of publication,
  • the publisher,
  • the containing work (journal, newspaper, anthology),
  • the internet retrieval location (when applicable),
  • and other necessary information for someone to be able to find the source.

Different citation styles determine how the bibliography should be formatted. Usually, an instructor or assignment will indicate the required citation style for the class or assignment. The three primary citation styles are the Chicago Manual of Style, the APA Style, and the MLA Style. While the Chicago style uses “bibliography” to refer to the bibliographies in their papers, APA style uses “references” while MLA style uses “works cited.” The names refer to the same information, but each style guide has different requirements for formatting.

Chicago Style

The Chicago Manual of Style is the style used most commonly in history, anthropology, religious studies, and other humanities fields. Chicago style uses “Bibliography” to title the list of sources at the end of a paper. In addition to a bibliography, writers should include footnotes or endnotes in the body of their work. As the readers are reading, these notes detail where outside information was used. The basic information in a Chicago style bibliographic entry is as follows and in this order:

  • author’s last name,
  • author’s first name,
  • title of work,
  • publication location,
  • publisher,
  • and year of publication.

This information varies depending on the source cited, but the general order stays the same in Chicago style. What does a Chicago-style bibliography look like? Here are a few examples of different sources (book, journal article, film, and newspaper article) formatted in Chicago style. The author’s last name alphabetizes all sources, only the first line of each entry is aligned to the left margin while subsequent lines are indented, and URLs are included for internet sources. Page ranges for articles appear after the volume number and issue number.

Chicago style bibliographic entries

Bibliographic entries for a book, a newspaper article, a film, and a journal article in Chicago style


Although the Chicago style is the only formatting style that uses the term “bibliography” for sources, APA and MLA styles are the most commonly used citation styles. APA Style, which the American Psychological Association produced, is a style guide for fields like sociology, psychology, and other social sciences, as well as some natural sciences or scientific journals. Because most of these fields continue developing research and recent work is usually the most up-to-date, APA style puts the year of each source as the secondary focus after the author. In-text and parenthetical citations are in the body of the paper and bibliography, which is titled “References.” The basic information in each APA style bibliographic entry includes, in order:

  • author’s last name,
  • author’s first and middle initials,
  • year,
  • title of work,
  • publisher name,
  • and DOI (digital object identifier).

There are a few unique aspects that distinguish APA style bibliographic entries from what other citation styles require:

  • The year appears directly after the author in parentheses.
  • The work’s title, whether a book or an article, uses sentence-style capitalization, which means that only the first word, words after colons and semicolons, ending punctuation, and proper nouns are capitalized. While this applies to book and article titles, it does not apply to journal and newspaper titles, which should still use title capitalization and have all major words capitalized.
  • In the most recent edition, APA requires all sources to include a DOI (digital object identifier), if available, whether or not they were found on the internet.
  • Volume numbers of journals are italicized, while issue numbers are in parentheses with page ranges following. Here are some examples of what APA style looks like on a reference page.

APA style bibliographic entries

Bibliographic entries for a book, a newspaper article, a film, and a journal article in APA style


One of the most basic and widely used citation styles is MLA Style. MLA style, created by the Modern Language Association, is usually used in English, modern languages, cultural studies, and film study fields. MLA is one of the most approachable and straightforward to use styles, so it is often the first citation style one uses in an academic setting before learning the other types. In MLA, in-text and parenthetical citations are used to cite information in the body of the paper, while the bibliographic entries are organized on a page called “Works Cited“. MLA bibliographic entries typically include the following in order:

  • author’s last name,
  • author’s first name,
  • title of work,
  • publisher,
  • and year of publication.

MLA style bibliographies look similar to Chicago style, with some exceptions. In MLA style, the abbreviation “pp.” is used before a page range while “vol.” and “no.” are included before, respectively, a volume number and issue number. MLA also separates items in bibliographic entries primarily with commas instead of periods. One of the unique parts of an MLA entry is the formatting of the publisher’s name. While Chicago and APA styles require the full publisher name, MLA style prefers that the publisher name stay short, one or two words if possible. If redundant words like “publisher,” “publishing,” “press,” or “university” are part of the publisher’s name, the omitting of these words are appropriate. Here are some examples of MLA bibliographic entries.

MLA style bibliographic entries

Bibliographic entries for a book, a newspaper article, a film, and a journal article in MLA style

Lesson Summary

A bibliography is used in most academic writing to list works that an author consults in their research. This application gives the author credibility, lets their readers know where the author found the information and gives credit to other authors who have previously written various works. There are a few common types of bibliographies:

  • an enumerative bibliography, which is a standard bibliography that lists all of the works and sources the author consulted in their research;
  • an annotated bibliography, includes a bibliographic entry for each source an author is considering or has reviewed, along with a brief description and evaluation of the source;
  • and a working bibliography, which includes what sources an author has consulted thus far and changes as the author continue researching and writing.

Many citation styles are used in academic settings to cite sources. These citation styles include:

  • the Chicago Manual of Style, which is common in history and humanities fields;
  • the APA Style, utilized primarily in the psychological and social sciences fields;
  • and the MLA Style, commonly used in English, modern language, and film studies fields.

APA and MLA styles are the most commonly used citation styles. Each citation style has unique formatting requirements for how bibliographic entries should be formatted. However, all include basic information like the author’s name, the title of the work, and the year of publication.

Join the conversation