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Reference List Compared To Bibliography Template

Knowing the proper term for your paper’s list of citations can be confusing. Do I call it a works cited page? Should it actually be called a bibliography? How is it different from a reference list? In this article, we explain what these three terms mean and how they are different or related to one another.

To begin, each citation style has its own way of naming the list of sources you used in your paper. Here we break down the differences in these list types, so that you can better understand which option works best for your work.

Works Cited

A “Works Cited” list is an alphabetical list of works cited, or sources you specifically called out while composing your paper. All works that you have quoted or paraphrased should be included. Works Cited is generally used when citing sources using MLA format (Modern Language Association) style, and sources should be listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name.

Example Works Cited entry:

Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution. Oxford UP, 2007.

References or “Reference List”

A “Reference List” is very similar to a Works Cited list, and is a term used when citing sources using APA format (American Psychological Association) style. The page should be titled “References,” and is arranged alphabetically by author last name.

Example References entry:

Middlekauff, R. (2007). The glorious cause: The American Revolution. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


Bibliographies, on the other hand, differ greatly from Works Cited and References lists. In Works Cited and References, you only list items you have actually referred to and cited in your paper. A Bibliography, meanwhile, lists all the material you have consulted in preparing your essay, whether you have actually referred to and cited the work or not. This includes all sources that you have used in order to do any research. Bibliographies are often used in Chicago and Turabian citation styles. They usually contain a long reference that has a corresponding footnote within the body of the paper.

Example Bibliography entry:

Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007.



Reference list vs. bibliography

Reference lists (in MLA style called “lists of works cited”) contain a complete list of all the sources (books, journal articles, websites, etc.) that you have cited directly in a document. That means that if there are in-text citations for a source there is a reference list entry, and vice versa.

Bibliographies, on the other hand, contain all sources that you have used, whether they are directly cited or not. A bibliography includes sources that you have used to generate ideas or ‘read around’ a topic, but have not referred to directly in the body of the document.

Which to use

For most assignments at Massey University, you will be expected to provide only a reference list. If you have used any source in your assignment you are expected to say where you have used it by citing it directly.

Some assignments may require a reference list and a bibliography, or a bibliography in place of a reference list. If this is the case, you will be instructed to in your course materials. Some referencing styles (for example, Oxford style) always use a bibliography in place of a reference list. Some lecturers may use the term “bibliography” to mean a reference list, so if there is any uncertainty it's best to ask your lecturer.

Styles of reference list and bibliography

Annotated bibliographies

An annotated bibliography is a type of assignment that involves a list of sources, but also a summary and evaluation of each source's content and purpose. For more information, see annotated bibliography.

In publications

Books and other publications often distinguish between “selected” bibliographies and “full” bibliographies. Selected bibliographies only list a few of the most important works cited. Full bibliographies list every work cited and potentially other relevant sources. Again, you will be told directly if you need to do this.

Page authorised by Director, CTL
Last updated on 25 October, 2012

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