How to Write a Bibliography

A bibliography is a list of sources that were referenced to write an academic paper, a journal article, a book, a critique, an essay or any other type of academic writing. A bibliography differs from a works cited page because a bibliography includes any works that were referenced to write the paper, not merely the works that were cited in the paper.

Bibliographies differ depending on what style of writing you are using. Some of the different styles of writing include the Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), and American Psychological Association (APA).

open books on a desk in a library open books on a desk in a library

Bibliography Styles

Each of these different styles has a different format for writing a bibliography. Make sure that the bibliography style matches the format of your paper. Although students may think every style uses a bibliography, in fact, different styles follow different formats. MLA 8 uses a Works Cited page, which lists the source entries in alphabetical order. In APA, references are listed alphabetically in a Reference list. Chicago/Turabian style uses either the author-date style, which uses a Reference list or the notes-bibliography style, which uses a Bibliography.

MLA Format

The MLA format is primarily used for English Literature and other disciplines of the humanities. If you are using the MLA format, then you should keep a track of all the papers, books, films, internet articles, and any other source that you consulted while writing the paper.

Make sure that you know the author, the title, the place of publication, the publisher, the date of publication, and the page numbers that you consulted for each of your sources. When you include these sources in your bibliography, the sources should be in alphabetical order.

MLA revised its eighth edition, which creates a container system using nine core elements. These nine core elements may be nested in containers. As works may be published in edited forms on different platforms, the container system lets you include all the necessary information to lead your reader to the exact source you used for your paper.

Nine Core Elements

For each source, try to find as much information as possible about it. Follow these nine core elements, using the exact punctuation as shown:

  1. Author.
  2. Title of source.
  3. Title of container,
  4. Other contributors,
  5. Version,
  6. Number,
  7. Publisher,
  8. Publication date,
  9. Location.

Use a hanging indent for each entry. This helps separate the entries to make it easier for the reader.

Chicago Style

The Chicago Style format is primarily used for history texts. You may hear Chicago style called Turabian style, as well. Turabian is simply the shorter student version of Chicago style.

There are two styles in Chicago. The first is a simpler author-date style. This means the first element is the author’s name and the second is the date of publication. Other elements follow as shown in this basic book format:

  • Author’s Last Name, Author’s First Name. Year of Publication. Title of Book: Subtitle of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher’s Name.

The parenthetical citation follows this format:

  • (Smith 2010, 77)

Chicago’s notes-bibliography style means that either footnotes or endnotes are included throughout the text. The full source entry is then included in a bibliography at the end of the paper.

This example of a note entry shows how to format the note:

  • ##. Author’s First and Last Names, Title of Book: Subtitle of Book (Place of Publication: Publisher’s Name, Date of Publication), pp.

The corresponding bibliography entry is formatted this way:

  • Author’s Last Name, Author’s First Name. Title of Book: Subtitle of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher’s Name, Date of Publication.

Each source follows the same basic format but there’ll be differences depending on whether it’s a book, journal article or website.


APA Style

The American Psychological Association style of writing is used for psychology and other sciences and social sciences. For APA style, the format is similar to Chicago author-date style. The year follows the name of the author. However, place the year in parenthesis after the author. However, place the year in parenthesis after the author. Then include the name of the book or article, the name of the magazine or journal (this does not apply if it’s a book), and the page numbers.

The basic APA reference list format follows this example:

  • Author, A.A. (2001). Title of work. Location: Publisher.

The in-text citation includes the author’s last name, year of publication and page number within parentheses.

  • (Author, year, p.#)

Different Styles, Different Formats

Always consult a handbook for any of these styles if you have any questions that weren't answered in this broad overview. Make sure you're using the correct edition.

And if you need some help finding source material for your project these articles can help: 6 Free Primary Research Websites for Students and How to Find Credible Sources.