In a recent post, I explained that footnotes provide supplementary information such as commentary, quotations, and suggestions for further research. Footnotes can also document the sources cited in your text; however, that job frequently falls to bibliographies and reference pages rather than footnotes. While bibliographies and reference pages are very similar, they do serve slightly different functions.
First, let’s cover the similarities: Bibliographies and reference pages (also called reference lists and works cited lists) usually appear at the end of books after appendices but before the index. They occasionally appear at the end of chapters. In journals, they are found at the end of individual articles. Very few documents require both a bibliography and a reference page.
They are generally arranged alphabetically based on the source authors’ last names. Every formal source cited in your text should be included, although the rules for including informal sources (such as personal emails and letters) will depend on the style guide you’re following.
The primary difference between the two is depth: Reference pages only list the sources cited in the document, while bibliographies list all the sources cited in the document along with additional sources that you didn’t mention but still influenced your thought process or understanding of the subject matter.
For example, if you read an article that expanded your general knowledge of Norse mythology, but you don’t cite it in the book you’re writing about Odin, you could choose to list the article in a bibliography, but you wouldn’t list it in a reference page.
The purpose of listing uncited sources in bibliographies is to provide readers with extra information so that they can dig more deeply into the subject themselves and gain a deeper understanding of your point of view.
In fact, annotated bibliographies can include notes that explain why cited and uncited sources have been included.
Formatting varies by style guide: Each style guide has a distinct way of formatting bibliography and reference page entries (e.g., punctuation differences, capitalization differences, and structural differences for multi-author listings); therefore, you should refer to your preferred guide for instructions on how to create in-text citations and source entries.
Regardless of the differences in formatting, most guides recommend including the following basic elements in bibliography and reference page entries:
- Author’s or editor’s last name (or organization name)
- Author’s or editor’s first name or initial
- Article or book title (followed by journal or magazine name if citing an article)
- Publication date
- Periodical name, volume number, and issue number (for articles)
- Publisher and location (for books and other non-journalistic media)
- Pages cited (if referring to specific passages or quoting text)
- URL or Digital Object Identifier (for online sources)
Please note that if you’re following the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style) for publication, you should only use reference pages unless instructed otherwise because the APA discourages its affiliated journals from using bibliographies.*
If you’re not sure which style guide to follow, check out my post “Which Style Guide Is Best for You?”
*Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2020), 281.
Updated October 08, 2021