A bibliography and a list of references have a lot in common, so it's not surprising to find out that many people are a bit confused about how to choose between the two. The purpose of this article is to make this choice as clear as possible. It is especially important to get this right when completing academic writing assignments.
Both options contain a list of sources that you read in order to write intelligently about the topic of the paper or essay. Both require that sources be listed alphabetically by the primary author's last name. Each entry in both also contains the same kinds of information concerning authorship, title of the work, the publisher, the date the source was published, and so on.
The difference between the two is this: A list of references contains only the sources that you specifically cite within your paper or essay. A bibliography, on the other hand, can contain sources you read and which readers might find valuable to know about even though you didn't specifically cite them within the body of your writing. The bibliography option gives you the opportunity to show how much background reading you did to inform your writing. For example, suppose you wrote a paper about the most recent worldwide economic downturn and you read 50 different articles about it. When writing the paper, you only end up citing 20 of those articles. But you did read those other 30 articles, which shows a lot of effort, although you didn't need to specifically refer to them in the paper. If you include a bibliography at the end of your paper, it would include entries for all 50 articles even though you only cited 20 of them in the text.
When you're writing academic papers or school assignments, make sure you find out from your teachers or professors if they want a bibliography or references. You also need to find out what style will guide how you craft the entries in your listing. There are quite a few different styles, some of which are very specialized to specific fields, such as engineering or anthropology. However, there are some pretty common styles used in educational institutions as follows:
APA style: This is one of the most common styles used in academic writing. It comes from the American Psychological Association (APA). It is commonly used in the social sciences, including sociology, psychology, social work, medicine (especially nursing), economics, and so on.
MLA Style: The Modern Language Association (MLA) provides style guidelines that are commonly used in some of the humanities, such as English, language studies, art, theatre, and so on.
CMS Style: This one comes from the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) and is also one that is often used in the humanities, including literature, the arts, and some fields of history. It is a style often used in the publishing industry, from trade and academic publishers to many journals. It's the most comprehensive of all the style guides, and many of the other styles will point you towards CMS to resolve questions and issues they don't specifically cover.
Turabian Style: This style is very similar to CMS because it was created by Kate Turabian at the University of Chicago. She was the graduate school dissertation secretary for the University of Chicago for 28 years and she wrote up her own style guide called A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.
AP Style: Not to be confused with APA, this one comes from the Associate Press (AP) and is the go-to guide for those in the fields of journalism, communications, and business courses.
Here's where things can get a little confusing, because each style wants to call your list of sources at the end of your paper something different as follows:
Note that in all of the above cases, except as noted, the listing would only include those works specifically cited in the body of your writing. Again, it's going to depend on whether or not your teacher or professor asks for a bibliography or list of references that governs your choice between the two. There are even styles that tell you to call your listing a bibliography even though it will only contain sources cited in your paper. Because of the confusion this can generate, always look to your instructor for the final word on what you should do.
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