FAQ: Bibliography, Works Cited, References?

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Works cited, references, and bibliography--aren't they all the same? Why is one professor asking for a bibliography and a works cited and another is asking for references?

Many of you come in with concerns about citing sources. For the next couple weeks, I'll try to answer some of your questions.

First of all, I do understand that correctly citing sources can be difficult. As a writer, I'm constantly looking up citation style guides just to make sure I'm not missing some important format or detail. (I use many references, but one of the easiest is the Purdue OWL; it was recently updated.) Citing is made even more difficult because guides are constantly changing to stay up-to-date with communication trends. For example, just last week I found a reputable source discussing how to cite Twitter and Facebook.

Today I'll try to help you distinguish among these three words: works cited, references, and bibliography. In the process you may even discover a question to use on your friends when you're on a long trip and begin playing silly car games. If your friend pops off with, what's the capital of North Dakota, you can whip this question at her: what's the difference between a works cited and a bibliography?

The answers.

You've probably used an in-text citation similar to this one in a research paper.

Successful presentations require adapting to the needs of the audience (Kosslyn 4).

This is called a parenthetical citation, and this particular example follows the Modern Language Association (MLA) format of listing the author-page. MLA is one popular citation style guide, and I find that because most of us learn how to write research papers from our high school English teachers, most of us are most familiar with MLA. (I recently guest lectured to students from Saudi Arabia, and I found they are not taught MLA as often as US students.)

If you use this citation style, you would have a Works Cited page at the end of your paper. Including an alphabetized list of every source you directly quote or paraphrase in your paper makes it easy for your reader to find these sources. Here's the MLA entry for this source:

Kosslyn, Stephen. Clear and to the Point. New York: Oxford Press, 2007. Print.

However, you may be more inclined to use another popular citation style guide--the American Psychological Association (APA) format. Most scientists and technical types use something closer to the APA guide. The in-text citation in this case would be slightly different:

Successful presentations require adapting to the needs of the audience (Kosslyn, 2007).

In this APA parenthetical citation the author-date method is used. (Notice a comma separates the two parts.) At the end of your paper, include a list of your references. Label this page "References." Here's the APA entry for this source:

Kosslyn, S. (2007). Clear and to the point. New York, NY: Oxford Press.

As long as you keep in mind that your pupose in using citations is to acknowledge that the ideas or words are not your own, and to help your reader locate the original source, you should be fine.

Are you still wondering what a bibliography is? A bibliography is a more extensive list of works; it includes works you consulted and that influenced your writing even if you didn't specifically mention them in your piece. I've heard these terms used incorrectly many times. You may find some people will ask you for a bibliography when what they really want is either a Works Cited or a Reference page.

And the capital of North Dakota is BISMARCK! Your friend doesn't have a chance! 

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