Understanding and writing a Bibliography in an academic paper
A bibliography is a list of sources appended to a research paper for readers to consult if they wish to obtain more information on anything covered in the paper in question. Although ‘bibliography’ and ‘references’ are terms that are often used as synonyms, we must clarify at the outset that they are not actually the same thing. This article offers information about a bibliography and also explains how it differs from a reference list.
Common use of bibliography
While some academic work also includes bibliographies, one of the best ways to understand the context for using a bibliography is with reference to fiction novels. While developing the content for a fiction novel, the author may do extensive background reading and research on a specific issue (e.g. medical procedures, a historical period) in order to (re)create scenarios and events within the novel that reflect real life as accurately as possible.
However, it is unlikely that they would directly cite these references within the novel. The list of background reading that they did, or recommend to readers should they wish to explore the topic further, would instead be compiled as a ‘Bibliography’ or ‘Recommended reading’ at the end of the book.
Bibliography vs. References
References (sometimes also titled ‘Works Cited’) give more detailed information about the sources cited in, or referred to, within the body of the paper. You would commonly see ‘References’ lists in academic work, such as journal articles or books.
On the other hand, a bibliography offers the same level of information about the sources that are consulted while preparing the paper but not specifically referred to within the text itself.
As these serve distinctly different purposes, it is useful to note, therefore, that any publication can contain both a list of references and a bibliography.
(Follow the) Naming Convention
Some publishers and institutions may request that authors use the word ‘Bibliography’ instead of ‘References’. (This, perhaps, is the reason for the common confusion between the two.) It is not uncommon for students to be asked to submit essays and Masters or Doctoral dissertations/theses using the heading ‘Bibliography’ to refer to the list of references they have cited within their work. However, this is likely more of an exception than a rule and will depend on the individual publisher’s/institution’s specific requirements.
As such, it’s important to always check the submission requirements as you prepare any written work for examination or review. (Read more here about following journal guidelines: Understanding and following the Information for Authors)
Compiling sources for a bibliography
The mechanics of writing and formatting the details of your sources will be the same, irrespective of whether that section is titled ‘References’, ‘Works Cited’ or ‘Bibliography’.
The specifics of how you write those sources depend entirely on which style or reference guide you are using (whether that is a personal choice or the preferred requirements of a journal/publisher/institution to whom you are submitting your work). It is therefore very important to check and understand the journal or publication requirements (including their preferred referencing style guide) before you write and submit your paper (or thesis, or book etc.), so that you can format your sources, along with the rest of your manuscript, correctly.
Formatting sources for a bibliography
The tiny, intricate details required for writing and formatting sources can be very challenging. However, remember that if you supply all the necessary elements of a reference, a reference formatting professional (such as a proof-reader or a copy editor) or service can then format and punctuate each reference easily. Alternatively, you might prefer to use a referencing software/programme as you write, such as Endnote, Mendeley or Zotera, which allows you to select your preferred referencing style and formats all your sources accordingly.
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