What Is a Bibliography or Works Cited Page?

wiseGEEK Writing Contest

A bibliography or works cited page is a list of the sources or reference material used to write a paper, essay, or article. These “outside” sources include any print or electronic documents or spoken words that provide information not already part of the writer’s knowledge base. Writers should place the bibliography page, which lists these sources, at the end of their essay or article. Documentation of those sources at the end of the paper is simply another part of the writing process.

The reason a writer should include a works cited page is to avoid plagiarism—not giving proper credit for the information and/or words, which are not the author’s own. For students, another reason to include the works cited page is that most teachers require it and will mark the paper down heavily if the page is missing.

If an annotated bibliography is requested, the writer must also include a brief synopsis (2-4 sentences) of the sources used for the paper. A source’s synopsis follows right after its corresponding entry on the works cited/bibliography page.

When choosing the format for the works cited page, writers of academic papers commonly use either the MLA or APA formats. MLA stands for Modern Language Association, and writers use this format for papers written for the language arts or humanities fields. APA stands for American Psychology Association, and writers use this format for papers written for studies in the social sciences.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) and the Council of Science Editors Style (CSE) are two other formats that may be used. However, these styles are used less frequently. If unsure which style or format to use, it may be necessary to check with the teacher of the class or the editor of the publication if the paper is not for a class.

A good reference for writers needing to document a paper is The Brief Wadsworth Handbook (formerly The Brief Holt Handbook or The Brief Handbook) by Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. This book offers examples of the different types of sources (electronic, print, or spoken) a writer may use and how each documentation style handles them differently.

Some information usually found in an entry on the works cited page includes the name(s) of the author(s) and or editor(s), title of the work, city of publication, publishing company, copyright year or date of publication. If provided, the edition and/or volume number of the work is also included as well as the date the writer accessed the work if the source is from the Internet.

The details that should be included for the work cited entry are dependent on the type of source; therefore, it may be important to consult a reference work such as The Brief Wadsworth Handbook to determine what information is necessary.

Additionally, there are online tools available to writers to assist with the creation of the works cited page. Some popular sites include www.citationmachine.net, www.easybib.com, and www.noodletools.com.

Creating a bibliography/works cited page may seem a daunting or confusing task. However, it sometimes helps to think of it simply as a math formula. The writer simply plugs the information in the right sequence with the proper punctuation, and the result is a properly documented paper that avoids plagiarism.

submitted by Kelley Hayton