If you’re lucky, you’re one of the people who enjoys the process of writing, of crafting your thoughts against the background of what other illustrious thinkers have done before you, and of course, remembering to give them full credit where it is due. One of the most important ways to do that is through the bibliography found at the end of your work. However, before marching forward into that task it is best to have a clear understanding of what a bibliography is exactly, and what it isn’t, as there is nothing more frustrating than handing in a great work only to get docked on technicalities of presentation, important as they are.
Bibliography? References? Works Cited?
There are a few ways that you will be able to determine which of these closely-related but critically-different styles of citation you will need. Keeping it short and to the point, make sure you read any related instructions carefully. Either those instructions will specifically name one of the above three styles, or, it will name a specific referencing format, such as MLA, APA, Chicago, or Harvard, each of which has its own rule book about which style to use, and exactly how to format it. Make sure you are clear on this in advance, as getting it wrong and losing marks can be a real drag after pouring your heart and soul in the content itself!
A Proper Bibliography
If your instructions identify MLA as the citation style to use, then you will be using a bibliography. What is a bibliography compared to say, a Works Cited or References page? Well, we’re glad you asked. The primary difference between these styles is that a bibliography, and only a bibliography includes all the materials you may have used, or relied on at some point in the process of forming your ideas and writing them down. In contrast, the other styles only require that you record the reference for anything you have quoted or referenced directly in the text.
What’s the difference? Simple. In order to write about the magic of astrophysics you might read everything that Stephen Hawkins ever wrote, however, when it comes to what you write, you may only decide to reference data from one or two, and/or you may only directly quote one or two of these materials. In a Works Cited or References page you will only record the ones you used directly, and not the books you may have read to inspire you along the way, if it isn’t used directly in the text. A bibliography however, is a record of everything you may have used not only to write the paper but to inspired the ideas that led you there, whether or not it appears in the text itself.
In order to format a bibliography you will need to have a point of reference, such as a copy of the MLA handbook. However, this too is not automatic, and requires caution. Find out precisely which version of the MLA handbook an instructor wants you to use, as the subtle differences between one and another can mean the difference between getting it right and getting it wrong!
The truth is, citations and referencing are some of the most tedious parts of writing an essay or dissertation, but they still must be done precisely correct, or all your other hard work will suffer as a result! The best tip? Write your bibliography in full when you are ready to start, but before you begin the paper itself. You’ll feel great when you reach the end and realize that the most boring part is already done! Good luck.