Reference list vs. bibliography
Reference lists (in MLA style called “lists of works cited”) contain a complete list of all the sources (books, journal articles, websites, etc.) that you have cited directly in a document. That means that if there are in-text citations for a source there is a reference list entry, and vice versa.
Bibliographies, on the other hand, contain all sources that you have used, whether they are directly cited or not. A bibliography includes sources that you have used to generate ideas or ‘read around’ a topic, but have not referred to directly in the body of the document.
Which to use
For most assignments at Massey University, you will be expected to provide only a reference list. If you have used any source in your assignment you are expected to say where you have used it by citing it directly.
Some assignments may require a reference list and a bibliography, or a bibliography in place of a reference list. If this is the case, you will be instructed to in your course materials. Some referencing styles (for example, Oxford style) always use a bibliography in place of a reference list. Some lecturers may use the term “bibliography” to mean a reference list, so if there is any uncertainty it's best to ask your lecturer.
Styles of reference list and bibliography
An annotated bibliography is a type of assignment that involves a list of sources, but also a summary and evaluation of each source's content and purpose. For more information, see annotated bibliography.
Books and other publications often distinguish between “selected” bibliographies and “full” bibliographies. Selected bibliographies only list a few of the most important works cited. Full bibliographies list every work cited and potentially other relevant sources. Again, you will be told directly if you need to do this.
Page authorised by Director, CTL
Last updated on 25 October, 2012
by Jeff Hume-Pratuch
Did you know that there’s no such thing as a bibliography in APA Style? It’s a fact! APA Style uses text citations and a reference list, rather than footnotes and a bibliography, to document sources.
A reference list and a bibliography look a lot alike: They’re both composed of entries arranged alphabetically by author, for example, and they include the same basic information. The difference lies not so much in how they look as in what they contain.
A bibliography usually contains all the works cited in a paper, but it may also include other works that the author consulted, even if they are not mentioned in the text. Some bibliographies contain only the sources that the author feels are most significant or useful to readers.
In APA Style, however, each reference cited in text must appear in the reference list, and each entry in the reference list must be cited in text. If you cite only three sources in your paper, your reference list will be very short—even if you had to read 50 sources to find those three gems! (Hopefully, that hard work will pay off on your next assignment.)
The APA Style Experts are often asked to provide the “official APA-approved format” for annotated bibliographies (i.e., bibliographies that contain the author’s comments on each source). As you may have guessed, there isn’t one; APA Style doesn’t use bibliographies of any sort. In addition, though, the reference list in APA Style contains only the information that is necessary to help the reader uniquely identify and access each source. That’s why there is no format for an annotated bibliography in the Publication Manual.