The Difference Between a Works Cited and a Bibliography

Updated: Oct 31, 2016

Works Cited Page and a Bibliography Page are used quite interchangeably, yet have different purposes, meanings and implications.

Most everything written or published in the higher academy is cited. The citation of sources prevents plagiarism, helps a professor fact-check an essay or paper for accuracy, and can aid the student in finding information if they decide to return to a certain source in the future. Learning the importance of citing sources is something any and every student should learn wholeheartedly and always embrace because, at the college or university level, it is a fact of life.

However, with the overwhelming bombardment of information and terminology in higher education, it can be a challenge doing things the correct way – and can get very confusing. This certainly applies to a writing assignment requiring a student to cite the sources they have used, referred to or encountered in compiling information and writing an essay or research paper. A Works Cited page and Bibliography are perfect examples: the two are often used interchangeably, mean close to the same thing, yet have entirely different purposes, meanings, and implications.


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The Bibliography

Bibliographies, which are mostly found at the end of a book or published an academic article, are a list of the books or other articles referred to in a scholarly work – and are not merely a simple paper, essay or research paper written by an undergraduate. Usually printed as an appendix, bibliographies provide an overview of what has been published on a topic. Some bibliographies are annotated, meaning they include a brief summary of each work’s contents and explain how it was relevant in writing about the subject of the paper. A bibliography is an ideal starting point for the student looking to conduct research on a specific topic or range of topics. However, some professors may require their students to make a list of all the sources that informed the student writing the paper – those that may have lead the student to other, more recent sources. In this case, a bibliography may be best. 

The Works Cited

The Works Cited, often referred to as the “Works Cited Page,” is a separate page at the end of a student’s essay or research paper; it lists the sources they used in the writing and completing their assignment – whether they used information in direct quotes, rephrased summaries, the incorporation of data and general information, like statistics. Whenever a student borrows legitimate information from any reputable source (anything that is not common knowledge: “the capital of Thailand is Bangkok”), that information needs to be cited in MLA style. This list should be alphabetized by authors’ last names – or by editors’ or translators’ names – and should have “Works Cited” as a centered heading. In many cases, one’s professor may read the student’s Works Cited page first to get a feel for the kind of effort put into the assignment. 

STUDENT: Keep in Mind!

In the event, a student is not sure which exactly their professor prefers – a works cited, bibliography or an annotated bibliography – that student should talk with their professor; rather than risk getting a low grade, it is best they inquire early on in getting an assignment.

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