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What goes in a bibliography

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Like a trail of bread crumbs, a bibliography leads back to your sources
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What goes in a bibliography and the ABCs of how what you must include

Papers written for school or publication are often followed by a bibliography. The answer to what goes in a bibliography is actually very simple: Basically, a bibliography is a list of source materials that an author uses to compose a research paper.  Flip to the end of a nonfiction book to see examples of bibliographies that cite a variety of sources, including other books, magazines and websites. 

If you’re uncertain what goes in a bibliography, imagine that someone will want to review your research. To do this, they’ll need a comprehensive list that tells them everything they need to know to locate the sources you used. If you buy a whole stack of books from a bookstore but end up using information from only two of them, those same two books should go in your bibliography. The same goes for newspapers and websites. You only include the sources with information that you actually end up using in your own work.

The purpose of the bibliography is to give credit to primary sources you read on your research topic, and make it possible for someone to check your research.

Bibliographies aren’t complicated to put together, but it makes life a lot easier to create a working list of your sources as you go. Write a letter beside each source and include this letter beside each quote or fact that you write down in your notes. As your number of sources increases, this system will ensure each piece of research is credited to the appropriate source.

Bibliographies go at the end of the final text on a separate page. There are multiple formats to use, depending on the type of source and the teacher's preferred style. The Chicago Manual, APA and MLA are common styles. Remember that what goes in a bibliography should be able to help someone else find your sources.

Here are examples of MLA formats for the most common types of sources for a bibliography. Pay attention to the punctuation and order in which information is listed. The sources should be listed alphabetically by the first element, which is often the author’s last name. Use hanging indentation, which means the first line of an entry is not indented, but subsequent lines are.

Book by one author

Author’s Last Name, First Name. Book Title. City where book was published: Publisher, date of              publication.

Note - provides examples for single book citations.

Book by two authors

Last Name, First Name and First Name Last Name. Book Title. City: Publisher, Date.

Note - The author with the last name that comes first in the alphabet should be listed first. See for more bibliography examples.

Encyclopedia or Dictionary

Author’s last name, First name. “Title of article or entry.” Title of book. Date

Magazine or Newspaper article

Author’s Last Name, First Name. “Article title.” Publication title Volume # Date: pages.


Author’s Last Name, First name. “Title of the article or entry.” Title of website or database. Editor. Date of publication or last update, any sponsoring institution. Date of access and full url.

Note - provides this example for a website:

"Great Gatsby Study Guide." 5 January 2002. 11 March 2003.

Always be careful when reviewing sources on the internet. Website urls that end in .gov, .edu and .org are almost always solid resources, as well as those that belong to newspapers and magazines. Forums and websites where anyone can contribute are not credible sources for research.

Best of luck and check out our top ten research paper tips before you dig in to your work.


Colorado State University: Q&A on Footnotes and Bibliography

Richard Stockton College Library: Review of Essential Information for a Bibliography

Science Buddies: Writing a Bibliography

Study Guide: MLA Documentation

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