What Is a Bibliography, and Why Do You Need One?

You’ve done your research and have written a compelling essay on the existence of extraterrestrial life in the universe. You’ve developed an argument claiming that not only do aliens exist, but they have even visited our planet. You are ready to knock your readers off their earthly feet.

However, it is going to be inherently difficult to convince your reader to agree with you if you don’t have proof.  Unless you can support your argument in a clear and concise way, it won’t matter if you come in peace, or phone home, or have an army of little green men on your side.

Sorry, I’ll stop.


Okay, that’s the last one. Promise.

what is a bibliography
Image credit Rob Sheridan (Creative Commons)

You can claim something, but unless you have quotes, facts, and figures to back it up, it’s just an opinion.

Next, you can include lots of quotes, claims, and outside information, but unless it comes from a source with a previously established reputation, your reader won’t take it seriously. You may believe your dad when he swears he saw a UFO when he was 12 years old, but that doesn’t mean I do.

Or maybe you have information from a reputable source, but unless you can prove it by showing me that source, then I can’t be sure that you didn’t make it up.

Writing a reputable academic work involves a hierarchy of reliability.

This is the hierarchy:

  • First, you must be able to back up your claim with research
  • Second, you have to ensure the research is sound and your sources are credible.
  • Finally, you must be able to show the reader your sources, so that they can make an informed decision.

This is where the bibliography comes in. It offers you the chance to back up every claim you make with a list of the sources of your information.

So, what is a bibliography? Why do you need one? Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a Bibliography?

what is a bibliography

Biblio- means “relating to a book or books,” while –graphy is any “descriptive science.

When we put the two together, we get a rudimentary definition of a bibliography. It is a description of the books used during your research process.

The point of a bibliography is to make your readers aware of the sources you used throughout your work on a project. That means it must include all of the sources you used while researching the topic, whether you quoted from those sources or not.

In general, the bibliography will be a list. This list will clearly and completely compile your sources at the end of your work so readers can easily see where your research comes from.

In general, each reference in your bibliography will include:

  • The name of the author(s)
  • The title of the resource
  • The publisher’s information, including names, locations, and dates
  • The page numbers

Depending on the referencing system you use, you may need to include more information, but you will rarely, if ever, include less. We will talk more about making sense of the various systems later.

Now that you know what a bibliography is, why do you really need one?

Why Do You Need a Bibliography?

As we talked about in the introduction, a bibliography is necessary to prove that your research came from reputable sources. This usually includes scholars, academics, historians, scientists and the like.

This typically excludes Aunt Debra after her third Manhattan, the Wikipedia post authored by the freshman at Timbuktu Community College, or any firsthand account from your frat brother Kyle.

what is a bibliography
Image credit: Erik Gustafson (Creative Commons)


However, a bibliography is not solely for protecting your reader against misinformation. It also has the back of all those writers who came before you. It can also protect your writing from others.

When the ideas in your essay end up being lauded as the best of the century, do you want some pipsqueak on the other side of the country copying them into his own essay and claiming them as his own?

So, one of the main purposes of a bibliography is to give credit where credit is due. Avoid plagiarism by including all of your research material in your bibliography. Let your readers know where the basis for your ideas came from in a neat list at the end of your work.

This will also help future researchers. When students fifty years from now are looking into the same subject, they may consult your work. It will be very helpful for them to have a clear list of all of your sources.

This list should include all the research material that you consulted throughout your research and writing process, whether you quoted directly from it or not.

Next, let’s discuss the difference between a bibliography and a works cited page.

How Is a Bibliography Different from a Works Cited or References List?

what is a bibliography

It is commonly believed that a works cited page, a reference list, and a bibliography are all essentially the same thing. While it’s true that they are similar, sharing many of the same features, there will be times in your academic career when you are asked to provide both a reference list and a bibliography at the end of your work.

So, there has to be a difference.

All works cited and reference lists can be considered bibliographies. However, not all bibliographies can be considered works cited or reference lists. So, what exactly is the difference?

A reference list or works cited, named differently depending on the referencing system, is a list of all of the resources that were directly used in your work. This includes any works that you pulled quotes from to use in your essay. This also includes any works that you may have paraphrased while writing your piece.

Anything cited in your paper should show up on these lists.

These lists are extremely important, because they protect the work of other writers from plagiarism and ensure the integrity of your own writing process.

A bibliography will include these same sources as well, but it will go one step further. The difference between a bibliography and a reference list is that the bibliography includes all works that were used at any point in the research process.

Perhaps, at the beginning of the research phase, you read a book or two about UFO sightings around the world. These books provided you with interesting background knowledge for further research. However, you found all of the claims in the books to be unsubstantiated, so you decided not to include any of them in your final project.

Unlike when putting together a works cited or references page, these books should be included in the bibliography.

This may seem pointless, but when writing a longer work, every resource provides context for your other resources. So, they all must be included in the list of sources you consulted throughout the process, which we now know is called a bibliography.

Because the resources listed in a bibliography are used to varying degrees, your professor will sometimes ask you to write an annotated bibliography for your project.

An annotated bibliography is exactly the same as a normal bibliography, but it asks you to take it a step further. After each reference in an annotated bibliography, you will write a short explanation of the source. Within these explanations, you will discuss whether or not you found the source to be accurate and relevant and how, or if, you used it in your actual writing.

This may seem like a lot of information, but there are great sources out there to help you make sense of it all.

Read How to Write an Annotated Bibliography that Works

What Are Some Resources to Help With a Bibliography?

There are many different referencing systems for citing your work both within your writing and in your bibliography. Each has its own subtle differences.

Choosing one can depend on various factors, including the field of study and the eccentricity of your professor. It is important to confirm with your professor which referencing system is the best for your project.

Once you narrow your focus, it can still be a headache to make sense of them all. Here is a quick list of the most frequently used systems along with a link that will help you learn the ends and outs of using each correctly.

Here are a couple of posts on the Kibin blog that can help you:

There are various helpful websites around the interwebs that will help you when it comes time to flesh out that beautiful bibliography. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Writing a bibliography may seem a bit complicated, but it really isn’t. Don’t let the process freak you out. Take the time to talk to your professor, read through these resources, and take a look at a few example bibliographies.

For the sake of convenience, I’ve provided a short sample bibliography below. In it you will see a few examples of references related to UFO research.

what is a bibliography

This example includes three books that could be used in the process of researching extraterrestrials. This bibliography is formatted in MLA style, so a few subtle things will change depending on the referencing system you use.

However, you will notice that the general information I included and many features, such as listing the references in alphabetical order, will be the same no matter which referencing system you use.

Wrapping Up

alien-29470_640At first glance, bibliographies can seem pointless. But, as you can see, there are many reasons to create one including protecting your writing and the work of the writers who came before you.

Also, by including a thorough bibliography at the end of your work, you complete that hierarchy of reliability that we talked about at the very beginning of this blog post.

Now that you understand the ins and outs of a good bibliography, you are ready to write your own. Along the way, you may even prove that aliens are using iPhones to phone home.

You can check out some examples of annotated bibliographies in the Kibin database before you get started on your own.

After you write your bibliography, you can send it over to one of our expert editors to make sure your citations (and content) are out-of-this-world good.

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.