Differences Between a Reference List and a Bibliography

A bibliography and a reference list are terms that are often used synonymously to cite resources used to write a research paper. Even though the two words are used interchangeably, they have slightly different forms and functions. An annotated bibliography adds even more credibility to a source than a regular bibliography or a reference list and further explains why you specifically chose that reference to support your writings.

Parenthetical Citations

Include a reference list titled "References" at the end of your paper if you use parenthetical in-text citations. According to Penn State University writing tutor Kimberly Del Bright, you must include a reference section that gives credit to sources you cited directly within the context of your paper. As long as you use a reference list to acknowledge ideas and words that aren't your own and try diligently to direct the reader to the original source, you aren't infringing on copyright laws. Specifically, parenthetical in-text citations are documented using the author's last name and publishing date -- separated by a comma -- according to the American Psychological Association format.

List of All Works

Use a reference list to cite other authors' thoughts, words, ideas and direct quotations reflected in your writing. If you need to include an extended list of references, opt for a bibliography. A bibliography is used to cite specific references and any other works you consulted, even if you didn't use them as direct references in your paper. Bright states that she's seen writers confuse bibliographies and references many times, so you must determine whether you used supportive works to substantiate your paper, even if the ideas were loosely applied. If so, use a bibliography to give credit where it's due.

Annotated Bibliography

Opt for an annotated bibliography if you need to explain why a resource is credible and why you chose it for your research assignment. According to Massey University, an annotated bibliography credits the author and source, but also summarizes and analyzes the purpose of the content. Include an annotated paragraph if it helps support your research, but stick with a regular bibliography if additional specifics aren't necessary to back your writing. For example, irrelevant background details about the author and random highlights shouldn't be included. Depending on the purpose of your bibliography, annotations might summarize content, assess relevant facts or reflect on the source’s applications, according to Purdue University's Online Writing Lab. A reference list never includes additional annotations or summaries about the source.


Follow your supervisor's instructions. If your professor, editor, teacher, publisher or manager wants you to use a reference list rather than a bibliography, follow her directives. If your boss says a bibliography is the only way to go -- cite your sources accordingly. As long as you're making every effort to link your non-original content back to the source, you can use the format that satisfies your instructor's expectations.