If you aren't familiar with writing bibliographies as part of your assignments, it can feel pretty confusing. Often, bibliographies are an afterthought or something left to the last minute. However, if you collect the information as you study, bibliographies can be a hassle-free part of your project. 

In this guide, we explain exactly what a bibliography is, the different referencing styles and where to find the necessary information. 

What is a bibliography? 

A bibliography is the list of sources you used to build your assignment. You should include anything you actively referenced in your work and anything you read as part of your project's research and learning phase, even if you don't explicitly cite them within your project.  

What are primary and secondary sources? 

Your course teacher may request you order your bibliography using primary and secondary sources. This is much more simple than it sounds.  

A primary source refers to works created by people directly connected with the topic you are writing about. For example, if you are discussing a psychological study, a primary source would be a psychologist who was actively involved in the study. 

On the other hand, secondary sources refer to any authors that discuss the topic you are studying but have no direct association.  

writing a bibliography

What should you include in a bibliography? 

We recommend compiling your bibliography as you study. Whether or not you directly reference sources, if you use them as part of your studies, they should be included. By collecting this information and building your bibliography as you go, you’ll find it far less stressful and one less thing to worry about.  

Information required for referencing printed sources: 

  • The name of the author. 
  • The title of the publication or article. 
  • The date of publication. 
  • The page number in the book where the citation can be found. 
  • The name of the publishing company. 
  • If you’re referencing a magazine or printed encyclopedia, record the volume number. 

Information required for referencing web sources: 

  • The name of the author or editor. 
  • The title of the webpage. 
  • The company that created the webpage. 
  • The URL of the piece. 
  • The last date you visited the webpage. 

Where to find this information 

The information you need to include in your bibliography will be located in different places, which can be pretty frustrating, particularly if you’ve left your referencing to the last minute. However, there are a few specific places where this information is likely to be found: 

  • The contents page (for magazine or journal articles). 
  • The first, second or editorial page (for newspapers). 
  • The header or footer of the webpage. 
  • The contact, or about, page of the website. 
writing a bibliography

What are the different bibliography styles?  

In addition to structuring your bibliography correctly, depending on whether your source is a book, magazine, newspaper or webpage, you need to find out what bibliographic style is required. 

 Different course tutors will ask for a specific referencing style. This means that you simply present your source information in a different order.  

There are four main styles that you might be asked to follow: MLA, APA, Harvard or MHRA, and the chosen style will change your reference order:  

MRL reference order 

  1. Full name of the author (last name first). 
  2. The title of the book. 
  3. Publication place. 
  4. The name of the book publisher. 
  5. The publication date. 

APA/Harvard reference order  

  1. If using Harvard referencing, title your bibliography as ‘References’. 
  2. Author’s last name. 
  3. Author's first initial. 
  4. The publication date (in brackets). 
  5. The book title. 
  6. The publication place. 
  7. The name of the book publisher. 

MHRA reference order  

  1. Author’s first and last name 
  2. The title of the book 
  3. Publication place. 
  4. The name of the book publisher. 
  5. The publication date 

Points three to five should all be included in the same bracket. 

writing a bibliography

How to write a bibliography 

Whatever the style needed for your bibliography, there are some simple rules to follow for success: 

  1. Collect citation information as you go. 
  2. All citations must be listed alphabetically using the author's last name (if using the MHRA style, use the author’s first name). 
  3. If you can’t source the author's name, alphabetise using the book or article title.  
  4. If there are multiple authors of an article or book, alphabetise by the first author. 
  5. Consistency is key. All the information must be listed in exactly the same way. 
  6. Each source should begin on a new line.  
  7. Bibliographies should be placed at the end of your assignment.

If you’re unsure about constructing your bibliography, get in touch with your tutor, who will be able to help. 

We hope this handy guide clears up any confusion you have about referencing styles. If you’re looking to level up your learning, our experienced learning advisers are here to help. For more information, browse our complete range of courses or give us a call on 0121 630 3000.