How to Write a Reference List (or Bibliography) For an Essay

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An essay without a reference list is like a house without foundations – weak and unsupported!

After all, the reference list is ‘proof’ that the books and journals you referred to in your essay do exist. In turn, this makes your essay seem more credible.

But a reference list will only enhance your essay if it is accurate. That said, let’s explore how to write a clear and accurate reference list for an essay.

How to label your list of references

Firstly, make sure you know what to call the list of references at the end of your essay. The most common name for this list is a ‘reference list’. But some referencing styles call it a ‘bibliography’ or even a ‘works cited’ list. Also, it’s possible to have a ‘reference list’ and a ‘bibliography’ in the same essay.

What’s the difference between a reference list and a bibliography?

Generally speaking, a ‘reference list’ includes a list of all the sources that were cited in the essay – nothing more and nothing less. A bibliography, on the other hand, includes works that were consulted but not specifically cited in the essay. This is the traditional meaning of the term bibliography, at least.

But, in OSCOLA style, the ‘bibliography’ functions more like a ‘reference list’.

Confused? Don’t worry! This table will show you how to label the list of references according to your chosen referencing style.

Referencing styleHow to label the refs at the end of the essayDescriptionAPA

Referencing styleHow to label the refs at the end of the essayDescription
APA‘Reference list’ only
(Bibliography not used)
The reference list should only contain references that were cited in the essay.
OSCOLA‘Bibliography’The bibliography should only contain references that were cited in the essay.
Harvard‘Reference list’ is most commonly used


A ‘Bibliography’ is rarely provided

The reference list should only contain references that were cited in the essay.


A supplementary bibliography may include additional works that were read but not cited.

ASA‘Reference list’ onlyThe reference list should only contain references that were cited in the essay.
MLA‘Works cited’ and,


‘Works consulted’ (optional)

‘Works cited’ includes all the publications that were cited in the essay, whereas ‘works consulted’ includes publications that were read but not cited.
Chicago in-text references‘Reference list’The reference list should only contain references that were cited in the body of the essay.
Chicago footnote references‘Bibliography’ (if anything)If the footnotes contain all the information required, an end-of-text bibliography is not usually necessary.

General rules to follow

Once you know how to label your list of references, you can start putting the list together. Here are some general rules that apply to all referencing styles:

  • Start your list of references on a new page – it looks a lot neater!
  • Get the placement right – references usually come at the end of the essay but before the appendix (if applicable).
  • Alphabetical order – the references should be arranged in alphabetical order (by surname).
  • Remove hyperlinks – that way, your reference list will look neat and tidy when it’s viewed on-screen.
  • Don’t change Americanisms – References should be written in their original form. So, if you’re citing the ‘Journal of Behavior Studies’, don’t be tempted to change this to the ‘Journal of Behaviour Studies’.
  • Word count – Remember that the reference list does not contribute to the total word count, so remember to deduct these words when you calculate the final word count.

When looking for sources, you might have noticed that some publications offer ‘suggested citations’. It can be helpful to copy and paste these suggested citations, but you will probably need to make some changes to ensure the citation is compliant with your referencing style. That said, let’s take a look at each referencing style in a bit more depth.

How to write a reference list in APA style

Key points to remember:

  • As a minimum, the reference should contain the author’s name, the date of the publication, the title, and the source (I.e. where it came from).
  • Additional information is also required for journals, such as the page number(s), the volume number and the issue number (see example).
  • The doi should be provided at the end of the reference (if applicable).
  • All lines except the first line should be indented – this is called a hanging indent. (Word: Paragraph>Special>Hanging).
  • Remember to put a full stop at the end of each reference.


Journal article
Corsaro, W. (2020). Big Ideas from Little People: What Research with Children Contributes to Social Psychology. Social Psychology Quarterly, 83(1), 5-25.
Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin Books.

For further guidance, check out APA Seventh Edition! This resource is great as it provides plenty of examples.

How to write a bibliography in OSCOLA

At the end of your essay, you should report a ‘Table of Cases’ a ‘Table of Legislation’, and finally, a ‘Bibliography’. In OSCOLA, the bibliography should include all secondary sources that were cited in the essay.

The secondary sources are listed in a very similar way to the footnotes except that the author’s name is inverted (surname, first initial).


12 Smith R, CSR in Business (Routledge 2019)

If there are any unattributed works, these should begin with ——.

—— Punishment and Responsibility (OUP 1968)

You’ll notice that OSCOLA is a pretty minimalist referencing style. This means it’s quite easy to get the hang of. You can find full and detailed guidance in this OSCOLA referencing handbook.

How to write a reference list in Harvard style

There is no official manual for Harvard style like there is for APA and Chicago. Rather, universities adopt their own versions of Harvard style. So, if your faculty uses Harvard style, get a hold of your university’s referencing guide to check the requirements.

  • Generally speaking, though, a Harvard-style reference list is similar to an APA-style reference list, in that you must provide the author’s name, date of publication, title, and source. Similarly, book titles and journal titles should be italicised.
  • Unlike APA, there is no need to add a hanging indent.
  • Finally, when citing books, you should provide both the publisher’s name and location (Publisher Location: Publisher Name).


Burr, V. (2003). Social Constructionism. London: Routledge.
Journal article
Carroll, A. (1991). The pyramid of corporate social responsibility: toward the moral management of organizational stakeholders. Business Horizons, 34(4), 39–48.

This Harvard referencing guide from The University of East Anglia is comprehensive yet easy to understand – definitely one of the best guides out there!

When referencing books, you will often need to provide the publisher’s name as well as the location it was published. This information can be found in the first few pages of your book. If you don’t have a hard copy, use Google Books or Amazon preview to view the first few pages of the book. Also, Amazon tends to list the publisher’s name in the ‘description’ of the book.

ASA reference list guidance

Key points to remember:

  • ASA is fairly similar to APA but notice the differences in punctuation (see examples).
  • The reference list must be double-spaced.
  • You should include the author’s first name and surname (unless the first name was not included in the original publication).
  • Also, the first author’s name should be inverted (surname, first name) but any subsequent names should not be inverted (first name, surname).


Hagen, John and Ruth D. Peterson, eds. 1995. Crime and Inequality. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Journal article
Aseltine, Robert H., Jr. and Ronald C. Kessler. 1993. “Marital Disruption and Depression in a Community Sample.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 34(3):237-51.

Note how a colon is used to introduce the page numbers. This is one of the key differences between APA and ASA style. For more information, check out the ASA quick style guide.

MLA ‘works cited’ guidance

As mentioned, the works cited list is equivalent to a reference list, so it must list all the publications that were cited in the essay.

Key points to remember:

  • The references should be formatted with a hanging indent (like APA).
  • Uniquely, the date comes towards the end of the reference.
  • First and last names are required (inverted)
  • The publisher’s name is required but the location is not.


Brown, Roger David. Blood on the Coal: The Story of the Springhill Mining Disasters. Lancelot Press, 1990.
Journal article
Anderson, Jay. “Living History: Simulating Everyday Life in Living Museums.” American Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 3, 1982, pp. 290-306.

Want to know more? This MLA resource is highly recommended!

How to write a reference list in Chicago style (in-text references)

Key points to remember:

  • Like APA and MLA, the references should be indented (hanging)
  • The author’s first name and surname should be provided
  • For books, the publisher’s location and name are required.
  • Notice that commas are rarely used (except to separate the volume and issue number of a journal).
  • A doi should be provided after an electronic resource. If there is no doi, a URL is acceptable.


Smith, Zadie. 2016. Swing Time. New York: Penguin Press.
Journal article
Keng, Shao-Hsun, Chun-Hung Lin, and Peter F. Orazem. 2017. “Expanding College Access in Taiwan, 1978–2014: Effects on Graduate Quality and Income Inequality.” Journal of Human Capital 11, no. 1 (Spring): 1–34.

The Chicago Manual of Style is updated regularly so always use the latest guidance. Finally, if you are using the Chicago footnote style of referencing, check out the bibliography guidance here.

Is the reference list really that important?

In a word, yes!

Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve just finished reading an essay…

Overall, it made some interesting points, but there were no references to back up the claims that were made. Would you think this was a good essay? Would you trust what the author had written? Or would you think it was lacking?

Once you see things from the reader’s perspective, the importance of the reference list suddenly becomes clear.

In essence, this special list boosts the credibility of your essay. So, don’t make it an after-thought.

Need help with your referencing list or bibliography? Our essay writing service can help!

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