Sourcing & Bibliographies

Hello all! Sorry it’s been a while, but August has sort of whizzed by me somehow. At any rate, today I’ll be going over how to cite your sources in nonfiction works, as well as how to organize a proper bibliography. It may seem like a daunting task at first, but it’s really not that hard once you get the hang of a few basic rules:

There are multiple ways or “styles” when it comes to citing sources both in-text and on source lists. Which one you use typically depends on what kind of book, paper, etc. you are writing, as well as who you’re writing it for (e.g. if your professor tells you to use a certain style in a research paper, that’s the one you’ll use). I typically use the format provided by the Modern Language Association (MLA), as it is the one I’m most familiar with, and most of my works are not about subjects that require other styles.

In-text citations are little indicators within a sentence, paragraph, etc. that the material that came immediately before is not your own original work, but the work of someone else that you are citing. In the case of direct quotes (i.e. the passage uses the exact words of the source author), it is indicated by quotation marks. Other times, an asterisk or a subscript number in brackets is all the indicator you have. Now, this indicator can refer you to a source listed at the bottom of the page or a source listed at the very end of a work. It is not unheard of for the source to be listed in both places, but usually in this case the on-page source is in an abbreviated form.

Now, if you are citing multiple times from a single source, you don’t need to list that source out in its entirety every time. Just put “ibid.” down instead. If you refer to a second source, then refer beck to the first source again, then list the author’s name before the “ibid.” just to distinguish.

Bibliographies are traditionally lists of books you referred to when writing a specific work, though nowadays they tend to refer to sources of all kinds (hence, they are sometimes called “works cited” pages instead). Either way, they come at the end of a given work, whether it be a whole book or just a single chapter from a textbook etc. While there are different ways to list your sources depending on the work, the vast majority of them will have sources organized by the authors’ last names. In the case of multiple authors, just go with the last name of the first author. If no there is no author, then use the title of the work itself to alphabetize.

Now, what exactly do you need to make a source listing for a particular work? Obviously I’ve already mentioned title and author name, but you typically need other info as well. Date of publication, format (i.e. print, web, digital, etc.), publisher name (and location, if possible), and sometimes a url (in the case of web sources) are all usually needed to properly cite a source. The order of this information depends on what format you’re using, but again, most of the time, author last name comes first.

This is a lot of information to take in all at once, and it probably won’t make sense without some examples. If you want to see sources listed in a nonstandard (i.e. not alphabetical and without author name) order, take a look at my Other Works page. Otherwise, look at the end of any research paper, school textbook, or other nonfiction work that is likely to have had a lot of research put into it, and you’ll probably find a works cited page, if not several. As far as constructing the individual citations themselves (i.e. getting all the information in the right order), there are countless books and web resources available on the subject. There are even some websites that will organize your information into proper citation format for you, though in my opinion, it is much quicker and easier to memorize the proper format and do it yourself. If you do it at the beginning of your research project, it will save you a lot of time at the end.

So, there you have it. A bit much, and perhaps not the most exciting subject, but hopefully it will be of use to some out there who are interested in doing research projects–maybe even to the extent that the research is done and the work already written–but don’t know quite how to organize their sources just yet. If you have any further questions, or would like me to explain individual citation styles in more depth in future, please let me know in the comments. Thanks, and I’ll see you in September!

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and Knights of Aralia, as well as the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children. Several of his shorter works have also appeared in various print and online periodicals over the years. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favorite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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