How to Write a Bibliography for a Research Paper: Guidelines for MLA and APA formats

Research paper writing go through several clear steps and one of them is to explain where your sources come from. Each research culminates in a citation page or bibliography, with the chosen format contingent upon your study area. Completing this part of academic writing may be challenging for most students. We’ll gladly assist you with this task if you're one of them.

This informative guide is designed to answer your question about how to write a bibliography for a research paper. You’ll gain an understanding of this section’s purpose and importance, its essential components, and its structure. We’ll delve into popular citation styles and provide a sample bibliography page to help you. 

What is a bibliography? 

Before making a bibliography, it's important to understand what it is. A bibliography is a list of all the sources you used or mentioned in your work. The way you format it depends on the style you're using, like MLA, APA, or Chicago. These three styles are the most widely used.

A research paper bibliography is a big list that includes books, journals, websites, and other sources you use for your research. It's like a record of all the things you looked at while working on your assignment. It's important to remember that it's not just the things you mention directly in your paper, but everything you used to gather information.

Creating a correct bibliography involves including these components:

  • Author(s)’ names, a pivotal element within the bibliography;
  • The full title of the referenced source material;
  • Publisher’s name;
  • Publication date of the work;
  • Page numbers, DOI, or ISBN associated with the source material.

Step-by-step guidelines to complete a bibliography 

Constructing a citation page may be quite straightforward if adhering to the correct procedures. Discover three steps to understand how to write a bibliography for a research paper.

Step 1. Develop an initial reference page.

While accumulating data for research papers, establishing an initial bibliography can be advantageous. It simplifies the final stages of your work and aids in the organization of your ideas. When composing an initial draft, ensure to compile details:

  • Author(s) and editor(s);
  • Publisher;
  • Date of publication;
  • Website;
  • Volume(s);
  • Page numbers (if needed).

Upon collecting this information, generate a bibliographic citation following your specific style.

Step 2. Provide a heading for your document.

The bibliography should commence on the final page, following any utilized endnotes. The heading’s format will differ depending on your style (Bibliography, Works Cited, or References), and it should be centered in the page’s upper part. It should maintain the same one-inch margins and titles as the rest of the text.

Step 3. Craft your citations.

The subsequent task involves arranging entries in alphabetical order. The sorting depends on the author’s surname, the corporation's name, or the respective work's title. Regardless of the chosen style, applying a half-inch hanging indent after the first line of each bibliographic citation is essential. As for spacing requirements, they diverge between Reference and Works Cited and a Bibliography page.

How to write a bibliography in MLA

According to the MLA style guide, the reference section should be titled “Works Cited” and is located at the end of the paper. MLA style is especially user-friendly for high school students and philosophers, offering clear guidelines for citing various communication sources such as blogs, web pages, and music. In MLA’s in-text citations, the format follows the author-page structure. Additionally, footnotes can be utilized to offer supplementary information. 

Here are the key requirements for correct formatting in MLA style:

  • Title;

The page should be titled “Works Cited” and centered at the top.

  • Font and spacing;

Use a legible font such as Times New Roman, size 12. Double-space the entire page, including both within and between entries.

  • Arrangement;

List entries alphabetically based on the authors’ last names. If there is no author, use the title for alphabetization.

  • Hanging indent;

Create a hanging indent for each entry. The first line of each entry should be flush left, while subsequent lines are indented by 0.5 inches (one tab space). You can adjust this indentation using the paragraph settings in your word processor.

  • Author names;

List authors' names with the last name followed by their first name, separated by a comma. If multiple authors exist, use “and” to separate the last two names. If there is no author, start with the title.

  • Title formatting;

Italicize the titles of larger works (books, films, websites) and use quotation marks for titles of shorter works (articles, poems, short stories).

  • Publication information;

For books, include the title in italics, publisher's name, publication year, and medium (print or eBook). For articles, include the title in quotation marks, the title of the periodical (in italics), volume number, issue number (if applicable), publication year, and page range. For online sources, include the URL.

  • URL and DOI;

Include the URL for online materials. If the source has a Digital Object Identifier, include it after publication.

  • Containers;

For sources within larger containers (like articles within journals), include the name of the larger container (the journal’s title), which is italicized. For materials that are part of a larger work (like an article in an anthology), provide the title of the larger work in italics.

Bibliography in APA style

This style is employed for research papers to simplify citing sources such as manuals, journals, and other technical materials, utilizing an author-date in-text citation approach. Similar to MLA, footnotes can also be employed in APA to provide additional context or convey copyright information.

Creating a research paper bibliography in APA format requires adherence to the following specific guidelines:

  • Title;

The page should be titled “References” and centered at the top of the page.

  • Font and spacing;

Use a clear and legible font such as Times New Roman, size 12. Double-space the entire page, including both within and between entries.

  • Arrangement;

Enumerate entries alphabetically based on the authors’ last names. If there is no author, use the first significant word of the title for alphabetization.

  • Hanging indent;

Create a hanging indent for each entry. The first line of each entry should be flush left, while subsequent lines are indented by 0.5 inches. This can be achieved through the paragraph settings in your word processor.

  • Author names;

List the author’s last name followed by the initials, separated by a comma and an ampersand (&) before the last author's name. If there is no author, start with the title.

  • Publication date;

Include the publication year in parentheses, followed by a period. If a source has no publication date, use “n.d.” (no date) instead.

  • Title formatting;

Italicize the titles of books, journals, and other standalone works. Use sentence case capitalization for titles (only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized). Titles of articles, chapters, and web pages are not italicized.

  • Publication information;

Provide the necessary publication information based on the source type. As for books, include their titles, publisher’s names, and locations (cities and states or countries). When referring to the journal articles, including their titles, the journal’s titles in italics, volume numbers, issue numbers (in parentheses), page ranges, and DOI (if available). When using information from online sources, include the URL for websites.

  • DOI;

Include the DOI if journal articles and online materials are available. It should be preceded by “doi:” and the full DOI number.

APA and MLA comparison

The nature of your bibliography format for a research paper hinges largely on the citation styles you intend to employ. When constructing this section, the initial step involves meticulously reviewing formatting requirements. In this regard, we’ll compare the MLA Works Cited format with the APA References page. While this guide won’t delve into intricate details, it aims to elucidate the connections and distinctions between these two widely utilized styles.

MLA specifics

  • This format is commonly found in disciplines about the Humanities, Arts, and their associated fields. 
  • Typically situated at the paper's conclusion, the “Works Cited” page encompasses citations for all the sources employed in a document. 
  • In MLA citations, the author’s name is consistently incorporated within the same sentence, accompanied by the respective page number in parentheses. For instance, “James emphasizes that many students have expressed satisfaction (58).” 
  • When compiling a bibliography and the primary author’s name isn’t explicitly referenced, their last name is placed in parentheses at the sentence’s end.

APA specifics

  • This style is predominantly employed in Social Sciences, Political Studies, and Environmental Sciences. 
  • A “References” page is appended at the paper’s conclusion, encompassing citations for all the materials referenced during the research journey. 
  • In APA citations, the author’s last name is paired with the publication year when citing a source. For instance, “James (2017) asserts that social media platforms facilitate the success of political campaigns.” 
  • In cases where the author isn’t explicitly mentioned, the last name and publication year are enclosed in parentheses at the sentence's conclusion.


  • Both categories of research papers require double spacing throughout. This extends to including “Works Cited” and “References” pages. 
  • Every line following the initial line in an entry necessitates a hanging indent. 
  • Inclusion in the “References” or “Works Cited” pages is mandatory for all cited information within the research paper. 
  • Formatting a bibliography mandates the use of parenthetical citations within the main text. 
  • In both MLA and APA bibliography styles, the arrangement of citations and sources follows alphabetical order. This practice holds significance for both the “Works Cited” and “References” pages.

3 types of bibliography and their differences: Bibliography, Works Cited, and Annotated Bibliography

The reference section necessitates the inclusion of all materials consulted or referenced by the author during the research paper creation. This stipulation holds irrespective of whether the source has been directly cited. It must find a place in this section if it has served as a reference for a particular idea. This contrasts with the protocol for a conventional Works Cited page. In contrast to a standard bibliography in a research paper, a Works Cited page should encompass solely those sources explicitly mentioned within the in-text citations.

There is also another subtype of the reference page as an Annotated Bibliography. The key distinction lies in the requirement to elucidate the intended use, determine the purpose, and indicate bibliographic particulars about the author. In addition to the customary entry containing the author and publisher, resembling a bibliographic listing, an Annotated Bibliography necessitates the crafting of a succinct source description. This entails providing a concise overview and highlighting the significance of the source.

How to structure a bibliography?

First, it’s imperative to verify the presence of the appropriate title for your page: “References” (in APA style), “Works Cited” (in MLA), or simply “Bibliography,” depending on the circumstances and the kinds of sources referenced and consulted. Below is a fundamental checklist for this section, ensuring the inclusion of all vital information. 

  • Have you incorporated 3-5 credible sources that furnish authenticated and dependable information on your topic?
  • Have you provided the necessary details for each source to facilitate identification, including the title, author’s name, and publisher?
  • Have you meticulously reviewed your grading rubric to ensure the accurate application of citations in the prescribed style?
  • Is your reference page meticulously organized alphabetically?
  • Do your selected sources directly correlate with your thesis's subject and central questions?

Let's now delve into the essential rules of writing a bibliography for a research paper:

  • Each entry in this section should be double-spaced.
  • Verify if a different format requires single-spaced entries, such as formats other than MLA.
  • Arrange all entries alphabetically by the author's last name.
  • In sources without an author, alphabetical sorting should be based on the title or the organization’s name.
  • Personal communications, interviews, letters, and similar materials are excluded from the Works Cited, References, or Bibliography pages.
  • Utilize a single space after any punctuation mark, following the MLA format for most bibliography types.
  • If a long word or an extended URL needs to be split across multiple lines, consider using a slash or hyphen.
  • Refrain from adding hyphens to URLs if the original link does not employ them.
  • Avoid initiating the first line of bibliography details with any punctuation mark, except when referencing the source’s title.
  • All lines following the first in a bibliography entry should exhibit a hanging indent from the left margin ( 1.25 cm or 1/2 inches).
  • When crafting an Annotated Bibliography, any descriptive additions should also employ the hanging indent for all lines following the main citation.

When you don’t feel confident about a specific source type or its validity, consulting your academic advisor or omitting it entirely is recommended. This approach will contribute to the authoritative tone of your bibliography.

Bibliography examples in MLA and APA

Here is a sample bibliography page in MLA with five different sources. Don’t forget to begin this section on the next page after the final paragraph.

Works Cited


Smith, John A. The Art of Writing. Academic Press, 2020.

Journal article:

Johnson, Lisa M. “Writing Techniques in Modern Literature.” Literary Studies, vol. 12, no. 3, 2018, pp. 45-60.


Brown, Maria. “Effective Writing Tips.” WritingHub, 2022,

Magazine article:

Carter, David. “The Power of Storytelling.” Creative Insights, vol. 5, no. 2, 2019, pp. 20-25.


The Language of Cinema: A Visual Journey. Directed by Sarah Parker, 2021.

The titles of larger works like books and films are italicized, while titles of shorter works like articles and website pages are in quotation marks. Always ensure your sources are accurate and complete based on the source type.

Here's a research paper bibliography example in APA with five different sources:



Smith, J. A. (2020). The Art of Writing. Academic Press.

Journal article:

Johnson, L. M., & Martinez, R. K. (2018). Writing Techniques in Modern Literature. Literary Studies, 12(3), 45-60. doi:10.1016/800651.


Brown, M. (2022, January 15). Tips for Effective Writing. WritingHub.

Magazine article:

Carter, D. (2019). The Power of Storytelling. Creative Insights, 5(2), 20-25.


Parker, S. (Director). (2021). The Language of Cinema: A Visual Journey.

Apply the hanging indent for each entry, with the first line flush left and subsequent lines indented by 0.5 inches. Ensure the accuracy and completeness of your source details based on the source type.

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