What is the difference between source lists titled “Works Cited,” “Bibliography,” and “References”?

Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.

As the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook explains, “the list titled ‘Works Cited’ identifies the sources you borrow from—and therefore cite—in the body of your research project” (20).  If you wish to list additional works and your instructor has no objection, create a separate list titled “Works Consulted.” 

Previous editions of the handbook observed that source lists sometimes have other titles. The seventh edition, for example, explained that “[o]ther names for such a listing are Bibliography (literally, ‘description of books’) and Literature Cited” but noted that “Works Cited is most appropriate, since research papers often draw not only on printed books and articles but also on films, recordings, web publications, and other nonprint sources” (130). For simplicity, the MLA recommends using the titles “Works Cited” or “Works Consulted,” even if the source list contains only printed works. 

Note that other citation manuals, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, allow the title “Bibliography” for a list that includes both works cited and works consulted and both print and nonprint sources (“Kinds”). The manual recommends the title “References” or “Works Cited” for author-date style citations, in which sources are cited in the text using the author’s name and date of publication (“Author-Date System”). 

Works Cited 

“The Author-Date System—Overview.” The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., sec. 15.5, U of Chicago P, 2017, www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/book/ed17/

“Kinds of Bibliographies.” The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., sec. 14.64, U of Chicago P, 2017, www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/book/ed17/part3/

MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016. 

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2009.