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Understanding the Harvard Referencing System

One of the challenges of academic writing is formatting the finished paper. Each professor, course and publication has slightly different requirements for everything from setting up the margins to using punctuation in the bibliography. You also have to give credit to your sources or risk the consequences of a plagiarism charge.

In most cases, you use in your paper two types of citations. The first is a list at the end of the document that lists each source you used in your research. The other is an in-text citation that shows which source you used to develop a specific idea in the paper. When you write these in-text citations in parentheses, you’re using the Harvard Referencing System.

Development of the Harvard Referencing System

Parenthetical citation first appeared in a 1881 paper by famed scientist Edward Laurens Mark. In his landmark work about the embryogenesis of the common garden slug, Mark listed the author and publication year of another work. He included an explanatory footnote for further information.

Before this moment, all citations within a text used printer symbols like asterisks and crosses to denote the reference. Mark’s parenthetical citation was groundbreaking because it was a convenient way to show the reader the connections between the text and the bibliography. In 1903 he received formal credit for the new format.

Parenthetical citation first appeared in a 1881 paper by famed scientist Edward Laurens Mark. In his landmark work about the embryogenesis of the common garden slug, Mark listed the author and publication year of another work. He included an explanator

How the Harvard Referencing System Works With Writing Styles

The Harvard reference system is not a writing style like APA or Chicago Style. If fact, the publication guidelines produced by the American Psychological Association and the Modern Language Association use Harvard referencing because they require parenthe

Harvard Reference Generators

There are some Harvard Reference generators available online, but you don’t have to search for generators that specifically mention this format. Any citation generator that produces parenthetical citations is technically a Harvard Reference generator.

Tips for Formatting Citations

Several universities in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand rely on the Harvard Reference System for their research papers. They also offer tips for using parenthetical citations in text. For example, according to the University of Sheffield,

Tips for Quotations

When you want to quote direct information from another work, you have to do more than list the original author’s name and publication date. You also have to include the page number where you found the information in the original text. For long quotes, sta

Tips for Secondary Referencing

The sources you use for your research also have their own sources. You can acknowledge these secondary sources in your writing. The key is to make sure the reader understands which text you read. You do this by using the phrase “cited in” within the paren


define bibliography system

What Is a Bibliography?

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A bibliography is a list of books, scholarly  articles , speeches, private records, diaries, interviews, laws, letters, websites, and other sources you use when researching a topic and writing a paper. The bibliography appears at the end.

The main purpose of a bibliography entry is to give credit to authors whose work you've consulted in your research. It also makes it easy for a reader to find out more about your topic by delving into the research that you used to write your paper. In the academic world, papers aren't written in a vacuum; academic journals are the way new research on a topic circulates and previous work is built upon.

Bibliography entries must be written in a very specific format, but that format will depend on the particular style of writing you follow. Your teacher or publisher will tell you which style to use, and for most academic papers it will be either MLA , American Psychological Association (APA), Chicago (author-date citations or footnotes/endnotes format), or Turabian style .

The bibliography is sometimes also called the references, works cited, or works consulted page.

Components of a Bibliography Entry

Bibliography entries will compile:

  • Authors and/or editors (and translator, if applicable)
  • Title of your source (as well as edition, volume, and the book title if your source is a chapter or article in a multi-author book with an editor)
  • Publication information (the city, state, name of the publisher, date published, page numbers consulted, and URL or DOI, if applicable)
  • Access date, in the case of online sources (check with the style guide at the beginning of your research as to whether you need to track this information)

Order and Formatting

Your entries should be listed in alphabetical order by the last name of the first author. If you are using two publications that are written by the same author, the order and format will depend on the style guide.

In MLA, Chicago, and Turabian style, you should list the duplicate-author entries in alphabetical order according to the title of the work. The author's name is written as normal for his or her first entry, but for the second entry, you will replace the author's name with three long dashes. 

In APA style, you list the duplicate-author entries in chronological order of publication, placing the earliest first. The name of the author is used for all entries.

For works with more than one author, styles vary as to whether you invert the name of any authors after the first. Whether you use title casing or sentence-style casing on titles of sources, and whether you separate elements with commas or periods also varies among different style guides. Consult the guide's manual for more detailed information.

Bibliography entries are usually formatted using a hanging indent. This means that the first line of each citation is not indented, but subsequent lines of each citation are indented. Check with your instructor or publication to see if this format is required, and look up information in your word processor's help program if you do not know how to create a hanging indent with it.

Chicago's Bibliography vs. Reference System

Chicago has two different ways of citing works consulted: using a bibliography or a references page. Use of a bibliography or a references page depends on whether you're using author-date parenthetical citations in the paper or footnotes/endnotes. If you're using parenthetical citations, then you'll follow the references page formatting. If you're using footnotes or endnotes, you'll use a bibliography. The difference in the formatting of entries between the two systems is the location of the date of the cited publication. In a bibliography, it goes at the end of an entry. In a references list in the author-date style, it goes right after the author's name, similar to APA style.

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  • 1 Definition: Bibliography
  • 4 In a Nutshell

Definition: Bibliography

Bibliography is a term used to describe the study of books and cultural objects with the intent of achieving an academic purpose. It is also described as a discipline that entails the listing of books in an organized manner, also known as enumerative bibliography, or the systematic manner of describing books similar to objects, a descriptive bibliography that forms the literature of a subject under study.

What is bibliography?

A bibliography (not to be confused with the works cited ) generally entails the listing of books, articles, journals, cultural objects and other study materials used to compose a piece of academic writing or literary work. It is essentially a list of sources used (both referenced in-text and otherwise) in writing a research paper.

What is the difference between bibliographies and a works cited page?

The two may seem similar since they share characteristics, such as the basic structure and the alphabetical arrangement of entries. All of the cited works of authors and all other works consulted by the author, despite not being directly mentioned in the text, are required in a bibliography. On the other hand, only the sources that you referred to have to be included in the works cited . This means that if the author did some selective reading, then all of the source information needs to be included in the bibliography, but not the works cited.

What information should be included in a bibliography?

Good bibliographies should include the following: • The authors’ names • Title of the books, works or objects referred to in the research paper or thesis. • Date of publication • Names of publishers and their locations • If there were multiple volumes in a given source volume, then page number(s) must be included

The exact method and formatting required, will depend on the referencing style that your institution uses.

What are the different types of bibliographies?

There are three main types of bibliographies. Check with your institution which method you’re required to use. This may depend on the referencing and citation style you’re using, as well as your field of research.

Analytical:  Includes any information and new insights that come to light as the book or research paper progresses.

Annotated:  Provides an outline of the research that was conducted and comments on individual sources.

Enumerative: A list of sources in a specific order.

Areas of Application for Bibliographies

Bibliographies are commonly used in a sentence. They are also used in projects and for answering the research question . While citing this bibliography, the writer needs to give all the references.

Different Kinds of Bibliographies

Bibliographies are classified according to the style or the way of listing the sources. There are three common types of bibliography:

  • Analytical bibliography
  • Enumerative bibliography
  • Annotated bibliography

Analytical bibliography:

Analytical bibliographies include information concerning the booksellers and printers, paper and binding descriptions, and any insights that unfold as a book evolved from a manuscript to a published book. This can be further subdivided into a descriptive bibliography concerned with the physical appearance and nature of a book, a textual bibliography which compares the already published work to the author’s original manuscript, and lastly, a historical bibliography that shows the context of the production of the book.

Annotated bibliography:

Annotated bibliographies show the source of writer’s creation, in alphabetical order. This type of bibliography lists a series of tasks that were done by the author of the paper. They provide an outline of what kind of research was done on a given chapter, the addition of notes about the source, comments on and a summary of the source, an assessment of the source whereby the usefulness of the source is evaluated, and reflections on the source which provide a perspective on the usefulness of the text with respect to the research question .

Enumerative bibliography:

Students writing research papers commonly use enumerative bibliography. Here, the writer lists all the references considering some specific arrangements. For example, an author starts with the subject then lastly dates items listed. They share common characteristics such as language, topic or period of time. Information concerning the source is then given by the writer so as to provide directions to the readers towards the source. An example of this bibliography is a card catalogue.

GOOD TO KNOW: Read our article about  referencing & citation styles to find out how to write a perfect bibliography!

Monographs are books that address a particular topic. An example of a bibliography citing such books is as follows:

Danny Irvings, E.U. (2016). Diet and body control. Amsterdam: Mindset publishers.

When writing bibliographies of edited books, the writer should note that when highlighting a chapter, the word ‘in’ must be placed before the editor’s name. For example: In Heisten D.Y. & Thompson G.E. (Eds.), (2014). Human biology of physical existence. Hurlingham, GN: University Of California Press.

When tackling bibliography citations of internet sources and scientific journals, the writer has to consider the steps highlighted earlier when listing the contents of a bibliography: John Saynard, Psychology for The Need, retrieved from sources/news and livelihood/psychology/words/2007/.

APA Bibliography Format

In writing bibliographies using APA format ( APA Citation ), the following steps need to be observed:

  • It should be done at the end of the paper on a new page, entitled ‘References’ with center-alignment
  • The author’s name must be listed; if there is more than one author, the names are separated with an ampersand.
  • Show the publication date, the title of the source, the publisher’s location, and their name. For example: Peterson, D. (1992). The creators: A history of the heroes of imagination. New York: Random House.
  • For online sources, start with the author’s name, followed by the publication date, the title of the article or journal, volume number, month, day, year of retrieval, and lastly the full URL. For example: Raids, g. (2007, July 3). Lightning injures at music festivals. The why? Files. Retrieved February 23, 2007, 2006 from

MLA Bibliography Format

  • When writing monographs using MLA, the bibliography appears in this format: Litfin, Karen. “Introduction to Political Economy.” Political Science 203. The University of Washington. Seattle, 16 October 2000.
  • The following is an example of citing edited books, especially those with more than one author: Druin, Allison, and Solomon, Cynthia. Designing Multimedia Environments for Children. J. Wiley & Sons, 1996.
  • Online sources or scientific articles using the MLA bibliography citation format are cited as follows: National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,


In a Nutshell

  • A bibliography is a series of activities involving the listing of books, sources, journals, or articles, with the primary objective of providing a concise literature review.
  • The main areas in which a bibliography is used include academic works such as research papers, proposals, reflection or even sentences.
  • Bibliographies may be divided into two categories: the APA citation and MLA citations, which in turn contain the different bibliography types. These include analytical bibliographies, enumerative bibliographies, and lastly, annotated bibliographies.

It is therefore advisable for both college and university students to be clear on what bibliographies entail and be able to apply the skills gained from this discipline so as to help avoid plagiarism.

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James B McMillan, Michael B Montgomery. Annotated Bibliography of Southern American English University of Alabama Press, 2018 Marjorie Powell, Joseph W Beard. An annotated bibliography and guide to research Routledge, 2018

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Research Process: Bibliographic Information

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What is a bibliography?

A bibliography is a list of works on a subject or by an author that were used or consulted to write a research paper, book or article. It can also be referred to as a list of works cited. It is usually found at the end of a book, article or research paper. 

Gathering Information

Regardless of what citation style is being used, there are key pieces of information that need to be collected in order to create the citation.

For books and/or journals:

  • Author name
  • Title of publication 
  • Article title (if using a journal)
  • Date of publication
  • Place of publication
  • Volume number of a journal, magazine or encyclopedia
  • Page number(s)

For websites:

  • Author and/or editor name
  • Title of the website
  • Company or organization that owns or posts to the website
  • URL (website address)
  • Date of access 

This section provides two examples of the most common cited sources: a print book and an online journal retrieved from a research database. 

Book - Print

For print books, bibliographic information can be found on the  TITLE PAGE . This page has the complete title of the book, author(s) and publication information.

The publisher information will vary according to the publisher - sometimes this page will include the name of the publisher, the place of publication and the date.

For this example :  Book title: HTML, XHTML, and CSS Bible Author: Steven M. Schafer Publisher: Wiley Publications, Inc.

If you cannot find the place or date of publication on the title page, refer to the  COPYRIGHT PAGE  for this information. The copyright page is the page behind the title page, usually written in a small font, it carries the copyright notice, edition information, publication information, printing history, cataloging data, and the ISBN number.

For this example : Place of publication: Indianapolis, IN Date of publication: 2010

Article - Academic OneFile Database

In the article view:

Bibliographic information can be found under the article title, at the top of the page. The information provided in this area is  NOT  formatted according to any style.

Citations can also be found at the bottom of the page; in an area titled  SOURCE CITATION . The database does not specify which style is used in creating this citation, so be sure to double check it against the style rules for accuracy.

Article - ProQuest Database

Bibliographic information can be found under the article title, at the top of the page. The information provided in this area is  NOT  formatted according to any style. 

Bibliographic information can also be found at the bottom of the page; in an area titled  INDEXING . (Not all the information provided in this area is necessary for creating citations, refer to the rules of the style being used for what information is needed.)

Other databases have similar formats - look for bibliographic information under the article titles and below the article body, towards the bottom of the page. 

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  • bibliography

a complete or selective list of works compiled upon some common principle, as authorship, subject, place of publication, or printer.

a list of source materials that are used or consulted in the preparation of a work or that are referred to in the text.

a branch of library science dealing with the history, physical description, comparison, and classification of books and other works.

Origin of bibliography

Other words from bibliography.

  • bib·li·o·graph·ic [bib-lee- uh - graf -ik], /ˌbɪb li əˈgræf ɪk/, bib·li·o·graph·i·cal, adjective
  • bib·li·o·graph·i·cal·ly, adverb
  • min·i·bib·li·og·ra·phy, noun, plural min·i·bib·li·og·ra·phies.

Words Nearby bibliography

  • bibliograph
  • bibliographer
  • bibliographic control
  • bibliographic utility
  • biblioklept
  • bibliolatry
  • bibliomancy
  • bibliomania Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use bibliography in a sentence

He’s toyed with Collatz for about fifty years and become keeper of the knowledge, compiling annotated bibliographies and editing a book on the subject, “The Ultimate Challenge.”

Some readers might prefer more background science for each question — for a book that aims to crush pseudoscience, a bibliography or at least footnotes would have been useful.

Kalb makes the disclaimer in his preface that “memoirs, by definition, are not works of history — no footnotes, no bibliography .”

Otlet began modestly in the 1890s, creating a bibliography of sociological literature.

Lop off the endnotes and bibliography , and The Measure of Manhattan is barely 300 pages.

Tyler does not provide us with a bibliography , although his extensive notes include many books on Israel and its neighbors.

For full bibliography (to 1904) see Ulysse Chevalier, Rpertoire des sources hist.

Punctuation has been normalized for the stage directions and the play listings in the bibliography .

Within six months, if you're not sandbagged or jailed on fake libel suits, you'll have a unique bibliography of swindles.

There is a very inadequate bibliography in the Introduction.

His ample bibliography leaves no point necessary for elucidation untouched.

British Dictionary definitions for bibliography

/ ( ˌbɪblɪˈɒɡrəfɪ ) /

a list of books or other material on a subject

a list of sources used in the preparation of a book, thesis, etc

a list of the works of a particular author or publisher

the study of the history, classification, etc, of literary material

a work on this subject

Derived forms of bibliography

  • bibliographer , noun
  • bibliographic ( ˌbɪblɪəʊˈɡræfɪk ) or bibliographical , adjective
  • bibliographically , adverb

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for bibliography

A list of the written sources of information on a subject. Bibliographies generally appear as a list at the end of a book or article. They may show what works the author used in writing the article or book, or they may list works that a reader might find useful.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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What is a Bibliography?

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Whenever you quote, paraphrase, or take notes on someone else’s work, you should keep track of the sources the information came from. This will help you avoid plagiarism when you begin writing.

You can keep track of your sources in a few different ways:

  • Place the author’s name in parentheses after quoted or paraphrased text.
  • Organize your notes under headings with the source information.
  • If using note cards to keep track of information, write the source of the information on the back of each card.

In addition to the above, you should also create a bibliography.

What is a Bibliography? Let’s begin with a brief definition. A bibliography is a list of sources that an author used to write their piece. It is usually included at the end of a project or paper, and includes information about each source like the title, author, publication date, and website if the source is digital. Each set of source information is called a citation.

For example, here is a website citation in MLA format:

Joyce, Christopher. “Plastic Is Everywhere And Recycling Isn’t The End Of It.” NPR , 19 July 2017,

A bibliography usually has several citations. Here is an example of a bibliography (unformatted):

Works Cited

Azzarello, Marie Y., and Edward S. Van Vleet. “Marine Birds and Plastic Pollution.” Marine Ecology Progress Series , vol. 37, no. 2/3, 1987, pp. 295–303. JSTOR,

Hall, Eleanor J. Recycling . KidHaven, 2005.

Hopewell, Jefferson, et al. “Plastics Recycling: Challenges and Opportunities.” Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences , vol. 364, no. 1526, 2009, pp. 2115–2126. JSTOR ,

“How Much Plastic is in the Ocean?” It’s Okay to Be Smart. YouTube , 28 Mar. 2017,

Joyce, Christopher. “Plastic Is Everywhere And Recycling Isn’t The End Of It.” NPR . 19 July 2017,

Manrich, Sati, and Amélia S. F. Santos. Plastic Recycling . Nova Science Publishers, 2009.

In summary, bibliographies serve many purposes:

  • They help you keep track of your own research.
  • They can help your readers find more information on the topic.
  • They prove that the information in your research came from trustworthy sources.
  • They give credit to the original sources and authors.

How Do I Create a Bibliography? What your bibliography looks like will depend on a few different things, including what information you want/need to keep track of and what citation style you are using.

There are several different citation styles. Each requires slightly different information and formatting. The most popular styles used are MLA format and APA format . You can follow a citation guide, use a citation generator like BibMe, or see your teacher to help you structure your bibliography.

There are also plagiarism checker services that can assist you with identifying text that may need a citation, and then helping you create citations.

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    Preparing bibliographies helps researchers keep track of the sources they consulted or cited for their written material and gives readers a framework of how the writers’ arguments were formed.

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