What’s the difference between a note citation and a bibliography citation?

Picture tangled up in writingNotes

A note tells where you learned something you wrote in your paper. Every time you quote someone or mention a fact that needs backing up, put a note number right there in the text.

For instance, if you say in your paper that most American students write their papers the night before they’re due, put a note number at the end of that sentence.1 That small number says, “See note 1 for my source.” If you quote a researcher who wrote, “Papers written the night before they’re due tend to be shorter than other papers,”2 put a note number at the end of the quote. That little 2 says, “See note 2 for the source of this quote.”

In your notes, write your sources. Let’s say that the source in note 1 is a book and the source in note 2 is an article. Books and articles have slightly different formats. If you learn those two formats, you’re halfway there:

  1. Sara Stickler, Habits of Harried Students (New York: Vanity Press, 2013), 42.
  2. Howard Noggin and Shirley Noddin, “The Psychology of Paper-Writing Panic,” Brain Fun Newsletter 32 (2013): 4.

If you put all your notes together at the end of your paper in one list, they’re called endnotes. If you put each note at the bottom of the page where its text number appears, they’re called footnotes. Endnotes and footnotes are exactly the same except for where you put them. Your instructor will probably tell you which to use.


A bibliography is a list of the sources you used in your notes. (Some teachers might also ask you to include sources you read but didn’t end up actually using. You might also be asked to include sources you didn’t read but that would be of interest for further reading. Be sure to ask what your instructor expects you to include in your bibliography.)

The sources are in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. The author’s last name comes first to make alphabetizing easier:

Noggin, Howard, and Shirley Noddin. “The Psychology of Paper-Writing Panic.” Brain Fun Newsletter 32 (2013): 4.
Stickler, Sara. Habits of Harried Students. New York: Vanity Press, 2013.

Another system

This post has described the “notes-bibliography system.” Some teachers may ask you to use the “author-date system” of citing. You can read about that system here (click on the “Author-Date” tab).

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#ChicagoStyle: Many school libraries provide free access to The Chicago Manual of Style Online. If you aren’t sure whether your school subscribes, ask your librarian. In the meantime, click here for a free trial.

#ChicagoStyle for students: Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations is a smaller version of The Chicago Manual of Style written specifically for students.

Photo: Tangled up in writing, courtesy United States Mission Geneva.

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