Finding accurate bibliographic details for a References list

February 19, 2015

References. The bane of anyone writing a document that cites information from others. Gathering all the required bibliographic data for a reference can be painful, as well as formatting it according to the ‘house’ style.

However, one way to shortcut the process is to use a (free) internet service that searches out the information for you AND formats it to your house style, or close to your house style. All you need are a few words of the title, perhaps an author name, and the name of such a service.

The instructions below show how to use the WorldCat service to grab the complete bibliographic details of items in your References list. You won’t find everything in WorldCat, although with more than 2 billion catalog records from libraries around the world, you should find many. What you won’t find on WorldCat are your internal corporate documents and perhaps some of the more specialized documents from government departments etc. But if you’re looking to confirm the bibliographic details of published books, articles etc., then WorldCat is a good starting point.

  1. Go to http://www.worldcat.org/.
  2. Optional: Click the tab of the type of item you’re searching for (e.g. Articles); the default is Everything, but narrowing your search to a type of material will give you more targeted results.
  3. Type the title, or part of the title (try to include enough keywords so that you don’t get hundreds of results to skim). If it’s an article, you can add part of the journal’s name too, if you know it.
  1. Press the Enter key.
  2. Optional: On the results page, you can further refine your search by selecting options from the left sidebar or adding words to the search field (e.g. an author’s name).
  3. When you find your reference, click its title.
  4. Confirm that it’s the item you want, then click the Cite/Export link near the top of the page.
  1. A popup window opens allowing you to select the referencing format.
  2. Click the + sign for the formatting style you want to use. Check them all to find the one that most closely matches your house style.
  3. Select the details, then copy them (Ctrl+C) to the clipboard and paste them (Ctrl+V) into your References list in your document.

Note: You can view some articles etc. listed in WorldCat in their entirety if you need to check the reference further — these are indicated by a small orange circle with a white ‘e’ inside it.


There are other (free and paid) services available that also provide this sort of information (I’m aware of http://www.citationmachine.net/ but feel that it has more limitations in its reference formats than WorldCat). If you use any other free services, let me know and I’ll add them to this post.

[Links last checked February 2015]

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