In Composition or other writing courses, we talk a lot about the things we read or have read. Reading that supports or explains ideas and that is mentioned or referenced in a piece of writing is listed in the Works Cited page as a matter of academic convention: this is the research that is “cited” specifically in a paper. The materials that form the body of the Works Cited page should always be “necessary to the case” at hand. The writer cites only when he or she is required to do so. (In specialized, academic and professional writing, the requirements of citation are rigorous in some case to the point where any assertion or description requires a citation.)
But much of the research writers do is often about learning about a topic, what I call didactic research, the kind of research one does to “teach oneself.” This is an important kind of reading for people who are either unfamiliar with a topic or who are looking to come up to speed on it. Didactic reading might be done to form a foundation of knowledge on a particular subject. It might be background reading.
For our purposes, much of the research students do in college will not necessarily make its way into a Cited page but into a Works Consulted page, which would include “all” of the reading a student has done on a topic as a matter of academic learning. The instructor will want to know what a student has read. Out of this long list of consulted works, the student will probably find the best writing to use as either explanatory material or as evidence in a paper.
As a student in a writing courses, you will probably be asked to provide lists of all the reading you’ve done at a certain point in the research process in a list of Works Consulted completed in MLA format.
Potential Sources of Confusion
Students often confuse the intent of the Works Consulted with the Works Cited. Some people think they are the same, but I want people to think about this in a context of reasonableness. The student will be reading lots of things (articles, books, tweets, abstracts) about a topic throughout the period of a course. At the end of the course, a student should have a list of everything read on a topic: that’s the Works Consulted page.