How to Write a Preliminary Bibliography

Research Bar

Research Bar (Photo credit: Rice-Aron Library)

An important step in beginning research is to conduct a survey of the materials available. By formulating a preliminary bibliography before beginning work on a research project, you can help kick-start your project. The first step in constructing a working bibliography is to consult an encyclopedia. Now, an encyclopedia is not a valid source in itself. It can provide you with a general overview of a topic, and subtopics you should be familiar with. The most useful part of using the encyclopedia as a beginning point is that it will list a few key resources the authors of the article are familiar with. Include these sources in your working bibliography. Also, note any keywords or phrases that you can use in addition to your topic – these will be gold when you go searching for other potential sources.

For example, if I am writing an article on Venus, and I consult the Wikipedia (not a valid reference for research, but useful for our purposes) and scroll to the end, I will find a long list of references. These references are a starting point for further research. I would make note of them in my own file, and of any keywords such as “Morning Star” or “Evening Star” that pop up.

Next, go to your library’s search page. Search for the keyword you are using. Record bibliographic information for all of the books you think will be useful in your research. After you search for books, search for articles using your library’s databases. Your librarian should be happy to show you how to use the databases applicable for your field of study.

By now, you should have a pretty good list of reference material. You will find, as you start to compile this material that some of it is not applicable to your research after all. This is okay. You will also find that the reference material you are using will have bibliographies of their own. This is also a good place to find further references you should be familiar with. Add applicable resources to your bibliography as you go along and take resources that don’t work for you off the list. By doing this, you are constructing your working bibliography – and once your project has been completed, you will have an accurate depiction of the sources you used in your research.

If you constructed an outline before beginning your research phase, you can organize your preliminary/working bibliography by outline topic in order to stay organized and focused.

Remember that being organized with your research is the best way achieve success in writing your article or paper.

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