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Ten ways to use a bibliography

By Alice Northover


What is a student to do with a list of citations? Are an author’s sources merely proof or can they be something more? We often discuss the challenges of the research process with students, scholars, and librarians, and we’ve come to the conclusion that a good bibliography can help in the following ten ways.

(1) Make research more efficient.
How do you begin your research journey? In a world of plentiful information, it can sometimes be too much; we need to cull Rotten Tomatoes reviews from our search while seeking journal articles on Hitchcock’s work. Bibliographies allow us to follow a thread to locate what we’re really seeking.

(2) Separate reliable, peer-reviewed sources from the unreliable or out-of-date.
Sometimes students assume that something in print must be true, when the opposite could in fact be the case. A peer-reviewed bibliography assures researchers that the information they find in those sources is held to the highest standard by experts in the field.

(3) Establish classic, foundational works in a field.
Current academic debate is often shaped over many years, with specific works framing the discussion. For an informed analysis of a subject area, it is often essential that a select number of specific works be consulted and understood.

(4) Provide a guide for independent study.
What questions are scholars asking? What sources are they reading? Bibliographies provide crucial information which can direct independent research.

(5) Structure a class syllabus.
Syllabi often present a challenge for new professors, as does the task of creating a new course. Comprehension of the area of study and critical works is vital.

(6) Create a course reading and supplemental reading list.
Can you point students to the right resources? A strong bibliography will enable this.

(7) Assist with student advisory.
Many professors have the experience of feeding the right monographs and articles to students in order to get them on the right research track from the start.

(8) Help with collection development.
Just as universities expand and create new programs or departments, university libraries must adapt with them. Bibliographies can offer assistance for developing collections in these new areas.

(9) Support research advisory.
Librarians often advise students on how and where to start their research. Librarians can use bibliographies of scholars they know and trust to help inform the process.

(10) Stimulate ideas for events and displays.
Libraries and institutions often highlight specific works to encourage students and scholars to use various resources. Bibliographies around a theme can provide a leg-up in this process.

Alice Northover is a Social Media Manager at Oxford University Press. She is editor of the OUPblog, constant tweeter @OUPAcademic, daily Facebooker at Oxford Academic, and Google Plus updater of Oxford Academic, amongst other things.

Developed cooperatively with scholars and librarians worldwide, Oxford Bibliographies offers exclusive, authoritative research guides. Combining the best features of an annotated bibliography and a high-level encyclopedia, this cutting-edge resource guides researchers to the best available scholarship across a wide variety of subjects.

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