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Ill Formatted Bibliography

1. Definition

A bibliography is usually thought of as an alphabetical listing of books at the end of a written work (book, book chapter, or article), to which the author referred during the research and writing process. In addition to books, bibliographies can include sources such as articles, reports, interviews, or even non-print resources like Web sites, video or audio recordings. Because they may include such varied resources, bibliographies are also referred to as 'references', 'works cited' or 'works consulted' (the latter can include those titles that merely contributed to research, but were not specifically cited in text). The standard bibliography details the citation information of the consulted sources: author(s), date of publication, title, and publisher's name and location (and for articles: journal title, volume, issue and page numbers). The primary function of bibliographic citations is to assist the reader in finding the sources used in the writing of a work.

To these basic citations, the annotated bibliography adds descriptive and evaluative comments (i.e., an annotation), assessing the nature and value of the cited works. The addition of commentary provides the future reader or researcher essential critical information and a foundation for further research.

2. Composition

While an annotation can be as short as one sentence, the average entry in an annotated bibliography consists of a work's citation information followed by a short paragraph of three to six sentences, roughly 150 words in length. Similar to the literature review except for the shorter length of its entries, the annotated bibliography is compiled by:

  • Considering scope: what types of sources (books, articles, primary documents, Web sites, non-print materials) will be included? how many (a sampling or a comprehensive list)? (Your instructor may set these guidelines)
  • Conducting a search for the sources and retrieving them
  • Evaluating retrieved sources by reading them and noting your findings and impressions
  • Once a final group of sources has been selected, giving full citation data (according to the bibliographic style [e.g., APA, Chicago, MLA] prescribed by your instructor) and writing an annotation for each source; do not list a source more than once

Annotations begin on the line following the citation data and may be composed with complete sentences or as verb phrases (the cited work being understood as the subject)—again at the discretion of the instructor. The annotation should include most, if not all, of the following:

  • Explanation of the main purpose and scope of the cited work
  • Brief description of the work's format and content
  • Theoretical basis and currency of the author's argument
  • Author's intellectual/academic credentials
  • Work's intended audience
  • Value and significance of the work as a contribution to the subject under consideration
  • Possible shortcomings or bias in the work
  • Any significant special features of the work (e.g., glossary, appendices, particularly good index)
  • Your own brief impression of the work

Although these are many of the same features included in a literature review, the emphasis of bibliographic annotation should be on brevity.

3. Purpose

Not to be confused with the abstract—which merely gives a summary of the main points of a work—the annotated bibliography always describes and often evaluates those points. Whether an annotated bibliography concludes an article or book—or is even itself a comprehensive, book-length listing of sources—its purposes are the same:

  • To illustrate the scope and quality of one's own research
  • To review the literature published on a particular topic
  • To provide the reader/researcher with supplementary, illustrative or alternative sources
  • To allow the reader to see if a particular source was consulted
  • To provide examples of the type of resources available on a given topic
  • To place original research in a historical context

Overview

A bibliography is a listing of the books, magazines, and Internet sources that you use in designing, carrying out, and understanding your science fair project. But, you develop a bibliography only after first preparing a background research plan — a road map of the research questions you need to answer. Before you compose your bibliography, you will need to develop your background research plan.

With your background research plan in hand, you will find sources of information that will help you with your science fair project. As you find this information it will be important for you to write down where the sources are from. You can use the Bibliography Worksheet to help you, just print out a few copies and take them with you to the library. As you find a source, write in all of the necessary information. This way, when you are typing your bibliography you won't need to go back to the library and find any missing information. The more information you write down about your source, the easier it will be for you to find if you want to read it again.

When you are writing your report, you will use the sources in your bibliography to remind you of different facts and background information you used for your science fair project. Each time you use some information from a source, you will need to cite the source that it came from. To cite a source, simply put the author's name and the date of the publication in parentheses (Author, date) in your text. If the person reading your report wants to find the information and read more about it, they can look up the reference in your bibliography for more detail about the source. That is why each source you use must be listed in a detailed bibliography with enough information for someone to go and find it by themselves.

Your bibliography should include a minimum of three written sources of information about your topic from books, encyclopedias, and periodicals. You may have additional information from the Web if appropriate.

Examples of Bibliography Formats

There are standards for documenting sources of information in research papers. Even though different journals may use a slightly different format for the bibliography, they all contain the same basic information. The most basic information that each reference should have is the author's name, the title, the date, and the source.

Different types of sources have different formatting in the bibliography. In American schools, the two most commonly used guidelines for this formatting are published by the MLA (Modern Language Association) and the APA (American Psychological Association).

The MLA guidelines call for the bibliography to be called Works Cited. Science Buddies has summarized some of the most common MLA formats for your use: MLA Format Examples.

The APA guidelines call for the bibliography to be called the Reference List. Science Buddies has summarized some of the most common APA formats for your use: APA Format Examples.

Your teacher will probably tell you which set of guidelines to use.

On the Science Buddies website we use the following guidelines:

  • APA format for online sources
  • MLA format for all other sources
  • APA (author, date, page) format for citations in our articles

Getting Started

Download and print the Science Buddies Bibliography Worksheet. Keep several copies with you and fill in the information as you do your research. When you are finished, type the information from the worksheet into a formatted bibliography using the examples listed above.

Sample Bibliographies

Sample Bibliography: MLA Works Cited Format
Sample Bibliography: APA Reference List Format

Bibliography Checklist

What Makes a Good Bibliography?For a Good Bibliography, You Should Answer "Yes" to Every Question
Have you included at least 3 sources of written information on your subject? (If you include Web pages, they should be in addition to the written sources.)Yes / No
Have you included complete information to identify each of your sources (author's name, the title, the date, and where it was published)?Yes / No
Have you used the proper format for each of your sources? Most teachers prefer the MLA or APA formats. Yes / No
Is your Bibliography in alphabetical order, by author's last name?Yes / No
Do you have sources of information to answer all of your research questions?Yes / No

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