Selecting Sources: Finding Materials for Your Bibliography
Some questions to answer regarding selection of sources for your bibliography:
- Will the bibliography be selective (the best material on your topic) or comprehensive (all of the material on your topic)? Will it be somewhere in between selective and comprehensive (for example, all materials available at Lawrence)?
- Will you limit the material selected by publication dates? What might the justification be for these limits? Will significantly older material be relevant for your bibliography? Don't assume that it won't be . . . .
- Is the language in which your sources are or might be written a factor? How important will it be to acknowledge your (or your readers') relative fluency?
Your answers to these questions will also influence the approach you take to finding materials for your bibliography. For example, searching for sources for a comprehensive bibliography of books would require not only a search of the library's catalog, but also a search of WorldCat, a database of materials found in libraries world-wide. For help in finding materials for a bibliography, you might try the following:
Examining Sources: Thinking about What to Say in Your Annotations
You should always check with your professor to see if you need to have material in hand for evaluation, or if you can use information from library catalogs, indexes, abstracts, or other databases as a basis for your annotations. Follow your professor's guidelines in this regard. In general, it's best to be able to see the material in person in order to evaluate it thoroughly.
Some of the information you will need to properly cite a source is also important to look at in your selection and initial evaluation of works for your bibliography. See the library guides to Evaluation of Books and Articles and Citing Electronic Documents for explicit connections between citation and evaluation. The evaluation guide in particular will be helpful, as it points you toward resources that can help you answer questions regarding authors and publishers, like biographical encyclopedias. Among the citation information that will help you evaluate your material are the following considerations:
- Author: One, two or more? Is the person an author, editor, or both? Have you seen this name before at all? If the work is a collection, encyclopedia, or is in some other way made up of different parts, are authors listed for the parts? Is there an author listed at all? What is the author(s) connection to the subject? Does the work reflect a personal or a scholarly interest in the topic?
- Title: Is there a title? Remember, for encyclopedia articles, the title may be the entry word. Does the title tell you anything important about the work? Does it reflect the content? If you are evaluating an article, look at the title of the journal, magazine, or newspaper as well as the title of the article. Is this a publication you've heard of before? Is it supported by or affiliated with a particular organization, enterprise, or institution?
- Publisher: Is this a publishing name you've heard of before? Where is the publisher located? Is it a university press, commercial press, or some other kind of publisher?
- Date: When was the work published? How might the date of publication be reflected in the content? Is the work current enough for your purposes? For a journal, magazine, or newspaper, consider the volume number as well as the publication date. How long has this title been in publication? For a book, has this work been through more than one edition?
- Pages: Has the author given enough or too much space to the topic?
The following questions address information that goes beyond what you need for citations, but direct you toward additional considerations that will help with evaluation of sources. Many of these questions will be answered directly in the preface, introduction, or conclusion of a book, or in the abstract, introduction, or conclusion of an article. Others you will answer for yourself by reading, viewing, or listening to the item under evaluation. Look for the following:
- Format: What type of material is the source? A book? An article? A score? Selected or complete works? A recording or video? Why are materials of this type important to the topic at hand?
- Genre: What can you say about the genre or nature of the material? For example, is it a biography? Criticism or interpretation of another source? Primary material or secondary material? A literature review or a report of original research?
- Organization and structure: Does the arrangement make sense? Are there prefaces, introductions, chapters headings, indexes, charts, interesting images, or other features? Are there keys for any abbreviations?
- Scope: How much information does the work claim to cover? Is that reasonable? Does the work actually cover what it claims to?
- Audience: For what type of audience does the source seem to be intended? A general audience? Scholars or specialists? Performers? Is it written for a specific discipline or interdisciplinary in nature?
- Purpose: Is the purpose of the work stated or implied? Does the work live up to its purpose? Is the author responding to other theories or other writers? Is the work addressing a particular question or controversy? Is it extending, commenting on, or critiquing a line of reasoning or tradition within a given field?
- Bibliographic information: If the item at hand is a secondary source, what types of material were used in preparing the source? Does it draw on primary sources, secondary sources, or both? If the item at hand is a primary source, does it include supplementary materials, and does it document those materials? Does it provide information about any editorial decisions, and the sources used to make those decisions? Are citations or other information provided to document those decisions?
- Scholarly value: Is the source mentioned in other bibliographies, cited in other sources, or discussed in reference works? If you are preparing a selective bibliography, what makes this particular source essential for your research?
- Potential use: How would you use this source in writing a paper or developing a presentation on this topic? More specifically, you might want to think about how will you bring this source into play in answering a question or developing a thesis. Remember that popular, or even questionable materials, might still be very important to consider in a complete research project, depending on their usefulness in addressing your thesis or research question. Remember too that sources that disagree with your thesis may well be important to consider and include in your bibliography.