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The bibliography – formal requirement or essential ingredient?

Preparing your academic bibliography for submission

The bibliography – formal requirement or essential ingredient?

As every academic writer knows, almost any academic article, book, or paper must have a bibliography. As every academic editor knows, academic writers—whether they are students or scholars —tend to view bibliography preparation as a thankless chore, consuming time but adding little to the quality of their writing or the overall message. In some cases, authors begin to think seriously about creating a bibliography only after sending their work for academic proofreading, editing, or translation.

But is the bibliography really just a technical hurdle that one has to surmount in order to submit scholarly work for publication? In what follows, we offer some reasons to view the bibliography as an important part of your research—one that would be essential even if it were not a formal requirement or a conventional part of the academic paper editing process. We then suggest some strategies for efficient and effective bibliography preparation. These strategies can help to save time during the research paper editing process—and also to save money on professional translation.

Why do I need a bibliography?

Whether you are writing an article, a book, a research paper, or a thesis, your bibliography is an essential tool for communicating crucial information to your readers:

  • First, by providing full details of every source you used, you enable your readers to find those books and read them, if they so choose.
  • Second, a thorough bibliography shows that you have used appropriate sources for your research.
  • Third, your bibliography can help you make sure that you have used the best versions of all of your sources—whether they are primary or secondary, books or journal articles. A reader looking at your bibliography can see that you used the latest or most authoritative version of a given work.
  • Fourth, your bibliography can help you demonstrate to your reader—whether they are scholars, students, or lay readers—that you are aware of all of the relevant literature, and that you are up to date with the latest trends in your field.

In other words: The bibliography is not just a formal requirement of academic editing. It is an important ingredient of a good piece of academic research.

How can I save time (and money) preparing my bibliography?

Some writers wait until they send their work for academic proofreading before paying real attention to their bibliography. This can be a big mistake. While an academic editor or translator may do a very good job of formatting your bibliography appropriately, they may also ask you to provide missing details that were once at your fingertips but now require a special trip to the library. We suggest the following strategies for making your bibliography more easily:

  • Create it as you go along. As part of your own ongoing article or thesis editing process, record the details of the sources you cite, as you cite them. This way, you won’t have to go back and look up details after you’ve finished writing (and perhaps returned the book to the library or put it back in storage).
  • Make sure you get all the details: the precise title, author’s name (with correct spelling!), editors’ names, publisher, location, year, etc.
  • Don’t forget to record the page numbers for your citations! This will prevent you from having to spend time later looking for the passage you quoted.
  • For articles in journals and collections, make sure you record the page numbers for the entire article, and not just the passages you are citing. Your bibliography will need to include the page numbers for the whole thing.
  • Find out which style you need: If you are submitting a manuscript to a journal or publisher, or if you are writing a thesis or dissertation, find out in advance which style is required for references. That way, you can format your bibliography in the correct style as you go along.
  • Automate! Good reference management software can take care of your bibliography formatting for you, so that all you need to do is enter the relevant details. See our guide to choosing the right reference management software for academic scholars.

Most importantly: Think of your bibliography as an ongoing and important part of your academic research and writing!