From New World Encyclopedia
Bibliographies at the University Library of Graz

Bibliography (from Greek: βιβλιογραφία, bibliographia, literally book writing), as a practice, is the academic study of books as physical, cultural objects; in this sense, it is also known as bibliology. On the whole, bibliography is not concerned with the literary content of books, but rather the physical description, the history of its publications and editions.

A bibliography, the product of the practice of bibliography, is a systematic list of books and other works such as journal articles. Bibliographies range from "works cited" lists at the end of books and articles to complete, independent publications. As separate works, they may be in bound volumes such as those shown on the right, or computerized bibliographic databases. A library catalog, while not referred to as a bibliography, is bibliographic in nature.

Bibliographic works differ in the amount of detail depending on the purpose, and can be generally divided into two categories: Enumerative bibliography (also called compilative, reference or systematic), which results in an overview of publications in a particular category, and analytical, or critical, bibliography, which studies the production of books.[1] Bibliographical works are considered to be secondary or tertiary sources.[2]

Enumerative bibliography

A bibliography is a list, either indicative or comprehensive, of writings sharing a common factor: This may be a topic, a language, a period, or some other theme. One particular instance of this is the list of sources used or considered in preparing a work, sometimes called a reference list.

Citation formats vary, but an entry for a book in a bibliography usually contains the following information:

  • Author(s)
  • Title
  • Publisher
  • Date of publication

An entry for a journal or periodical article usually contains:

  • Author(s)
  • Article title
  • Journal title
  • Volume
  • Pages
  • Date of publication

A bibliography may be arranged by author, topic, or some other scheme.

Bibliographies differ from library catalogs by including only relevant items rather than all items present in a particular library. However, the catalogs of some national libraries effectively serve as national bibliographies, as the national libraries own almost all their countries' publications.

Annotated bibliography

Annotated bibliographies give descriptions about how each source is useful to an author in constructing a paper or argument. These descriptions, usually a few sentences long, each provides a summary of the source and describes its relevance.


The purpose of annotations is to provide the reader with a summary and an evaluation of the source. An annotation should contain the source's central idea(s) and give the reader a general idea of what the source is about.[3]

An annotation should include the complete bibliographic information for the source. It should also include some or all of the following:

  • An explanation about the authority and/or qualifications of the author
  • Scope or main purpose of the work
  • Any detectable bias
  • Intended audience and level of reading
  • A summary comment

An annotation is generally between 100 to 200 words, but can be a few sentences.[4]

Indicative annotations This type of annotation defines the scope of the source, lists the significant topics and explains what the source is about. In this type of entry, there is no attempt to give actual data such as hypotheses, proofs, and so on.

Informative annotations This type of annotation is a summary of the source. An informative annotation should include the thesis of the work, arguments or hypotheses, proofs, and a conclusion.[5]

Evaluative annotations This type of annotation assesses the source's strengths and weaknesses—how the source is useful and how it is not. Simply put, an evaluative annotation should evaluate the source's usefulness.

Combination annotations Most annotated bibliographies contain combination annotations. This type of annotation will summarize or describe the topic, and then evaluate the source's usefulness.

Writing styles

No matter which writing style is used for annotations, all entries should be brief. Only the most significant details should be mentioned. Information that is apparent in the title can be omitted from the annotation. In addition, background materials and any references to previous work are usually excluded.[5]

Telegraphic A telegraphic writing style gets the information out quickly and concisely. Maintaining clarity, complete and grammatically correct sentences are not necessary.

Complete sentences A bibliography should use coherent sentences that are grammatically correct. Subjects and conjunctions are not eliminated even though the tone may be terse. Long and complex sentences are to generally be avoided.

Paragraph Paragraph writing style uses full, coherent paragraphs. This can sometimes be similar to the form of a bibliographic essay. Complete sentences and proper grammar must be used.


There are three main purposes behind writing an annotated bibliography. Each purpose can serve anyone in a different manner, depending on what they are trying to accomplish.

Learning about a topic Writing an annotated bibliography is an excellent way to begin any research project. While it may seem easier to simply copy down bibliographical information, adding annotations will force the researcher to read each source carefully. An annotation requires the source to be critically analyzed, not simply read over.[6]

Formulating a thesis Any form of research paper or essay will require some form of argument. This is called a thesis. Writing an annotated bibliography will give the researcher a clear understanding about what is being said about their topic. After reading and critically analyzing sources, the researcher will be able to determine what issues there are and what people are arguing about. From there, the researcher will be able to develop his or her own point of view.

To assist other researchers Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published. The purpose of these annotated bibliographies is to provide a complete and comprehensive overview of any given topic. While any normal researcher may not get their own annotated bibliography published, it could be a good idea to search for previously published annotated bibliographies that are related to their topic.


Examples of an annotated bibliography

An annotated bibliography is an extraordinarily useful source when doing resource on any subject. It quickly allows one to go through a list of sources to determine which would be the most useful to use whether writing a research paper, doing a project, etc. Using an annotated bibliography enables one to identify the basis of a work, as well as the currency and authority of the of the work. This ensures instant validity on choosing a resource. Instead of having to read entire works and discover that they were not the desired material, one can instead refer to an annotated bibliography to quickly and resourcefully locate information on the desired topic in the most efficient way. The following examples are takes from HLAS Online (Handbook of Latin American Studies Online) at the Library of Congress.[7]

Citation: Rout, Leslie B., Jr. Politics of the Chaco Peace Conference: 1935-1939. Austin, Tex., Univ. of Texas, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1970. 268 p., bibl.

Annotation: Very detailed explanation of the diplomatic interchange at the peace conference based on exhaustive research in US and Latin American diplomatic records. The diplomatic moves taken in an attempt to prevent the war and to bring about its end are also treated in depth. Includes index.

Citation: Spence, Jack {et al.} Promise and reality: Implementation of the Guatemalan peace accords. Cambridge, Mass.: Hemisphere Initiatives; Washington: Washington Office on Latin America, 1998.

Annotation: Almost two years after the Guatemalan peace accords, this excellent and well-documented report assesses implementation and shortcomings. Highlights issues of human rights and military impunity, indigenous rights, socioeconomic and agrarian reform. A valuable resource for scholars and policy analysts.

Citation: Boyce, James K. External assistance and the peace process in El Salvador. (World Development, World Dev., 23:12, Dec. 1995, p. 2101-2116 0305-750X).

Annotation: Quantifies and disaggregates external-donor and government commitments to Peace Accords programs through early 1994. Argues that some external donors—especially international financial institutions—failed to exercise peace conditionality. Maintains that the government could have done more to reallocate expenditures and raise additional revenues, but understates achievements in these areas.

Analytical bibliography

The critical study of bibliography can be subdivided into descriptive (or physical), historical, and textual bibliography. Descriptive bibliography is the close examination of a book as a physical object, recording its size, format, binding, and so on, while historical bibliography takes a broader view of the context in which a book is produced, in particular, printing, publishing, and bookselling. Textual bibliography is another name for textual criticism.

Bibliographic citation styles

Style guides
  • ACS Style Guide
  • The Associated Press Stylebook
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • The Elements of Typographic Style
  • ISO 690
  • MHRA Style Guide
  • The MLA Handbook
  • The MLA Style Manual
  • The New York Times Manual
  • The Oxford Guide to Style
  • New Hart's Rules
  • The Publication Manual of the APA

There are a number of bibliographic citation styles that follow the general standard set by each style guide. A style guide or style manual is a set of standards for design and writing of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication or organization. Style guides are prevalent for general and specialized use, for the general reading and writing audience, and for students and scholars of the various academic disciplines: Medicine, journalism, law, government, business, and others. Some style guides focus on graphic design, covering such topics as typography and white space. Web site style guides focus on a publication's visual and technical aspects, prose style, best usage, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and fairness.

Many style guides are revised periodically to accommodate changes in conventions and usage. For example, the stylebook of the Associated Press is updated annually. The most general academic writing styles are APA, MLA, Chicago, and Turabian.

  • American Psychological Association Style Guide—for psychology, education, and other social science disciplines; published by the American Psychological Association.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style—for all subjects as well as non-academic writings such as newspapers, and magazines.
  • MLA Style Manual and MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 6th ed.—for the arts and humanities; published by the Modern Language Association of America.
  • A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (frequently called "Turabian style")—for college students in all subjects; published by Kate L. Turabian, the graduate school dissertation secretary at the University of Chicago from 1930 to 1958. Her stylistic rules closely follow those in The Chicago Manual of Style, although there are some differences.

Reference management software

Reference management software, citation management software, or personal bibliographic management software is software for scholars and authors for recording and using bibliographic citations (references). Once a citation has been recorded, it can be used time and again in generating bibliographies, such as lists of references in scholarly books, articles, and essays. The development of reference management packages has been driven by the rapid expansion of scientific literature.

These software packages normally consist of a database in which full bibliographic references can be entered, plus a system for generating selective lists or articles in the different formats required by publishers and learned journals. Modern reference management packages can usually be integrated with word processors so that a reference list in the appropriate format is produced automatically as an article is written, reducing the risk that a cited source is not included in the reference list. They will also have a facility for importing the details of publications from bibliographic databases.

Examples of reference management software are EndNote, RefWorks, and StyleEase.

Related terms in other media

A number of related terms have developed to denote other types of listings:

  • Films—filmography
  • Recorded music—discography
  • Websites—webliography (the first use recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary is June 1995)
  • Theater credits—theatreography (a term with a growing popularity)


  1. Terry Belanger, Descriptive Bibliography, Bibliographical Society of America, 2003. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  2. Yale University Library, Comparative Literature: Primary, secondary & tertiary sources Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  3. Laurie Carlson, Annotated Bibliographies (University of Kansas).
  4. Michigan State University, Annotations Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  5. 5.0 5.1 University of Wisconsin, Madison, Writing center writer's handbook. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  6. Geoff Stacks and Erin Karper, Annotated bibliographies, Purdue University. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  7. Library of Congress, HLAS Online. Retrieved April 8, 2017.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Baker, Nancy L., and Nancy Huling. A Research Guide for Undergraduate Students: English and American Literature. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2000. ISBN 0873529782
  • Bolner, Myrtle S., Gayle A. Poirier, and Myrtle S. Bolner. The Research Process: Books and Beyond. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co, 1997. ISBN 078723690X
  • Bowers, Fredson. Essays in Bibliography, Text, and Editing. Charlottesville: Published for the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia by the University Press of Virginia, 1975. ISBN 0813905869
  • Harner, James L. On Compiling an Annotated Bibliography. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2000. ISBN 0873529790
  • Katz, William A. Introduction to Reference Work. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002. ISBN 0072441070
  • Stokes, Roy Bishop, and Arundell James Kennedy Esdaile. Esdaile's Manual of Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1981. ISBN 0810814625
  • Svenonius, Elaine. The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. Digital Libraries and Electronic Publishing. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2000. ISBN 0585275947

External links

All links retrieved October 1, 2023.


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