The importance and functions of a bibliography in academic research

If you are stepping into academic research, you probably heard of terms like Bibliography and Works Cited list. At times, it seems pretty confusing. In this article, we are going to discuss what exactly a bibliography is and the importance of bibliography in academic research.

The word 'bibliography' came into English in the early nineteenth century from the French word 'bibliography', which again originated from two ancient Greek words – 'biblion' (book) and 'graphia' (writing). Thus, etymologically, the word bibliography means 'writing about books'. In modern academics, bibliography refers to the scholarly discipline that involves describing and listing books as cultural objects. Usually, there are two types of bibliography – Enumerative, which includes a systemic listing of books, and Descriptive, which is self-explanatory. In common parlance, the term 'bibliography' refers to a list of books, journals, websites, and sources of information the author has consulted to write an article, a dissertation or thesis, a web post, or a book.

Objectives and functions of bibliography in academic research

In academic research, a bibliography has several functions. It shows the authenticity and the amount of hard work done by the researcher helps a budding scholar with a ready reference list to help him sail through a vast and unknown ocean of knowledge and information, provides supplementary information to an inquisitive reader, and last but not the least, act as an important tool for library management. The report of a UNESCO conference on bibliography noted that the various aims of bibliography was to "contribute to the cultural development", "to make it possible for intellectual workers, to learn of publications recording the developments in their fields of interest", and to "assist in promoting useful applications of existing knowledge", among others (The UNESCO Conference on the Improvement of Bibliographical Services, held in Paris in 1950). Let us now have a detailed look at some of the important functions of the bibliography.

Bibliography shows the researcher's originality and diligence

This is particularly required if that research work is to be evaluated by examiners (such as a term paper in undergraduate or postgraduate levels, an MPhil dissertation, or a Ph.D. thesis). In several universities, for example, students are required to write a term paper on some given topic as part of their curriculum. After the final submission and initial evaluation by the supervisor, that student is often required to face an external examiner in a presentation or a viva-voce. In such cases, often the external examiner goes straight to the bibliography pages to find out the amount of hard work done by the student and the quality of the research. The examiner also sometimes asks questions pertaining to the bibliography to check whether the student has actually read the works mentioned there, or whether he or she has merely put up a list without actually consulting the works. Thus, if you have put up a good and diligent research behind your paper, thesis, or book, it gets reflected in your bibliography.

Bibliographies provide supplementary information for the inquisitive reader

From the perspective of a user or a reader, bibliographies save time. If you are an academic reader going through a work of research and want to know more about the important research works previously carried out in the concerned field, the bibliography provides you with a ready list to refer to. Bibliographies are therefore gold mines of critical supplementary information for the inquisitive reader.

Bibliographies help a new researcher carry out a literature survey

There is another way in which a bibliography can help a new researcher. If you are just beginning your own research but struggling to find sufficient research material that will help you write a good literature survey, all you have to do is to find out just one good book pertaining to the niche of your research. The closer the subject of that book is to your intended hypothesis, the better for you. Now, just thoroughly consult the bibliography of that book to find out which earlier works that the author has consulted. Thus, the bibliography of a good book can act as your mentor and save you a significant amount of time and effort by providing you with a ready list of works already done in that particular area of knowledge.

Bibliographies are important for libraries

Last but not the least; a bibliography is an important tool in library management. No modern libraries can function without proper bibliographic tools. At the same time, they also help understand and analyze issues related to the variations and discrepancies between multiple texts of a given work, including folios, versions, and editions.


So, the question arises: should you use a Bibliography or a Works Cited List? For all the reasons mentioned above, it is always suggested that as an academic author or researcher, you should always add a bibliography to your work. Some Referencing Style Sheets like the MLA Style Sheet usually mandate that you must add a bibliography to your research paper, alongside a proper Works Cited list. Although people often tend to confuse between the two, there are certain differences between a Bibliography and a Works Cited list. They are not alternatives perform very different roles and serve different purposes, so you should add both of them, if not otherwise instructed by your supervisor.


Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao21 May 2020 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 3

When a person wants to do research work on a particular subject he should be able to understand what are the various works going on in a particular subject and how he can proceed for avoiding duplicate work. For this he can refer a book on the subject that gives a list of many reference books. This bibliography will be useful to him to get additional details about the particular subject. The author of the book just writes one or two sentences about the subject in the paper and give a reference to that paper. The scholar, if he has has any additional interest, can easily reach the references cited in the book. A good article from the author and it will be useful for the scholars who are starting their academic research.

Author: Umesh26 May 2020 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 6

This is a very interesting article bringing out everything about bibliography. I remember people giving a reference at the end of their article or research paper as to from where they have taken the leads and clues. That time it was known as simply references. Bibliography is a more broad term bringing everything that was consulted or read or adopted in a particular work. The importance of bibliography is not only for the researcher but also for the people who go through this work and incorporate some of these ideas and suggestions in their project. So bibliography is like a moving reference library shuttling from one place to another through the particular work and anyone can consult or refer to those bibliographical references mentioned therein. It is advisable to annex a detailed bibliographical link at the end of our work if we are really interested that the people go through it in details and whenever get doubts refer to the bibliographical links. I think that the present generation of researchers is already taking the bibliography as an essential element in their thesis report.

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