A bibliographic essay is written to summarize and compare a number of sources on a single topic. The goal of this essay is not to prove anything about a subject, but rather to provide a general overview of the field. By looking through multiple books and articles, you can provide your reader with context for the subject you are studying, and recommend a few reputable sources on the topic.

Seeking Sources

Since your essay is primarily focused on summarizing a list of sources, you should ensure that you are using credible scholarly sources before you begin writing. Search your school's library for books on the subject; you can also find scholarly articles on online databases such as JSTOR. You should not use articles taken from encyclopedias since they do not provide the depth of information you need on the subject. Also avoid Web-published articles that are not explicitly published in a scholarly source.

When doing your research, skim the reference page of each of your sources. Even if your sources do not provide you with the depth of information you are looking for in the subject, they may reference other scholarly works that do focus specifically on that topic.

Function, Not Thesis

When writing a bibliographic essay on a subject, you are trying to provide your reader with an overview of the literature on that subject. You are not trying to make an argument or prove any information about the topic itself. Because of this, you should use a function statement at the beginning of your essay, rather than a thesis statement. Whereas a thesis statement describes the argument your essay is trying to prove, a function statement describes the purpose of your essay. In the case of a bibliographic essay, this function is your overview of articles written on the topic. For example, an essay written about prison policy might use the following function statement:

"This paper seeks to review the current psychological and sociological literature concerning inmate rehabilitation and recidivism rates."

Restate, Don't Analyze

Your bibliographic essay is an overview of other scholarly sources on a subject, not a paper on that subject itself. Your goal in writing the paper is not to come to a conclusion about the subject you're writing about, but to summarize what others have written. You should include both a description of what your sources state about the subject, and an evaluation of what each source considers the most important aspects of the subject. It will also be helpful for your reader if you include a compare/contrast section at the end of your essay. Highlight any trends you notice in the subject matter or analysis methods of your sources. If two or more authors cover the same topic in opposing ways, note this difference as well.

Keep It Short

A bibliographic essay assignment typically requests you to summarize six or more sources in under six pages, including your comparison of different sources. This means that you should try to keep your summary of each source to one or two paragraphs. Keep your writing concise and avoid any repetitive statements. Limit your description of each source to its main thesis and the pieces of evidence it analyzes in support of that thesis. Background for the authors of your sources is not necessary unless it is directly relevant to the source's content; for example, mention that an author is a Freudian psychologist if a Freudian method factors majorly in their analysis.