How to Write a Bibliography for a Thesis

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When you are writing your thesis, you will probably have moments where you feel inspired, but those moments are unlikely to come up writing the bibliography. Bibliographies can often be as boring as they are dry, but they give you and your reader a bird’s-eye view of the research you’ve conducted and are a great way to impress someone without writing a single word of your own.

1 Choosing a Citation Style

There are a lot of citation styles out there, and it isn’t easy to choose one, especially since the differences between them can seem so slight. First, check and see if your professor or supervisor has explicitly requested that you use a specific style. If so, make sure that you honor that request. If not, see if your department has a preferred style -- it can’t hurt to follow it, and might hurt not to. If your professor doesn’t assign a specific style, and your department does not have any requirements, then it never hurts to use the most popular, such as Harvard, MLA, Chicago or APA style.

2 Sticking to your Citation Style

The citation style you choose won’t be as important as your ability to use it: consistency is key. For example, do not use the Chicago style to cite books and then switch to AP style for multimedia. Being consistent doesn’t mean that you have to use the same style throughout your academic career, but you must use it throughout your thesis. A bibliography serves to clarify your research sources, and inconsistency can make finding and identifying the information you used more confusing, which essentially defeats the purpose.

3 Picking Sources

It is very important to use a range of sources in your bibliography. If every article you cite is from the same journal, it may appear that you did not put a lot of time into researching. It is also important to use a range of primary and secondary sources in your bibliography so that you have a good combination of original and critical material. Just make sure that you don’t “pad” your bibliography with sources that look good but that aren't used for a purpose -- it will be more obvious to the reader than you might think. Most importantly, Wikipedia is never considered a legitimate source in academic writing, so make sure not to cite Wikipedia in your bibliography.

4 Proofreading

You should start your thesis well before it's due and give yourself enough time to revise many different drafts with the help of professors and classmates, but sometimes the bibliography is a last-minute addition. Even if you finish your bibliography hours before the thesis is due, it should look clean and professional. While the bibliography may be the last part of the thesis that you write, keep in mind that it may be the first part of your thesis that your professor or committee reads. They will want to check that you’ve properly researched your paper, and when they do, they won’t be impressed by glaring spelling errors or misplaced commas. Don’t lose marks on your thesis by assuming you typed everything correctly the first time. Keep your copy clean all the way through, including -- and perhaps especially -- in your bibliography.

Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.