Finding your materials, part
.........Assess your bibliography
Assess your bibliography
to be sure that it's balanced and has a wide enough range of
sources. And remember that an experienced reader will look at
your bibliography before reading your paper--just as you
yourself did when assessing books for their possible value to
Here is a list of things
to consider when assessing your bibliography:
- Number of sources.
will guide you on the required length of your bibliography, but
as a rule of thumb figure that for a carefully researched 15-20
page paper at least about 10-15 sources will be appropriate.
For a five-page paper, five sources will be appropriate. Remember
that these are sources you actually use in your paper.
- Range of materials.
Be sure that you've searched broadly enough. For example, if
you're working with some aspect of Minoan art, your bibliography
would be too narrow if you listed 10 works, all of which had
some variation of "The Art of Crete" as their titles.
Depending on your paper topic, you might want to broaden your
bibliography by adding a works on (for example) symbolism, religion
/ mythology, architecture, biography, methods of making works
of art, methods of archaeology, and also one or more sources
on the culture of the period you're exploring.
Be aware of when your sources were published, and balance good
older sources with more recent ones to be sure that your information
isn't out of date. Remember that the information in most books
will be "current" about 10 years before the date of
publication--for more recent books this time will be less. For
example, a book published in 1975 will probably be current for
information that was cutting edge in 1965. Reason: It takes time
to write and publish a book. This is where recent journal articles
can be very helpful: as your project solidifies, you can use
a focused database search with
a limited date range to check out the most recent info on various
- In general, you
should AVOID encyclopedia articles in select (or selected) bibliography
of your completed paper [See below
for definition of "select bibliography."]. Encyclopedia articles are
fine to consult for an overview, and to use for "snowballing."
However, including in the bibliography of your completed paper
articles (for example) from the Encyclopedia Britannica
or Oxford Art Online is a red flag that you've been lazy
in your research. There are exceptions to this rule, for example,
the very useful Dictionary of the History of Ideas, which
contains articles by leading experts in their fields.
- Some tempting Internet
resources that are fine for getting an overview and for snowballing,
but inappropriate for a term paper. Sites such as smarthistory, Khan Academy, and the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History are excellent
for getting an overview, deepening your understanding of works
discussed in class--and for "snowballing," but are
NOT appropriate for a term paper bibliography. As is true of
encyclopedia articles, they are a STARTING POINT, not a final
destination. Except in unusual circumstances--such as a study
of the methods of online art history overviews--to use these
as major sources for your paper is (like the use of encyclopedia
articles) a red flag that you've been lazy in your research.
- Internet sources. Be sure that you evaluate Internet sources
carefully for reliability. Some are excellent; many are unreliable.
Altho it's fine to use even an unreliable resource for "snowballing," a bibliography
consisting almost entirely of websites will probably not be an
adequate one. Barnet presents valuable criteria to use when
evaluating a website on page 289 of the 11th edition of A Short Guide to Writing About Art
- One or more original
works of art may be on in your bibliography. If you choose an original
work of art, it is especially appropriate to use one that you
will be able to study in person.
- Textbooks are normally
NOT considered appropriate as a major source in your bibliography.
are using a textbook to double-check information you'd like to
treat as "common knowledge,"
inclusion of your course textbook in the bibliography screams
out that you haven't really done your homework.
or "Select" bibliography. When assembling the final draft of your
bibliography there's no need to cite everything you looked at
in developing your project. Be sure to include everything that
you include in footnotes in your final draft. But there's no
need to mention sources that you used only for "snowballing."
This is where using the terms "selected" or "select"
along with "Bibliography" is very useful, as it indicates
that you are citing the most significant works that you consulted.
- As your Select
(or Selected) Bibliography gets longer, you may find it helpful
to divide it into sections.
At the beginning of your bibliography put a short introductory
paragraph stating that you've organized your bibliography under
the following headings: a) ... b) ... c) ... and so forth. The
ellipses [...] indicate the place you'll put the titles of your
© Jan Mainzer