7 Questions To Help Make An Edited Bibliography

I’ve advised candidates for a long time to think about making an edited bibliography as part of their viva preparations. Your research is based on a body of work: the edited bibliography is the skeleton you can identify supporting what you’ve done.

You could write it simply by thinking about what papers are important. If you need help, then try the following questions to start a list:

  1. What references have most informed your background reading?
  2. What references have most shaped your methods?
  3. What references have provided the most useful data or information?
  4. What references have helped you be sure about your conclusions?
  5. For each chapter of your thesis in turn, what references are most crucial to the material you present?
  6. Which papers do you need to remember?
  7. Which papers do you find it hard to remember?

Trim out any duplicates from the list this makes. Make sure you add the details of the authors, the journals, the year of publications. Then answer two questions for each reference: which chapter is it most relevant to? Why?

An edited bibliography can be a useful resource. I wonder if it’s even more useful when you’re creating it? Reflecting on where your research comes from is a valuable task in preparation for the viva.

Reflecting on the Edited Bibliography

I like the idea of making an edited bibliography as part of viva preparations: figuring out the core of your bibliography and where your research comes from.

You can go a step further than just making a list of your best references. Start with the following questions to really reflect on your research:

  1. Pick a paper. Why is it more valuable than many others in your bibliography?
  2. Which chapter is it most relevant to?
  3. How, explicitly, have you used it in furthering your work?
  4. What other papers does it connect up with in your edited bibliography?
  5. Are there any downsides to basing your work on this paper?
  6. Think about the whole list. How do these papers fit together?
  7. How many groups could you place them in, and how would you label them?
  8. What papers have you left out of your edited bibliography and why?
  9. If you could add one more paper to your edited bibliography, what would it be and why?

During your PhD, you dig into your field to help bring your research to life. During your viva prep, you can dig into your bibliography to help yourself even more.

Keep digging.

Questioning Your Bibliography

At the back of your thesis is a great big list of articles and sources that have helped your research. It can be massive. I’ve asked a lot of people about the size of their bibliography, and I regularly get answers in the region of two to three hundred papers. Someone once told me that their bibliography would have over 800 references!

Your examiners will likely have some questions for you about your literature review and bibliography. While you can’t predict all of them, you can still ask yourself some questions to help your preparation:

  • What are the top ten or twenty papers that have been useful to you?
  • Which papers have been most inspiring to you?
  • Have you cited your examiners, and what did you make of their research?
  • Which papers in your bibliography are most highly regarded?
  • What three or four categories could you group your bibliography in to?

Several hundred papers can be difficult to manage in your head. Questions can help to break that mental map up into something more realistic. These are a start, and are fairly generic. You know your research better than me, so think: what other questions might help?

The Bones Of Your Research

Remember Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Your work comes from somewhere. Whatever your contribution, it stands on the shoulders of other researchers. How many papers are in your bibliography? How many more have you read, which didn’t make it into your bibliography but which informed your development or your work’s development?

By the end it might be almost impossible to remember every paper that has helped or influenced you. But you can reflect on your thesis and think about the meaningful fraction that makes up the core of what you’ve done. If you have 200 papers, what’s the top 10? The top 20?

Your thesis is built on a great body of work. What makes up the skeleton?