What Is A Preliminary Bibliography Outline

The Task

Make a list of at least ten sources you have found so far that may be relevant to your research question.

They do not all need to be scholarly, though I expect you to have some by now. The scholarly ones should be labeled (see below).

The Purpose

To develop a preliminary bibliography as a step toward the Literature Review and the final Research Paper.

This assignment is especially focused on the following course learning outcomes:

  1. Use current research methods, including technology, to retrieve college-level research information from a variety of sources.
  2. Read and critically evaluate sources in terms of bias, accuracy, authority, currency, purpose, relevance, audience, and other factors.
  1. Identify general requirements for documentation in different disciplines and employ proper conventions (MLA preferred)


There are certain rules you must follow in order to complete the assignment successfully:

  • Alphabetize the list by author’s last name.
  • Format the list according to MLA guidelines. If you’re using Noodle Tools (NT), all you have to do is enter the correct information in the correct fields and NT will do the rest for you. If not, these MLA citation guides will give you the basics on how to format your works cited page:
    • The MLA page at Shoreline Community College
    • The MLA page at the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)
    • The MLA page at Western Oregon University
    • The MLA guide from Highline Community College (PDF)

Besides the MLA formatting rules, I have some requirements of my own:

  • Identify the thesis of each source, in your own words (do not simply copy from the article). I want to be sure you are familiar with the basic idea of the source and that you understand exactly what a thesis is. Remember that a thesis can only be expressed as a complete declarative sentence, not a phrase or a question. Put the thesis at the end of the entry for that source, after all the information required in the MLA guidelines. (In Noodle Tools, put the thesis in the Annotation field.)
    • Clearly identify sources without a thesis (i.e. purely informative sources like newspaper articles and factual reports), to show you understand the difference between a source that makes a claim and one that simply presents information.
  • Summarize each of your five best (most useful) sources. The best way to do a summary is to list the main sections of the article. Usually 1 – 3 sentences is plenty. (In Noodle Tools, put the summary in the Annotation field.)
    • When writing summaries, concentrate on sources that have a thesis--i.e., those that make an argument, as opposed to those that simply report information.
  • Explain how those same five sources answers your research question, or how they contribute to an answer. (In Noodle Tools, put the explanation in the annotation field.)
  • Label all scholarly sources. This is so I can check your understanding of what a scholarly source is, and so you and I can both make sure you will have the required number of scholarly sources in your final bibliography. Scholarly sources can be labeled with an “S” at the end of the entry, by using special formatting (e.g. bold or italics), or in any other way that clearly identifies them. If you use formatting or special characters to identify scholarly sources, please include a note explaining this. (In Noodle Tools you may add “this is a scholarly source” in the Annotation field.)
  • Include your research question at the top of the page.

The Grade

The assignment will be scored on the following categories. Each will receive a score of 4, 3, 2, 1 or 0 (corresponding to the letter grades A – F). The total grade will be an average of those scores.

The research question

  • is focused and unified
  • leads to an arguable and descriptive thesis

The sources

  • are of the correct quantity and type (10 total, minimum 3 scholarly, reference works may be used but do not count toward the total, no textbooks without my prior approval)
  • are adequate and appropriate to your topic
  • are correctly categorized (scholarly vs. non-scholarly)

The summaries

  • identify the thesis of every source, in your own words
  • identify the main sections of your five best sources, in your own words
  • explain how each of your five best sources answers the research question, whether directly or indirectly

This assignment counts for 5% of your final grade.

The list should be formatted according to MLA guidelines, but I’m not going to grade on that because there are tools that will do it for you (e.g. Noodle Tools). If it’s not correct, I’ll either note the mistakes (if there aren’t too many) or make you do it over before I grade it (if there are a lot).

Grading Alternative

Most of you are far enough along that you already have, or will soon have, at least ten sources. That’s why I’ve included the summaries as part of this assignment. Doing the summaries now will leave you more time to read and critique the sources later, which is the core of the next assignment. However, if you are not quite ready to do that, I am offering an alternative. Here’s how it works:

You may choose not to include summaries in this assignment. You will still be required to identify the theses of all your sources. I will score all the other categories besides identifying the main points and explaining how the source answers the research question. Therefore all the other categories will be worth a little bit more.

If you prefer to use this option, please indicate your choice at the top of your paper or in the comments box when submitting the assignment in Canvas.

Whichever option you choose, summaries and explanations will be a required element in our next assignment. Doing them now gives you a chance to get started early and revise for the next assignment if you find problems.

Here is a (made up) sample to illustrate the elements of the assignment.


A bibliography is a listing of the books, magazines, and Internet sources that you use in designing, carrying out, and understanding your science fair project. But, you develop a bibliography only after first preparing a background research plan — a road map of the research questions you need to answer. Before you compose your bibliography, you will need to develop your background research plan.

With your background research plan in hand, you will find sources of information that will help you with your science fair project. As you find this information it will be important for you to write down where the sources are from. You can use the Bibliography Worksheet to help you, just print out a few copies and take them with you to the library. As you find a source, write in all of the necessary information. This way, when you are typing your bibliography you won't need to go back to the library and find any missing information. The more information you write down about your source, the easier it will be for you to find if you want to read it again.

When you are writing your report, you will use the sources in your bibliography to remind you of different facts and background information you used for your science fair project. Each time you use some information from a source, you will need to cite the source that it came from. To cite a source, simply put the author's name and the date of the publication in parentheses (Author, date) in your text. If the person reading your report wants to find the information and read more about it, they can look up the reference in your bibliography for more detail about the source. That is why each source you use must be listed in a detailed bibliography with enough information for someone to go and find it by themselves.

Your bibliography should include a minimum of three written sources of information about your topic from books, encyclopedias, and periodicals. You may have additional information from the Web if appropriate.

Examples of Bibliography Formats

There are standards for documenting sources of information in research papers. Even though different journals may use a slightly different format for the bibliography, they all contain the same basic information. The most basic information that each reference should have is the author's name, the title, the date, and the source.

Different types of sources have different formatting in the bibliography. In American schools, the two most commonly used guidelines for this formatting are published by the MLA (Modern Language Association) and the APA (American Psychological Association).

The MLA guidelines call for the bibliography to be called Works Cited. Science Buddies has summarized some of the most common MLA formats for your use: MLA Format Examples.

The APA guidelines call for the bibliography to be called the Reference List. Science Buddies has summarized some of the most common APA formats for your use: APA Format Examples.

Your teacher will probably tell you which set of guidelines to use.

On the Science Buddies website we use the following guidelines:

  • APA format for online sources
  • MLA format for all other sources
  • APA (author, date, page) format for citations in our articles

Getting Started

Download and print the Science Buddies Bibliography Worksheet. Keep several copies with you and fill in the information as you do your research. When you are finished, type the information from the worksheet into a formatted bibliography using the examples listed above.

Sample Bibliographies

Sample Bibliography: MLA Works Cited Format
Sample Bibliography: APA Reference List Format

Bibliography Checklist

What Makes a Good Bibliography?For a Good Bibliography, You Should Answer "Yes" to Every Question
Have you included at least 3 sources of written information on your subject? (If you include Web pages, they should be in addition to the written sources.)Yes / No
Have you included complete information to identify each of your sources (author's name, the title, the date, and where it was published)?Yes / No
Have you used the proper format for each of your sources? Most teachers prefer the MLA or APA formats. Yes / No
Is your Bibliography in alphabetical order, by author's last name?Yes / No
Do you have sources of information to answer all of your research questions?Yes / No

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