The working bibliography is a fluid, constantly changing list of the works which you’re planning to seek out to see whether they’ll be of use in your research project. It's like a series of preliminary drafts of the works cited, but before any of the works have even been looked at or the paper written.

How to Make a Working Bibliography

You begin collecting the titles that will go into the working bibliography as you begin your preliminary reading. Look at a wide array of materials to find mention of potential sources:

  • assigned course readings that touch on your topic
  • reference works such as encyclopedias
  • the Internet, including Wikipedia

As you begin to get a better sense of your topic, start combing through databases such as EBSCOhost, Gale Power Search , and LexisNexis . Skim the abstract or summary of each article and book and if it looks like it might be worth consulting, add it to the working bibliography. The working bibliography is simply the list of materials you’ll start looking for.  

As you collect the data for each potential source, be sure you collect all the bibliographic data required for an MLA works cited entry, and more: for books, collect the call number, and for websites, collect the URL. You’ll likely need the info to find the book or article, and you’ll need to know the author, the full title, the publisher, the date of publication, etc., to evaluate the source. And you will need the data to write the works cited entry if you actually include the work in your final draft of  the paper.  It's also useful to note where you found the reference to the source, and the date. Be sure to note the beginning and ending page numbers of articles and chapters.

Once you have a substantial list of potential books and articles, look to see which ones seem most fruitful, and start collecting PDFs or photocopies of the articles and checking out or placing holds or requests for the books. You might create a working bibliography of anywhere for one to three dozen entries for a 8-to-10 page paper, depending on the subject, the course, the complexity of the subject, and the assignment requirements.

As you get your hands on the articles and books, check the works cited or bibliographies at the end--they often list sources that would be useful as well.

The contents of the working bibliography are continually changing up to the moment you finish your paper. As you consult the books and articles, you'll find that some are of little use, and others very helpful. Delete the unhelpful items and retain the useful items. As you find new potential sources mentioned in the sources you're looking at, add them to the working bibliography. When you've completed your paper, arrange the entries for the sources you've actually cited in the paper, and it's your works cited, with a little cleaning up.

Physical Form of the Working Bibliography

Traditionally, the working bibliography was a collection of 3-inch by 5-inch index cards, with the data copied on them in hand.

More recently, the working bibliography is a computer file that's formatted just like a works cited page.

Sample Working Bibliography

This is what a working bibliography on banning cars in Yosemite National Park might look like in its early stages:

Working Bibliography

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990. Print.

Associated Press. "Officials Seek Car Ban in Yosemite: Foot Traffic, Bikes, Buses Would Ease the Crush of 7,000 Vehicles." Spokesman-Review, 5 Nov. 1997. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.

Brazil, Eric. "Plan to Ban Cars in Yosemite Falls." San Francisco Chronicle, 4 Aug. 1998. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.

Evelyn Nieves and Matthew L. Wald. "Interior Department Plans to Reduce Traffic in Yosemite."  New York Times. New York Times, 28 Mar. 2000. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

Krist, John. "Yosemite Car Ban Will Test National Park Service." Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Google News Archive Search.  3 Dec. 1997. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

Roderick, Kevin. "Parks Service Backs off on Banning Cars in Yosemite." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times Media Group, 2 Sept. 1989. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.


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