How to write a bibliographic essay: Best Guide

How do you feel when you get a bibliographic essay as an assignment? If you feel challenged on how to write a bibliographic essay, it is understandable. You have written other essays, and this is another one of them, but writing a bibliographic essay! What is it?

What is a bibliographic essay? Do you know the word bibliography? If you do, you can guess the content of a bibliographic essay. A bibliographic essay is a review of the literature on a given topic. A bibliographic essay offers an introduction to several key sources of a topic. 

bibliographic essay

A bibliographic essay is different from a literature review where the author only addresses the merits of a recently published single source. A bibliographic essay enumerates several sources like an annotated bibliography. It further describes and analyses them.

A bibliographic essay also compares, contrasts, and evaluates the relationship among works in the available materials. It hence draws the picture of the literature topic, taking a stand, and establishing an interpretive viewpoint. 

What is a bibliographic essay?

A bibliographic essay is a literature analysis. If a piece of literature is in the hands of a person unfamiliar with it, they should be able to quickly understand its history, content, extent, and methodologies. 

The analysis breaks down the literature into sub-groupings, explain issues leading to the sub-group, informs the reader about the general content concerning specific issues, and provides a sense of which article or books to read depending on the project and questions. 

A bibliographic essay is a research tool developed by an author for use by others interested in that topic. It helps the reader move quickly to the analyzed literature. At the end of the analysis, there should be an annotated bibliography. It provides the reader with citations for the books and articles discussed. 

Annotated means a sentence or two should be at the entry of each bibliography at the end of an analytical essay, describing the article or book that describes the statement’s significance. 

How long should a bibliography essay be

There is no exact number of pages; however, anything under twenty-five is too short, and anything over forty pages is too long. Aim for thirty to thirty-five ages without counting the annotated bibliography at the end.

Essays should begin with an introduction and conclude with a summary. The introduction sets the stage by describing the topic and the state of literature supporting it. It should also briefly describe the body of selected resources, explaining why it makes core literature for that field of study. It should further describe the organization of the essay and explain the reason for that organization.

How many books should a bibliography essay cover

There should be enough books and articles to cover thirty to thirty-five pages of work material analysis. You should, however, have enough space to be informative complete your analysis. The more books there are, the shorter the bibliography will be, while the more articles, the longer it will be.

 You don’t need to discuss all the books, at least not at length. Some books are more important than others, and you should discuss them at greater length. Others will compare more books than others in the bibliography. While subgrouping, place each book in the category you think it should be and explain why you think it belongs there.

Compiling a bibliographic essay

While compiling a bibliographic essay, ask yourself two questions

  1. Who is writing, what are they writing, where are they publishing it, and who is it intended for? Further, ask these questions:
  • Who is their writer? Are they professional writers, amateurs, professional academics, men or women
  • Does their background have impacted their writing of the material work
  • What documentation or information is the author using in creating their work
  • What organizations are publishing, are they commercial, scholarly or private and who is their audience

2. What are they writing about, and how are they writing? elaborate and ask more questions”:

  • What theories, images, conclusions and points of view are in these materials
  • Are there assumptions made, and do they question
  • Has anything been left out
  • What issues, debates and problems are there
  • How has the material been presented, what evidence, traditions, expectations, and call do they provoke

Additionally, to these respective sources’ questions, you will account for similarities and differences among works. Investigate overtime changes, demography and geography as to what ideas and whose work, points of view and images how materials have developed in emphases, modes, school of thoughts and themes etc. 

These questions enable you to build the “compare and contrast” structure that characterizes the bibliographic essay.

How to gather reading sources for a bibliography essay

Once you figure out who is writing and what they are writing about, you need to know how to gather sources to read.

  1. Survey several work materials 

A survey is an excellent way to identify reading sources. Other than hits from discussion and advice from your lecturer, there are two ways in which you can conduct a survey.

  • using reference works, like, dictionaries and encyclopedias
  • using various databases available through the Smathers library webpage

Reference and secondary literature is a vital part of your research, and it should be the first step you take 

2. legwork and scanning

you will need to decide which books you will include in your bibliographic essay. You will further look at the table of content and indexes, read the introduction of each of those books and get a glimpse of what they are about. 

The books you choose not to focus on make up for the footnotes, and you will only mention them in passing. The primary fundamental purpose is to educate people on what to read. You will have to demonstrate your command of the topic equally by telling them the book they don’t need to read.

The books you choose to concentrate on will be the tip of the iceberg, the body you aim to sketch.

You can write a bibliographic essay on virtually any topic. To select a topic, ensure sources are written on the work available. If not, your topic is too narrow. Don’t settle for a topic that is on its last leg. Pick one that is ever added on through archival discoveries. Critical thinking is paramount when you are choosing a topic. 

How to write a bibliographic essay 

To write a bibliographic essay that will get you a good grade, you need to structure it well and follow the writing principles for this type of essay.

Choose reliable sources only

Find sources that are recommended for your topic only. Though encyclopedias provide good sources, they have relatively short and incomplete information. On the other hand, the website offers unreliable publications and, in most cases, is not verified. Only choose publications in reputable journals and provide your reader with relevant and reliable information. 

The library is another place you can visit. There are online and offline sources whose principle is the same. Please include it in your essay once you have a reliable and trustworthy source. Other places you can get information for your bibliography are:

  • the heading of an article 
  • the content page of a magazine
  • the header or footer of a website

Check your style guide for your essay

Different institutions, disciplines and journals use different referencing styles. Before writing, consult the relevant style guide. When turning in your bibliography paper, type your sources into a list using the required format as your bibliographic essay template to ensure you have formatted it correctly.

List details for your essay as you go 

At the start of your bibliographic essay, list a biography that you will use to record your sources. It is easier to note down details of each text you read during your research. List the sources in an alphabetical order using the author’s last name. If there is more than one author, alphabetize using the first name. If the author is unknown, alphabetize the source using the title. 

Write the following information for each source you find for printed sources and websites 

  • Author name 
  • Title of the publication
  • date of publication 
  • place of publication 
  • number of magazines printed 
  • number of pages
  • author and editor names, if available
  • title of the page, if available
  • the organization that posted the website
  • the web address for the page
  • the last date you looked at the page 


Do not discuss or analyze the opinion of the author 

The objective of your bibliographic essay is to give your reader the idea of which sources to use. The primary task is to summarize the thoughts and ideas of others without expressing your view on those opinions. 

You don’t need to discuss them to discredit the authors or prove that your opinion is correct. Provide information without stating with whom you agree or disagree. 

Be thorough 

Your reader should be able to identify your sources quickly through the information you have included in your biography. Provide sufficient biographic detail for each text listed. If you are citing journal articles, include the page numbers. 

Be consistent

Consistency is as important as being thorough. For clarity purposes, you need to use the same format for all sources of the same type.

How to structure your bibliographic essay

  1. Research on the topic and brainstorm search terms
  2. Skim and review articles
  3. Evaluate your sources 
  4. Write your bibliographic essay


  • Summarize the focus of your essay
  • Introduce the texts to be summarized
  • Give the title of each source
  • Name the author of each source

Give a background information of the author, texts and general topic where the texts have been drawn


  • Include information form more than one source in each paragraph
  • Use citations and indicate from which source the material comes from
  • Indicate similarities and differences


Remind the reader the most significant themes you found and the ways they connect to the overall topic.

Bibliographic essay format

Though different journals use a different format for a bibliography, they contain the same basic information. There are standards for documenting sources of information in research papers. The basic information that each reference should have is the author’s name, date, and source. 

Different sources have different formatting. Citing an essay depends on the format required. The commonly used guidelines are the MLA (Modern Language Association) and the APA (American Psychology Association). The bibliography is called works cited in the MLA guidelines, while in the APA guidelines, the bibliography is called the reference list. 

Below is a bibliographic essay example in MLA form. 


The work cited list should begin at the end of the paper but on a new page with the centred title. Alphabetize the entries by the author’s name using a letter-by-letter system. If the author’s name is unknown, alphabetize the title.

For dates, the names of months should be spelt out in the text of your paper. You should, however, abbreviate them in the list of works cited, except for May, June and July, use either the day-month-year style or the month-day-year style and paramount consistency. Add a comma after the year with the month-day-year style, unless a punctuation mark goes there.

Italics or underlining 

If you are writing the bibliographic essay by hand, underline the names of publications. If you are using a computer, publication names should be in italics. Always enquire from your instructor on which prefer to use. 

Hanging indentation

All MLA citations use hanging indents. The first line of an entry is flush left while the second and subsequent lines are indented to1/2”.

Capitalization, abbreviation and punctuation 

The MLA guidelines use title case capitalization-capitalize the first words, last words and principal words, including those that follow hyphens in compound terms. The guideline also abbreviates the lowercase to identify the parts of work unless a period follows. Always use the proper abbreviated forms of the publisher’s name whenever possible.

MLA template contains the following details

  • Author (last name, first name)
  • Title of the source
  • Title of the container 
  • Other contributors (names and roles)
  • Version
  • number publisher
  • publication date
  • location of the source (URL or page range)
  • summary of the analysis

Bibliographical essay example APA 

In this formatting style, the reference is styled differently. Websites, newspaper articles, websites and other publications have their reference structure. Look for the following basic information from various sources.

  • Type of source
  • Author (last name, first name)
  • Title of source
  • Title of where the source was found
  • Other contributors (names and roles)
  • Version
  • Number
  • Publisher
  • Publication date
  • Location of the source (URL, DIO or page range)
  • Summary of analysis

How to start a bibliography essay

The key to writing a successful bibliography essay is to define a topic that will generate the correct number of sources. A bibliography should discuss the items in the relevant literature without being exhaustive.  

You may get assistance for your professor on how to define a topic. Still, as you compile the bibliography, you will be required to alter the size of the literature by either expanding or contracting the topic. 

The best idea for starting your essay is to consult several most recent publications on the topic to help you identify the main literature contributors. If this doesn’t provide the needed information, consider other sources to add up to your research. 

You don’t need a comprehensive discussion on every piece of literature. A topic may have many books written over the years, but you only need to discuss the most recent books plus the first that defined the topic and probably a few others that were important in later developments. 

You will still be left with a few books which will not be discussed in your annotated bibliography. In this case, the annotation will place them.

What things should be included in the actual essay

There are several parts to an essay, and the first is the introduction. An introduction provides a concise topic that needs to be reviewed, and it explains the significance of the topic and its literature. The second part, the body, lays out the categories that emerge upon reading the literature defined by the topic. It is in the body that you will analyze the essay topics independently.

In the second part, you can mention a history of literature development to lay out how categories emerged over time and identify significant contributors. Follow this up with a category that discusses the books by explaining why they belong in that category.

Generally, give a sense of how each book proceeds, comparing the book to each other within a category in terms of similarities and differences. Discuss the unique aspects in each book that might make it relate to other books in a different category. 

There will most likely be a summary of each book’s content; however, do not lapse into a simple summary that lacks analysis and comparison. On average, discuss at length six to eight books in each category. Some books may be in more than one category for comparison’s sake.

Finally, in your conclusion, provide an overall assessment of the literature. What are the strengths and weaknesses, where nest should it go and, who and on issues central to the literature, who seems to have the best handle on the works?

Nursing bibliographic essay

Several things make writing integral in nursing, among them, learning different nursing skills, patient care, issues of nursing liability, and these rely upon writing as a communication tool. Writing happens in nurses’ notes, clinical studies and scholarly research.

If you have been assigned an annotated assignment, you will be required to describe a list of resources focusing on the common theme. You have to fully cite and annotate each entry, ranging from a few to several paragraphs. Your annotation should be concise and descriptive in summarizing and evaluating the contents of a resource.  

Bibliographic analysis essay

You analyze a bibliographic essay by comparing multiple articles and books. You provide your reader with context from the topic you are studying and recommend reputable sources on the subject.

How to analyze a bibliographic essay?

  • Seeking sources

You are primarily summarizing a list of sources. Use credible scholarly sources before you start writing. Do not use articles from the encyclopedias as they may not provide in-depth information on a subject. 

During your research, skim a reference page to each source page. Some sources may not provide in-depth information but may reference other scholarly works that focus on the topic.

  • Use a function statement. 

Use a function statement at the beginning of your essay since you will be providing the reader with an overview of the literature on the subject. A thesis statement mainly describes an argument you are trying to prove, while a function statement is the purpose of your essay.

  • Do not analyze, restate

Your goal is to summarize what others have written. Include both the description and evaluation of what each source states and consider the subject’s most essential aspect.

  • Keep it short

A bibliographic analysis essay requests you to summarize several sources, including your comparison of different sources, in under six pages. Keep your writing concise and avoid repetitive statements. Author background is not necessary unless it is relevant to the source directly.

Annotated bibliography vs literature review 

If you have written an essay, a thesis or a research paper, you are probably familiar with an annotated bibliography and how to create and use it. You may also have experienced a literary review. These two are an essential part of any thesis or research paper.

Both annotated bibliography and literature review summarizes a specific topic, its content and sources. They, however, differ in how these facts are presented. Both can be about any topic, but the literature review aims to answer a particular question about a particular subject, while annotated bibliography is about the importance of the sources of information.

The annotated bibliography informs the reader about the sources’ quality, accuracy, and relevance. At the same time, the literature review informs the reader about the topic’s pros and cons also how the author’s views differ and conform to previous arguments about the topic.

An annotated bibliography allows the reader to choose if they want to explore available sources independently. At the same time, a literature review directs the reader to understand the sources available.

Bibliographic essay vs literature review

There are notable distinctions between a bibliographical essay and a literature review. First, those in social sciences and humanities tend to be authors of bibliographical essays, while literature reviews are more often authored by those in sciences and social sciences.

Second, a bibliographical essay offers a detailed view of the current understanding of a particular area of research. This helps identify gaps that other scholars can use in their projects. The essay indicates what is known and what needs to be done. On the other hand, the literature review discusses significant research and theoretical work about the research objective that a particular scholar is studying.

Both genres, however, address the same kind of questions:

  • what have others said about this area(s)
  • what theories address it, and what do they say
  • what research has been done or not done previously
  • Are the findings consistent, and do past studies disagree?
  • Are there gaps that scholars should attend to

What is an example of a good topic?

This s rather hard to say since you are supposed to examine the relevant literature to determine which topic to choose based on, among other things, the availability of sources for the work material. 

It is, however, imperative that you consider the length of your paper. The longer the assignment, the more complex your topic may be. For shorter papers, limit topics and make the strongest argument. 

Select a topic you can handle within your time limitations. Your idea might be broad, pick an aspect of a topic which interests you. Familiarize yourself with the topic by several reference source. A good reference will also help you identify the best books and article for the subject.

Bibliographic essay topics examples

Example 1:

  • Literature on the role of social media in keeping people connected
  • Literature on how mainstream media is contributing to chaos in the society
  • Literature o the role of 5Gtechnology in advancing the world 

Example 2: 

Literature on the view of capital punishment by different countries?

  • Literature on how society be encouraged to be gender-neutral?
  • Literature on the role of evolution in explaining the origin of man

Example 3:

  • The literature on American voting behaviour
  • The literature on voting behaviours in the American states 
  • Impact of religion on American voting behaviour

Example 4:

  • Literature on psychotherapy effectiveness
  • Literature on positive psychology
  • Literature on statistical methods used in psychology

Example 5:

  • Literature o transcultural nursing 
  • Literature on evidence-based nursing practice
  • Literature on the role of emotional intelligence in healthcare

Bottom line 

A crucial role is played in information studies by a bibliographic essay. It is a tool used in research to develop the collection or dive into recommended readings to increase personal knowledge. Much as a bibliographic essay is characterized by writing that borders book review, academic article, and annotated bibliography, pay attention to its composition and structure. 

With the guide on how to write a bibliographic essay and the examples given, you will be inspired to be a prospective contributor in this format. While there may be no room to contain potential books that might be written, there certainly is space for bibliographic essays to assist the way through stacks. Are you up for the challenge?

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