Tutorial: Avoiding Plagiarism - Maintaining a Working Bibliography

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Maintaining a Working Bibliography


A working bibliography is a list of all the sources you consult as you work on a research project. You may not need to include every one of these sources in your project, but keep a list of every work you’ve consulted so that your records are complete. This helps avoid the problem of wondering "Where did I see that?" and not being able to find it. It also may come in handy for future research projects. Don’t discard your working bibliography after completing your research; instead, keep it on file so that you can consult it again if you need to.


Your working bibliography should include complete information for each source, so you can write your citations easily. This information includes the author’s name, the title of the work, the title of the book or periodical it comes from (if applicable), the volume and issue number, the place of publication, the publishing company, the date of publication, inclusive page numbers, and the medium of publication. Note any other information that pertains to the work’s publication, such as whether it’s a volume in a series, an edition other than the first, or a translation. Write down the information for each source as you begin using it. You can also keep your working bibliography on a computer file, which makes it easy to transfer into your final draft later on. In addition, it’s very helpful to keep printouts or photocopies of all your sources; this will allow you to check quotations, paraphrases, and bibliographic information later on.


Keeping Track of Source Materials: The Research Portfolio


As an ethical researcher, you should establish good research habits and stick to them. A research project, even a relatively small one involving only a few sources, quickly accumulates materials. There is no cut-and-dried rule for how to keep these materials organized, but keeping some form of research portfolio is important. This portfolio should include:

  • photocopies or electronic copies of your source information
  • your notes
  • your annotated bibliography
  • drafts of the paper or project you’re working on
  • any feedback you’ve received


Organize your portfolio so that it is both comprehensive (containing all your materials) and manageable (designed for easy retrieval of information). As you become more experienced at research, you will develop a type of research portfolio that works for you. However, there are some basic principles that are important to keep in mind as you collect data. These not only help keep you organized, but also help you avoid inadvertent plagiarism because they are aimed at recording what you find through research both precisely and accurately. This lessens the chances that you will unintentionally express someone else’s idea and claim it as your own. (For more information on this, see the section "Taking Notes.")


  • Create a structure for your portfolio. One example is the folder system. Hanging file folders represent large categories, such as "Female singer/songwriters," and can be subdivided using manila folders, which represent smaller categories, such as "Dar Williams," "Ani DiFranco," and "Patty Griffin." As you discover more information through your research, you’ll add more folders, or perhaps revise the categories altogether. Your working bibliography is kept in a separate folder. With each source, you’ll also keep your notes and annotations on that source. Another example of a research portfolio type is the notebook system. In this system, materials are kept in a three-ring binder, with dividers separating the categories. The system you use will be governed by how much material you accumulate as well as what your organizational preferences are.
  • Keep backup materials. Your portfolio should include backup copies of everything, to guard against loss or computer failure. If a lot of your information resides on a computer, keep hard copies of everything and/or save a backup on a memory stick or external hard drive.
  • Make a hard copy of each source for your own use. Articles downloaded from an online periodical database should be printed out. Articles or chapters of books should be photocopied. Web sites should be printed out. (Most printouts of Web sites will note the URL and date of access automatically. If this doesn’t occur, note these two pieces of information yourself.) This is important so that not only do you have backup material, but you also have all your research data at your fingertips while you are writing.
  • Take notes on every source you collect. The importance of this step cannot be overemphasized. If you simply read a source over and then later attempt to include some of its information in the draft of your paper, your chances of plagiarizing are much greater. You simply don’t have enough opportunity to digest a source’s information unless you take notes on what you read. Even if you don’t plagiarize, your inclusion of the source’s words is likely to sound choppy, with inadequate connectors between your ideas and the source’s. How to take these notes is covered in more detail in the next section.



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