How you approach the bibliography can make a big difference in whether it becomes a thorn in your side or not! Often it’s taught as an afterthought, instead of an integral part of the research process. If you’ve been caught in the cycle of forgetting about the bibliography until the day before it’s due and then teaching them how to write the entries in a rushed half-lesson, I think you will find this approach refreshing and meaningful.
The first step is to expect students to make bibliography creation a part of the research process. While they are looking for relevant information on their topics, they should be keeping track of their sources in what I call a ‘running bibliography.’
The best way to keep track of your sources is by using a reference manager. This tool goes well beyond simply creating your bibliographical entries using the source information. In many cases it will actually read the metadata of an online source and create your bibliographical entry, and at the very least it is a place to keep a record of all your sources as you complete your research. If you do not want to do any research on the subject, I suggest using the free version of Zotero
which can be used as an application on your computer, in your Firefox web browser, and within Microsoft Word (as well as other word processors) as an add-on that communicates with your browser add-on. You can learn more about the functions of the program through the support offered on the Zotero website, but really, the best way to learn the program is to use it!
If you are not able to use Zotero, the next best option is to use the Reference tools in Microsoft Word. Although you have to input all the relevant bibliographical information yourself, adding the references to the document is easy. Zotero and Word both have a generate bibliography function that can be used when you are done your assignment.
I know that there are teachers who believe in students knowing how to generate references and bibliographical entries, but I believe that it’s no longer necessary. When there are tools to complete mundane tasks, we should use them!
Finally, as a part of the process, submitting a working bibliography during the process allows you to talk to the students about the sources they have selected. Is there an appropriate number and scope? Is the authorship credible? Have they explored all their source options, in print and online?
When it comes time to complete the bibliography, it literally writes itself when using a bibliographical manager.
Web 2.0 Tools for research will be covered in the next entry – Research Article #3.