Read everything in your bibliography?


Hello everyone

This may seem like an amateur question for a phd student to be asking, but I have got different responses depending on who I have asked so far... Should we read every article/book chapter that we reference in our thesis, are you/ have you cited authors without having read the full work by taking the reference from another source?
I am asking this because I seem to be constantly tracking down more and more articles, usually from one reading I get a further 5 references to check up and it gets out of hand very quickly.

Also are students asked to show hard copies of their citations at PhD level? My boyf did a M.Sc thesis a couple years ago and he was instructed to keep a hardcopy evidence of all his references. Is this standard in other universities?


Hey mate,

Nah you would never be expected to read everything in your bibliography, I'm sorry to say but that would be impossible. The secret is to skim read and take only what you need, using titles or contents pages. Don't worry if you think you have missed something important because if it is indeed important it will come up in the majority of papers you will read in the future!

Check this thread:

As what I have said in pretty much a sum of this


Yes, I have read at least abstracts/discussions of the refs included in my thesis.  I don't necessarily remember exactly who said what as I have a bad memory for names! I am science-based so my ref list is probably shorter than other subjects though.

I keep copies of the refs as PDFs or hard-copies.  All the ones cited in my thesis will be collected together for viva prep in subject area and then order of importance to my study.

I think if an earlier ref is cited in a later paper you should go back to the original as it may have been misquoted.  The abstracts are usually available on-line for ease so that you can check the citation is truly relevant for your work. If you do take the citation from another source you can reference it appropriately to reflect this, however I think examiners prefer to see the original.


Quote From sandian:

... have you cited authors without having read the FULL work by taking the reference from another source?

Just to clarify, I was saying not to read everything in FULL, but do have a brief read of everything or just the abstract etc


======= Date Modified 17 Feb 2011 10:52:57 =======
I will at least have read the abstracts and skim read everything I include - but I don't think anybody would read in full every single book/article in their bibliography. I do know of people in earlier degrees who went through the university library and took down the details of all books in their field and included them... not good practice! With regard to referencing other writers' quotations, its a dodgy thing to do Ias they can be quoted out of context or incorrectly. I try to locate the original source and quote then reference that, or if that's not possible then I come clean ;-)


As someone who reads pretty quick and retains info I would say I have read the totality of probably half my Bibliography (around 100 papers), and the other hundred I have at least read an abstract and conclusion to. Its not that I would use all these papers in my thesis referencing (some are article specific), but its useful to be broadly read in your field (science PhD in a field with plenty of different techniques and concepts). I would definitely not include any reference I had not read, as it leads to bad info...I found one example where clearly people in a number of formal articles had misquoted the same articles dozens of times, and even got the reference wrong in their list...its that not paying attention and reading for yourself that generates problems here. By generating notes of each of my references (I generally like to pick out what theyd be useful for), and leaving info in the filenames (plus having a physical copy with scribblings) it generally allows me to go back when I am unsure or unhappy with my interpretation.

Hope these ideas help.


Thanks everyone for your advice, I will def be taking alot of it into consideration as I prepare the first draft chapters.

I probably should have said that my research is in the social sciences, human geography, to be precise. Thesis in this field are less exact than a purely science thesis in terms of fleshing out our arguments, this is approached in a different manner (although I could be very wrong). There just seems to be so much to read, so many authors coming from all different perspectives and yet discussing the same issue. I find the relevant literature expands across several disciplines, all equally as useful but they seem to talk past each other... it drives me looney!!!


======= Date Modified 18 Feb 2011 13:23:00 =======
I hope my own experience might be helpful to you.

When i submitted my thesis i split my biblio into 2 sections. The first was called 'works cited in this text' the second called 'works that influenced my argment'. Both sections contained about 150 books and articles. My discipline is social theory/philosophy And was entirely theoretical and i imagine that compared to others i may use citations quite heavily: in my 115,000 word thesis i had 1285 footnotes. Is this normal, i don't know.

Before i went to my viva i made sure that i could outline, even if only roughly, the arguments made in thefirst set of texts. I was aided in this as ever since i was an undergraduate everytime that iread an interesting chapter or article i wrote itup on an index card. I now have thousands of these; sometimes they are up to 1000 words long. So it was these that i used, amongst other materials to prepare my argument and jts defence at my viva.

Anyway, the point of my story is that i was lucky that i did as one of my externals - whose work i had directly taken to task in my thesis: although notin as serious a way as itdeserved - really agressively tried to trip me up with reference to key parts ofthis literature: and not the parts of it of that i had expected either. The point being that i was able to demonstrate to the other examiner - and to this examiner also but only begrudgingly - that i had a firm grasp of these texts and to justify my interpretation of them. My viva was successful but onlybecause i had mybibliography at my fingertips. Don'tknowifthis is helpful to you.

I apologise for the horrible writing and editing. I am using my freinds ipad which he bought damaged and hasn't repaired yet. Ithasamind of its own about letting you makecorrections, use the spa ebar etc.