Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Annotated Bibliography Assignment Guide for Students

Annotated Bibliography assignment got you stressed out?
Breathe and take it one source at a time.

So you've been assigned an annotated bibliography and you have no idea how to get started, how to write an annotated bibliography, or what an annotated bibliography even is, eh?  

Here's the skinny:

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources you find about a particular topic and your accompanying notes about each source.  Sometimes that topic is given to you, sometimes you get to pick the topic, and sometimes you're given a broad topic and you have to narrow it down.  Whatever the case (topic) may be, you have to find sources about it, take notes from and about those sources, and properly format each citation for each of the sources.

If this is the first time you've attempted an annotated bibliography, try this method to get started.  

Find One or Two Sources 

Within your school's library databases, use a variety of search terms related to your topic to generate hits.  Try selecting only peer-reviewed articles or articles within a certain date range or subject area to start, and expand your search or use the Internet if you aren't finding the type of evidence you need for your particular topic.

For example, I can use a science-based database to search for articles about veterinary science published in peer-reviewed journals in the last three years.  I can search for "large animal medicine," or "keeping horses healthy," or "dairy cow nutrition."  All of these searches will turn up different hits, and I can scan the abstracts to make sure they are relevant to my topic before I choose to use the sources in my annotated bibliography.

When in doubt, ask a reference librarian to help you learn to search for sources in the numerous database or subscription services your school is sure to offer.

On the other hand, I can also use an Internet search engine, like Google, if my topic calls for the use of lay testimony.  I can search for "iPhone Reviews" or "New iPhone" or "Newest Apple iOS for Phone" if I want to find out what people, not necessarily experts, are saying about the newest version of the iPhone.  If I'm working on an annotated bibliography as the first step in a research paper, however, I will need to keep these types of sources to a bare minimum and stick to peer-reviewed journal articles or texts.

Read the Sources

After you scan your hits and choose the best sources, read them. No, really:  Read the sources, the whole sources, and everything about the sources (like the authority of the author or the publication date).  Really really read them.

  • Read the source the first time.  Do not take notes.  Just read the source all the way through.  
  • Read the source the second time.  Take notes, ask questions in the margins, mark passages that excite you, confuse you, or make solid points.  Look up information you need to look up in order for the source to make as much sense as possible.  Remember that if you are new to a topic, it's going to take a lot of reading about it before you can understand everything you read.  Be patient.
  • Read the source a third time and make a final determination about its main points, its evidence, its relevance, reliability (if you can), and its timeliness and authority.
  • Read the source's bibliography and see if there's anything there for you to read, too.

Cite the Sources

Depending on the instructions of your professor, you may need to use one of a variety of citation styles for your bibliographic entries.

Here are some options, all for the same journal article:

AMA (American Medical Association)

Renner K. Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television. Horror Studies [serial online]. October 2013;4(2):201-219. Available from: Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 16, 2015.

APA (American Psychological Association)

Renner, K. J. (2013). Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television. Horror Studies, 4(2), 201-219. doi:10.1386/host.4.2.201_1

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date

Renner, Karen J. 2013. "Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television." Horror Studies 4, no. 2: 201-219. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed September 16, 2015).

Chicago/Turabian: Humanities

Renner, Karen J. "Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television." Horror Studies 4, no. 2 (October 2013): 201-219. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed September 16, 2015).


Renner, KJ 2013, 'Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television', Horror Studies, 4, 2, pp. 201-219, Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 September 2015.

MLA (Modern Language Association)

Renner, Karen J. "Negotiations Of Masculinity In American Ghost-Hunting Reality Television." Horror Studies 4.2 (2013): 201-219. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.

Whichever style you are asked to use, be sure to follow the instructions for both in-text and bibliographic citations.

Use Your Notes to Draft Paragraphs

Remember all those notes you took during your second read of the source?  Now is the time to look at them very carefully.  You're going to be turning those notes into complete thoughts about the source.

There are different ways to organize the information from your notes, but a good beginning point is to divide the entry into four parts: citation, source's main points, credibility and authority of the author or publisher, and additional notes about why you may or may not want to use the source for a final project, like timeliness of information, genre, bias, or reliability.  Once you draft responses based on those four prompts, you should add coherence to the paragraph or paragraphs and make sure all quoted or paraphrased source content is attributed to the page or paragraph where that information appears.

Of course, your professor may want information organized in a specific manner, so when in doubt, always follow those instructions and ask for help if you need it!

Here is an example entry that's been divided into its four parts:

MLA Citation: Kass, Jared. “What is Contemplative Education?” Institute for Contemplative Education. Institute for Contemplative Education, n.d. Web. 16 July 2015.

Review of important information: The Web site has a fantastic, thorough definition of contemplative education.  Kass states, "This educational approach introduces people to the maturational goals and contemplative practices of the spiritual traditions, and teaches them to use these practices as a resource for resilience, well-being, and peace-promoting responses to conflict" (par. 5). 

Author's credentials: Dr. Kass, the director of the Institute, has several publications and academic honors in this field of study.  His full bio is available on the Web site.

Relevance, use, and timeliness: I will use the definition available on this site to help support my argument that the contemplative educational approach is an approach that is directly linked to the development of diversity skills.  The definition given on the Web site includes three diversity skills as part of the definition.  However, I must be aware of the weakness of the definition: There is no date on the Web site, and the definition might be outdated pending newer research.  


Once you have completed one or two entries, be sure to have your work checked by your professor to make sure you are on the right track.  If this is something you have never done before, that follow-up may be essential to your grade.  You can continue adding entries to your annotated bibliography, one at a time, until you have satisfied your curiosity about your topic and met the assignment requirements.  It all starts,  however, with just one entry.

Want to read more about research and writing?  Try

Prewriting the Research Essay: Starting with "I Think"
An Overview of the Writing Process
Evidence: Writing Well-Supported Paragraphs

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

No comments:

Post a Comment