5g- Building an Annotated Bibliography

As stated above, a particular instructor may or may not require an annotated bibliography as a separate writing assignment.  Even so, this text can often be helpful to a larger research project.  An annotated bibliography is essentially a list of the sources you find relevant, with all of the necessary bibliographic information (i.e. author, title, publisher, year, etc.), followed by information about the content of the source. Annotated bibliographies can be used for a variety of purposes.  They may demonstrate the quality of your research, or provide readers additional background information.  An annotated bibliography often accompanies a research proposal and justifies both the relevance and need for such research.  In short, an annotated bibliography provides a larger frame of reference for a specific research project.

While it may seem incredibly obvious, in order to write an annotated bibliography, you need to pay attention to both the form and content of the document.  The form is fairly straightforward:  a list of citations, each one in alphabetical order, followed by a short paragraph of summary—the annotation.  In terms of formatting the bibliographic citations, you will use the documentation style your teacher prefers you to use.  Different styles include APA, MLA, and Chicago Style. Basic guidelines for MLA and APA documentation strategies are discussed later in this chapter, but most writers, if not all, use a style manual when formatting their bibliographies or works cited pages. This is not the kind of information that most people carry around in their heads. The styles also evolve and change, so your best bet is to keep your style manual or handbook close at hand, or to check web style sources, such as http://www.apa.org  or http://www.mla.org for updated information, or visit an online resource like www.easybib.com  for interactive, online formatting help. This is also why you need to keep careful track of the details of your sources and, as you type this information into your computer, take the time from the outset to order this information in terms of the required style manual for your class.

The content of the document—the summary paragraphs—sounds straightforward enough, but because this document is more formal than your own note taking and summarizing for yourself, there are aspects to keep in mind.  Following the basic bibliographic information, you will write a fully-developed paragraph that summarizes the content of the source and provides an evaluation of how you see it connected to your research and your site.  The summary should provide informative, descriptive, and evaluative information. In other words, you will write about the main ideas or arguments presented by the author/authors in the source, what is included in the source, what you think of or how you respond to the source, and how it relates to your own ideas and project.

Each annotated bibliographic entry should work to provide substantial answers to the following four questions:

  • What is the larger, general focus of this book or article?
  • What is the more specific, particular idea presented by the author/authors in this work that seems relevant to your research?
  • How does this idea connect with your research?
  • Where do you think this connection could lead your activity in the site and/or writing as you proceed during the course of this semester?

The first two questions pertain to the act of summarizing the work and the second two questions help push you toward making a specific connection between this source and your research.  To fully address these questions, your annotated bibliography entries should be at least 6-8 sentences in length.

Documenting Secondary Source Material (MLA and APA)

Different disciplines, different scholarly journals, and most importantly for you, different classes and instructors may require different styles. It is very important that you check with your instructor in each class to find out which style /format you are expected to use in your writing.

Typically, the Modern Language Association (MLA) style is used throughout the humanities, though Chicago style is widely used in history and humanities for those who favor footnotes.  The American Psychological Association (APA) is used throughout the social sciences while the Council of Science Editors (CSE, formerly CBE) is expected in the natural sciences. Each of these styles varies in the format for in-text (your quotes and paraphrases) and bibliography or works cited entries. Online bibliographic format help is also widely available. One of the best places to consult is the  Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL): http://owl.english.purdue.edu/.  Here you will find links to the MLA and APA style sheets, as well as many other resources for helping you with your writing.