Annotated bibliographies can be extremely helpful to students and researchers alike. Generally, they are used to provide concise summaries of relevant sources on a topic and inform the reader of several things; the main objective and purpose of the title, any major points addressed by the author, and whether or not the work can be effectively used for a particular research project.
Likewise, the specific purpose behind the construction of an annotated bibliography
may vary considerably. Depending on the researchers intent or instructor's guidelines the annotated bibliography will function as either (a) a summary of the titles mentioned, (b) a summary as well as an evaluation regarding the usefulness of the work or (c) a combination of the first two as well as an in-depth analysis of each source.
Additionally, in most cases the commentary or summary sections of the bibliography will only come to a few sentences or paragraph at best. In some situations a professor may ask for a more detailed interpretation (may be several paragraphs) but this is rare for a school assignment, and if anything this type of detail would be used while conducting professional research.
Why annotated bibliographies?
Generally annotated bibliographies are requested by instructors to aide students in transitioning to the actual construction of a research paper
as well as evaluate and eliminate any unnecessary books or resources. Likewise, the annotated bibliography is also considered to be a comprehensive guide to the literature on the subject as well as a suitable literature review.
In planning for your annotated bibliography, like any other piece of writing, its necessary to plan ahead and set aside enough time to properly satisfy each requirement. Hopefully in doing so you will be permitted to produce a timely and presentable bibliography.
Getting the work done: Plan ahead
Step # 1: Identify the purpose and scope of the annotated bibliography
What is the scope of your annotated bibliography? Do you plan on reviewing everything that was written on the subject (which is ideal for narrow, specific areas of study) or do you intend to only review a particular subcategory of the topic? Answering these questions will help you to properly identify the amount of titles you will be required to read as well as help you to gauge where to start and where to stop. Not spending precious time reading irrelevant material or off topic titles should make finishing your assignment on time all the much easier. *In most cases your instructor should give you an idea of what he or she expects with regards to scope.
Secondly, what is the purpose of your annotated bibliography? A few points were mentioned earlier including; providing a summary of each title as well as evaluating its worth for your particular research project. Another reason not mentioned is to provide readers with a complete listing of source of materials. Some sources may not have found their way directly into your paper but are marginally on topic and would be beneficial to list. Lastly, the annotated bibliography can also act as a literature review, demonstrating your competence and authority on the subject being discussed.
Step #2: Organize all of your sources with source cards
A source card is simply a card that provides all of the required information to reference a particular source. To save yourself a lot of time and stress its very important to properly record each resource that you review. This information will be needed for your bibliography even though you may not quote directly from the source reviewed. Source cards should be sent up using the bibliographic form for each title (depending on the styling guide you choose to use).The source is simply placed right in the middle of the card without any other information. For example, if referencing a book using APA
you would write the following directly in the center of the card;
Henderson, S. (2010). The Best of Us. Chicago: Hutchinson Press.
Step #3: Take a reasonable amount of notes
Proficient note taking is a skill that takes time and practice. The hard part is usually finding the right balance between recording just enough information so that essential details are not missed but also not to record too much information that would make it hard to provide a brief but comprehensive summary of the title.
Additionally, it may be best to jot down a quick summary immediately after reading a work to ensure that accurate descriptions are provided. Likewise, bias opinions should be avoided as the only necessary statements or claims that need to be noted are those used to evaluate whether or not the title would fit well into a particular research project.
Step #4: Decide on a format for your annotated bibliography
The format for your annotated bibliography may primarily be based upon specific requirements given by your instructor or other authoritative body. If using a particular styling guide such as MLA, APA, or Chicago
, then you would simply follow the format of that guide for your listing structure. But since a styling guide is not always required, your annotated bibliography can also be organized alphabetically, chronologically, according to medium (i.e. internet source, book source, magazine, journal etc.) or by each subtopic or subcategory.
Step #5: Write it out: Type each source in its bibliographic form & then add annotations
Some may find it advantageous to have a complete listing of sources before adding summaries or commentaries. In a way this may improve the organization of thoughts and ideas by visually mapping out all the titles that need to be addressed before attempting to start. It also provides somewhat of an outline or framework for the annotated bibliography. Finally, seeing the different task that need to be completed may help to put duties in perspective as well as ensure that a lot of time is not spent on one particular source over the other.
When writing out the summary or commentary for each source some things that may be helpful to include are as follows;
- the main argument of the author
- the purpose of the work
- the major points, findings or conclusions
- additional contents such as notable charts, diagrams, glossaries or appendices
- any significant points about the background of the author or his other works
- how the title fits with others similar to it in the same field
- how useful the title would be in answering the posed research question
- the intended audience of the book and how that may affect its delivery (for ex. difficulty of vocabulary etc.)
Additionally, though your annotated bibliography may not be selected for publishing, its still very important to adhere to necessary writing mechanics, such as grammar, punctuation and fluency. The formatting style in which you choose to write is up to you, but generally its best to use complete sentences to ensure that your points are properly conveyed as opposed to partial phrases, isolated words, or simple expressions.