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Annotated bibliography, common mistakes

Annotated bibliography: common mistakes to avoid

Oct 07, 2012 - Posted to  Writing in General
An annotated bibliography is an excellent tool to be utilized during the research process. It involves adding more to your bibliography in terms of source summary, analysis, evaluation and notation. An instructor may specifically request this document from you during your studies or you may decide to prepare one on your own to assist you in constructing the first draft of your research paper. As with other projects of this nature you may have to overcome a few hurdles before successful completion. Before reviewing the common mistakes involved in formulating annotated bibliographies let us first explore the definition and functionality of this type of assignment to provide a full and complete picture of what it entails.
An annotated bibliography is simply a combination of two things, a bibliography and an annotation.

So, what is a bibliography?

If you've done any type of academic essay or report in the past then you should be familiar with the bibliography. The bibliography is a list of the sources used in writing your paper or essay. The bibliography may also be referred to as 'works cited', 'references', and 'citations'. Depending on your research efforts you sources can vary from books, journal articles, essays, and encyclopedic material to interviews, audios, websites etc. Your bibliography should be written according to a formal formatting style and include the author of the work, title and publication information.

What is an annotation?

An annotation is an explanatory comment added to a document or diagram. Though more specifically it is a commentary that may detail, evaluate, summarize, and analyze. For your bibliography this means that you will be providing a few things in your commentary such as information about the author, their authority on the subject, the main objective of their work, and the usefulness of it as a source for your work.
Annotations vary according to purpose and may be short and brief or somewhat extensive and detailed. If preparing your annotated bibliography for academic purposes you may already have specific requirements of size and purpose. You also may decide to choose the common approach of compiling an annotated bibliography and create a concise document that combines all the different purposes suggested.

What purpose does an annotated bibliography serve?

The annotated bibliography can be used for several things;
  1. Brief description

    With this the only purpose intended is to give the reader a small amount of information beyond what is traditionally in a bibliography such as the topics covered in the book and a sentence or two describing its main objective.
    The following example obtained from Georgia Southern University's Dept. of Psychology is a sample of a brief annotation;
    Cronan-Hillix, T. (1991) Teaching students the importance of accuracy i n research: A reply to McDonald and Peterson. Teaching of Psychology, 1 8, 101- 1 0 2 .
    The author reaffirms the view that reward and punishment are effective in teaching students to pay attention to details in their research. These perhaps harsh methods have been effectively utilized by the author.
    *Note that in this example the writer also includes a bit of the fourth purpose which is analyzation.
  2. Summary

    A summary of the source is often seen in one way or the other in annotated bibliographies. Your summary should highlight the main focus and scope of the book or article studied, as well as the hypothesis and conclusion (if it has methods you can summarize them also) and any other significant information. If your annotations are only 1-2 paragraphs long or less than you want to ensure that this information is succinct.
  3. Evaluation

    Compare this work to others in the same category and evaluate the effectiveness of the results or overall objectives. You should consider whether or not it is a helpful, reliable source with credible references and proper presentation. Ask yourself whether or not is a benefit to you and your own research as well as the field at large.
  4. Analyzation

    With this purpose you'll need to think critically about the source's place in supporting your thesis statement and argument. Your analyzation is different from your evaluation because you are now discussing the source from a more objective and critical standpoint. Look more deeply into the potent aspects of the work as well as the areas in which more work needs to be conducted or the research is lacking.
Do I need to use all of these methods? Not necessarily; though in most cases you will need to combine some aspects of all of these techniques to provide a well-rounded annotation. Additionally, if done for a professor, unless specific instructions are given, often than not they are expecting a collaboration of all of these elements in your annotated bibliography.

Common mistakes

So now that you understand what needs to be included in your assignment, to maximize your success, below are a list of some areas where people may get a bit confused or fall short.
  1. Is this an abstract?

    No. Since a summary is involved, the annotated bibliography does mirror the abstract in many respects. The key differences is that an abstract summarizes only while an annotated bibliography provides further details and critical descriptions (and usually evaluates and analyzes as well).
    *For example, an abstract will not look at the work from a viewpoint of whether or not it aided in your research efforts or if the author is credible or not.
  2. Did I really read?

    One major mistake in creating your annotated bibliography would be to attempt to criticize or detail a source without actually reading it in its entirety. Part of the process of creating your annotations is to read and take notes on the sources. Otherwise you cannot effectively write a proper annotation.
  3. Is this a literature review?

    No. Though this is an excellent comparison because the annotated bibliography and literature review have very similar categories to address. The main difference is that a literature review is very extensive and your annotation should (in most cases) be short and concise. Also structure issues come into play when looking at the differences between a literature review and an annotated bibliography. Your annotation is a stand alone section, meaning that each source would have its own defined area in your assignment. The literature review on the other hand is a combination of all the literature studied and sources may be categorized and connected to one another in a way that best suits your argument or main objective.
  4. How's my formatting?

    Formatting blunders can be the primary reason behind a defected annotated bibliography. If you're new to formatting styles be sure to study what is required of you or what you would like to utilize (such as APA or MLA) before writing your bibliography.
In addition to the above mentioned remarks pay attention to the wording of your annotated bibliography. You may choose to include full sentences or verb phrases as seen in the previous example (under the 'brief description' section). Some compilers may find verb phrases a quick and easy way to compile annotations. Lastly, the best approach may be for your annotations to feature a combination of all the purposes mentioned for comprehensive results, or at the very least a summary of the presented source.
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