In most cases, when preparing an annotated bibliography
, the primary goal is to create a first-hand response for each consulted source (such as book or journal article). And these responses may come in several different forms; from short phrases and partial statements, to full-out paragraphs and essays
. Similarly, depending on the situation students and researchers may benefit tremendously from secondary accounts of these sources (rather than first-hand ones). These secondary accounts, generally referred to as reviews, help produce comprehensive and reliable annotations as well as determine whether or not a particular source is even worth consulting.
Are secondary accounts sufficient?
A good question to consider when composing annotations. As previously mentioned, when someone prepares an annotated bibliography its generally assumed that they themselves have read and consulted the source personally, and likewise created an annotation based on their own interpretations of the work (not someone elses'). But in certain situations people may rely on reviews to formulate their annotations; this may be done when dealing with a large amount of sources, or when working with a tight deadline and a baseline of sources needs to be obtained quickly.
If unsure if reviews are right for you, consider the following;
- Are you preparing your annotated bibliography for yourself or for an assignment?
Obviously if its just for you than you can conjure up your own rules, but if for a professor then you need to check to make sure that a review is just as good as the real thing.
- How comfortable are you with other peoples opinions and interpretations?
Some people welcome useful insights from others (and considering that reviews are often written by people who are learned in a particular field, many of the points discussed are relevant and beneficial), others simply do not. Due to the natural biases that are present in all writings, some people may feel the need to consult a source on their own regardless if the reviewer is a learned person or not.
- What details need to be included in your annotations?
Usually annotations include the main argument and purpose of the work, the audience, significant highlights, and a comparison between it and similar works. If this is all you need than a lot of reviews should provide this information for you. But if for instance, you need to evaluate if its relevant for your paper topic or not, a review alone may not give you the 'full picture' that is required.
*So if reviews are in fact right for you then your next step is to locate the good ones.
Finding good reviews
Depending on the scope of your work, a book review
from a literature club, or reading circle may not be what you need to fill up your annotated bibliography. Though obviously some general book titles may fall into your sources for a paper
, in most cases the sources that you will need reviewed are academic or scholarly works-those connected to a specific field or discipline. With that in mind you will likely have to turn to networks that specialize in just that.
A few places to obtain scholarly or academic reviews
- Book Review Index Online: This database has millions of book reviews from 1965 to present, covering a range of topics from various publications.
- Book Review Digest Plus: This service is provided by Ebscohost and has over 200,000 full-text reviews, and over 2 million review citations. Thirteen main subject categories are also included.
- JSTOR: This popular digital library offers many full-text articles, including reviews. Reviews may be obtained by searching directly for a particular review or selecting the "Limit: review" option on the search page.
- H-Net Reviews: Unlike the other places mentioned, this service is free of charge but only covers the Humanities and Social Sciences. Discussion logs are also available along with each review.The reviews are competent and appear to be written by degreed writers.
In addition to collections with a range of articles, there are also opportunities to obtain book reviews under databases that provide archives of subject-specific articles or abstracts. If working through a school library website for instance, this option (i.e. "book review") can simply be selected when searching a subject-specific database such as PsychInfo or History Abstracts.
Its worth it to mention that if these indexes are not available to you, or even suitable for the sources you'd like to explore, you can always set out on your own to search for specific reviews. Often times if the book or other source in question is a scholarly or academic piece, the reviews about it will also be of a similar caliber. And though poorly constructed reviews do exist, the main thing to remember is that all of the databases listed above obtain their reviews from somewhere-and their sources can be your sources with a little searching effort.
Is it a review or a critique?
Lastly, a good point to highlight is whether or not what you've gained access to is actually a review or critique. This is an increasingly important issue when it comes to academic and scholarly circles. Many book critiques as well as reviews are written all the time and sometimes regarding the same titles; the question is, what would work best for your annotated bibliography?
Its safe to say that both works may provide you with the information needed to produce an annotation, but the more cautionary alternative would be to focus on reviews rather than critiques. Simply because most reviews are written considering that the reader is unfamiliar with the work as well as the intricacies of the topic being covered. That is, they are written for a general audience.
Critiques on the other hand, are often written assuming that the reader has read the material and is also knowledgeable of the particular jargon associated with the discipline as well as other information that may be unknown to outsiders. For this reason you may find thumbing through a critique a little more difficult than getting through a review. Likewise, the information provided in the critique may be too detailed or technical to be of any real benefit for you or your annotations.