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Annotated bibliography writing for the dissertation - useful tips
Annotated bibliography writing

Annotated bibliography writing for the dissertation - useful tips

Apr 02, 2013
The annotated bibliography is a helpful resource that can assist graduate students in organizing, sorting, narrowing, and prioritizing all the many sources connected to their dissertation topic. And since the amount of literature that accompanies the dissertation can be difficult to keep track of (to say the least), an annotated bibliography helps to prevent any problems associated with remembering specific citation information, knowing the main points or arguments of each source, or any other relevant data that may easily slip by students.
So whether it is a requirement of your advisor or department, or simply something you'd like to pursue on your own, the annotated bibliography is one task that is well worth the effort.
What are some useful tips to jump starting your annotated bibliography?

#1 Define and strategize

One of the best ways to save time when researching is to know exactly what you're looking for in a resource; and this can only be accomplished with a clear cut, and well-defined research question. If you have any uncertainties about your topic or the questions connected to it, make it your business to go through all of these doubts with a fine tooth comb; until you're confident in the main purpose and objective of your research.
Once you really know what you are looking for you can then start setting limits and specific criteria to match your requirements. Below are a few questions that you may want to ask yourself as you start to develop a profile of your sources;
  • What types of sources do I need? (For example, journal articles, newspaper clippings, books, government documents etc.)
  • Do I have easy access to all of my source locations? (That is, are the main sources I need available through the local school library or do I need to go elsewhere to obtain them?)
  • How many sources do I want to start off with? (Since the dissertation will take quite some time, I know that the bibliography can be maintained slowly over time; adding new titles as needed)
  • What is the scope of my research? (How far back do I need to go? Or how recent must my resources be? And exactly what subtopics do I need to cover?)

#2 Don't just repeat the table of contents!

Meaning that, when preparing your annotated bibliography, do not simply list the contents of the source being annotated; whether it be a book, journal article, or another dissertation. Listing may seem like an easy method of summarizing but the end result will probably not be very helpful to you and your paper.
The primary purpose of the annotation is to identify the main argument of the work that is being mentioned. Along with this, specifically for dissertation's sake, you should also comment on the relevancy of the source to your main topic and research question. This above all is one of the most important points to mention in your annotations. At the end of the day, you need to know whether or not a resource will do you any good with regards to your dissertation, or whether it will be one more item taking up space.

In general, your annotation should...

  • identify the main argument of the source
  • explicitly state its relevancy to your topic
  • compare and contrast it to other reviewed sources
  • provide a brief summary of the work in totality
  • give all identifying information as would be found in any bibliography

#3 Settle on a reasonable length for each annotation

If your annotated bibliography is an optional component of your dissertation you have the freedom of setting your own limits on what will be covered as well as the length of each annotation. Though you don't want to sell yourself short (considering the great value of a well constructed annotated bibliography) you also don't want to give yourself more writing than is necessary. For instance, the above points just mentioned on what to include in the annotated bibliography can easily be accomplished in one moderately-sized paragraph. And in some cases a few sentences may even be considered sufficient (considering the many sources that will need to be covered for one dissertation).
The key is knowing how to properly extract the main idea from a source, evaluate it for relevancy, and efficiently summarize its primary components.
Though of course if your annotated bibliography was a specific request that was made, then you would have to consider the requirements of the assignment (and the length as well as the contents may differ depending on your instructions). But hopefully if for a dissertation, those instructions will not stray far from what is necessary for effectively completing one.

#4 Use a keyword list to help you describe each source

Since a big part of writing an annotated bibliography is evaluating sources, it may be helpful to have a few 'evaluative-friendly' keywords handy when writing your descriptions. These keywords are the same ones you'll often find in compare and contrast essays, book reviews and critiques, or anything else in which evaluation plays a heavy role.
A few examples have been provided below.

Bloom's Taxonomy Action Verbs

  • Analyze
  • Appraise
  • Argue
  • Assess
  • Categorize
  • Compare
  • Contrast
  • Criticize
  • Differentiate
  • Distinguish
  • Examine
  • Experiment
  • Identify
  • Illustrate
  • Infer
  • Model
  • Outline
  • Point out
  • Question
  • Relate

#5 Try to create a literature review along the way

Finally, an interesting point to be made is that many of the issues that you will highlight or identify as you prepare each annotation, are also the same issues that will be brought to light in the literature review section of your paper. And since part of writing up your annotation is to evaluate and compare different sources, it would be wise to use this task to also aid you in composing your literature review.
For instance, you may want to make note of any patterns in the literature or unifying concepts, theories, and ideas that have been made apparent to you. This task can easily be accomplished by either including this information in your original annotation or by creating a separate document specifically for this purpose.
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