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Bibliography Organization Method Definition

I.  Types

  1. Descriptive: This annotation describes the source without summarizing the actual argument, hypothesis, or message in the content. Like an abstract, it describes what the source addresses, what issues are being investigated, and any special features, such as appendices or bibliographies, that are used to supplement the main text. What it does not include is any evaluation or criticism of the content. This type of annotation seeks to answer the question: Does this source cover or address the topic I am researching?
  2. Informative/Summative: This type of annotation summarizes what the content, message, or argument of the source is. It generally contains the hypothesis, methodology, and conclusion or findings, but like the descriptive type, you are not offering your own evaluative comments about such content. This type of annotation seeks to answer these types of questions: What are the author's main arguments? What conclusions did the author draw? 
  3. Evaluative/Critical/Analytical: This annotation includes your evaluative statements about the content of a source. It is the most common type of annotation your professor will ask you to write. Your critique may focus on describing a study's strengths and weaknesses or it may describe the applicability of the conclusions to the research problem you are studying. This type of annotation seeks to answer these types of questions: Is the reasoning sound? Is the methodology sound? Does this source address all the relevant issues? How does this source compare to other sources on this topic?

NOTE:  Strategies about how to critically evaluate a source can be found here.


II.  Choosing Sources for Your Bibliography

There are two good strategies you should use to begin identifying possible sources for your bibliography--one that looks back into the literature and one that looks forward.

  1. The first strategy is to identify several recent scholarly books or journal articles on the topic of your annotated bibliography and review the sources cited by the author(s). Often, the items cited by an author will effectively lead you to related sources about the topic.
  2. The second strategy is to identify one or more important books, book chapters, journal articles, or other documents on your topic and paste the title of the item in Google Scholar [e.g., from Negotiation Journal, entering the article, "Civic Fusion: Moving from Certainty through Not Knowing to Curiosity"], placing quotation marks around the title so Google Scholar searches as a phrase rather than a combination of individual words. Below the citation may be a "Cited by" reference followed by a linked number. This link will direct you to a list of other study's that have cited that particular item after it was published.

Your method for selecting which sources to annotate depends on the purpose of the assignment and the research problem you are investigating. For example, if the research problem is to compare the social factors that led to protests in Egypt with the social factors that led to protests against the government of the Phillippines in  the 1980's, you will have to consider including non-U.S., historical, and, if possible, foreign language sources in your bibliography.

NOTE:  Appropriate sources to include can be anything that has value in understanding the research problem. Be creative in thinking about possible sources, including non-textual items, such as, films, maps, photographs, and audio recordings, or archival documents and primary source materials, such as, diaries, government documents, collections of personal correspondence, meeting minutes, and official memorandums. Consult with a librarian if you're not sure how to locate these types of materials for your bibliography.


III. Strategies to Define the Scope of your Bibliography

It is important that the sources cited and described in your bibliography are well-defined and sufficiently narrow in coverage to ensure that you're not overwhelmed by the number of potential items to consider including. Many of the general strategies used to narrow a topic for a research paper are the same that you can use to define the scope of your bibliography. These are:

  • Aspect -- choose one lens through which to view the research problem, or look at just one facet of your topic [e.g., rather than a bibliography of sources about the role of food in religious rituals, create a bibliography on the role of food in Hindu ceremonies].
  • Time -- the shorter the time period to be covered, the more narrow the focus [e.g., rather than political scandals of the 20th century, cite literature on political scandals during the 1930s and the 1990s].
  • Geography -- the smaller the region of analysis, the fewer items there are to consider including in your bibliography [e.g., rather than cite sources about trade relations in West Africa, include only sources that examine trade relations between Niger and Cameroon].
  • Type -- focus your bibliography on a specific type or class of people, places, or things [e.g., rather than health care provision in Japan, cite research on health care provided to elderly men in Japan].
  • Source -- your bibliography includes specific types of materials [e.g., only books, only scholarly journal articles, only films, etc.]. However, be sure to describe why only one type of source is appropriate.
  • Combination -- use two or more of the above strategies to focus your bibliography very narrowly or to broaden coverage of a very specific research problem [e.g., cite literature only about political scandals during the 1930s and the 1990s and that have only taken place in Great Britain].

IV.  Assessing the Relevance and Value of Sources

All the items you include in your bibliography should reflect the source's contribution to understanding the research problem or the overall issue being addressed. In order to determine how you will use the source or define its contribution, you will need to assess the quality of the central argument within the source. Specific elements to assess include an item’s overall value in relation to other sources on the topic, its limitations, its effectiveness in defining the research problem, the methodology used, the quality of the evidence, and the author’s conclusions and/or recommendations.

With this in mind, determining whether a source should be included in your bibliography depends on how you think about and answer the following questions related to its content:

  • Are you interested in the way the author frames the research questions or in the way the author goes about answering it [the method]?
  • Does the research findings make new connections or promote new ways of understanding a problem?
  • Are you interested in the way the author uses a theoretical framework or a key concept?
  • Does the source refer to and analyze a particular body of evidence that you want to cite?
  • How are the author's conclusions relevant to your overall investigation of the topic?

V.  Format and Content

The format of an annotated bibliography can differ depending on its purpose and the nature of the assignment. Contents may be listed alphabetically by author or arranged chronologically by publication date. If the bibliography includes a lot of sources, items may also be subdivided thematically or by type. If you are unsure, ask your professor for specific guidelines in terms of length, focus, and the type of annotation you are to write.

Introduction
Your bibliography should include a brief introductory paragraph that explains the method used to identify possible sources [including what sources, such as databases, you searched], the rationale for selecting the sources, and a statement, if appropriate, regarding what sources were deliberately excluded and the reasons why.

Citation
This first part of your entry contains the bibliographic information written in a standard documentation style, such as, MLA, Chicago, or APA. Ask your professor what style is most appropriate and be consistent!

Annotation
The second part should summarize, in paragraph form, the content of the source. What you say about the source is dictated by the type of annotation you are asked to write. In most cases, however, your annotation should provide critical commentary that examines the source and its relationship to the topic. Things to think critically about when writing the annotation include: Does the source offer a good introduction on the issue? Does the source effectively address the issue? Would novices find the work accessible or is it intended for an audience already familiar with the topic? What limitations does the source have [reading level, timeliness, reliability, etc.]? Are any special features, such as, appendices or non-textual elements effectively presented? What is your overall reaction to the source? If it's a website or online resource, is it up-to-date, well-organized, and easy to read, use, and navigate?

Length
Annotations can vary significantly in length, from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages. However, they are normally about 300 words. The length will depend on the purpose. If you're just writing summaries of your sources, the annotations may not be very long. However, if you are writing an extensive analysis of each source, you'll need to devote more space.


Annotated Bibliographies. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Annotated Bibliographies. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Annotated Bibliography. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Annotated Bibliography. Writing Center. Walden University; Engle, Michael et al. How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography. Olin Reference, Research and Learning Services. Cornell University Library; Guidelines for Preparing an Annotated Bibliography. Writing Center at Campus Library. University of Washington, Bothell; Harner, James L. On Compiling an Annotated Bibliography. 2nd edition. New York: Modern Language Association, 2000; How to Write an Annotated Bibliography. Information and Library Services. University of Maryland; Knott, Deborah. Writing an Annotated Bibliography. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Norton, Donna. Top 32 Effective Tips for Writing an Annotated Bibliography Top-notch study tips for A+ students blog; Writing from Sources: Writing an Annotated Bibliography. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College.

Transcript

You have just been given an assignment to write an annotated bibliography. Before you begin, you need to know what exactly an annotated bibliography is and how to get started.

First, what is an annotation?

An annotation is more than just a brief summary of an article, book, Web site or other type of publication. An annotation should give enough information to make a reader decide whether to read the complete work. In other words, if the reader were exploring the same topic as you, is this material useful and if so, why?

How is an annotation different from an abstract?

While an abstract also summarizes an article, book, Web site or other type of publication, it is purely descriptive. Although annotations can be descriptive, they also include distinctive features about an item. Annotations can be evaluative and critical as we will see when we look at the two major types of annotations.

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is an organized list of sources (like a reference list). It differs from a straightforward bibliography in that each reference is followed by a paragraph length annotation, usually 100–200 words in length.

Depending on the assignment, an annotated bibliography might have different purposes:

  • Provide a literature review on a particular subject
  • Help to formulate a thesis on a subject
  • Demonstrate the research you have performed on a particular subject
  • Provide examples of major sources of information available on a topic
  • Describe items that other researchers may find of interest on a topic

Types of annotated bibliographies

There are two major types of annotated bibliographies:

  1. Descriptive or informative
  2. Analytical or critical


Descriptive or informative

A descriptive or informative annotated bibliography describes or summarizes a source as does an abstract, it describes why the source is useful for researching a particular topic or question, its distinctive features. In addition, it describes the author's main arguments and conclusions without evaluating what the author says or concludes.

For example:

Breeding evil. (2005, August 6). Economist, 376(8438), 9. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com

This editorial from the Economist describes the controversy surrounding video games and the effect they have on people who use them. The author points out that skepticism of new media have gone back to the time of the ancient Greeks, so this controversy surrounding video games is nothing new. The article also points out that most critics of gaming are people over 40 and it is an issue of generations not understanding one another, rather than of the games themselves. As the youth of today grow older, the controversy will die out, according to the author. The author of this article stresses the age factor over violence as the real reason for opposition to video games and stresses the good gaming has done in most areas of human life. This article is distinctive in exploring the controversy surrounding video games from a generational standpoint and is written for a general audience.

Please pay attention to the last sentence. While it points out distinctive features about the item it does not analyze the author's conclusions.

Analytical or critical

An analytical or critical annotation not only summarizes the material, it analyzes what is being said. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of what is presented as well as describing the applicability of the author's conclusions to the research being conducted.

For most of your annotated bibliographies, however, you will be writing analytical or critical annotations.

For example:

Breeding evil. (2005, August 6). Economist, 376(8438), 9. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com

This editorial from the Economist describes the controversy surrounding video games and the effect they have on people who use them. The article points out that most critics of gaming are people over 40 and it is an issue of age not of the games themselves. While the author briefly mentions studies done around the issue of violence and gaming, he does not go into enough depth for the reader to truly know the range of studies that have actually been done in this area, other than to take his word that the research is unsatisfactory. The author of this article stresses the age factor over violence as the real reason for opposition to video games and stresses the good gaming has done in most areas of human life. This article is a good resource for those wanting to begin to explore the controversy surrounding video games, however for anyone doing serious research, one should actually examine some of the research studies that have been done in this area rather than simply take the author's word that opposition to video games is simply due to an issue of generational divide.

Please pay attention to the last sentence. It criticizes the authors research.

Please note that in these samples, the citations follow the APA format. Your instructor may require you to use another citation format, such as MLA, so check first.

To get started

Now you are ready to begin writing your own annotated bibliography.

  • Choose your sources Before writing your annotated bibliography, you must choose your sources. This involves doing research much like for any other project. Locate records to materials that may apply to your topic.
  • Review the items Then review the actual items and choose those that provide a wide variety of perspectives on your topic. Article abstracts are helpful in this process.
  • Write the citation and annotation When writing your annotation, the complete citation should always come first and the annotation follows. Depending on the type of annotated bibliography you are writing, you will want to include:
    1. The purpose of the work
    2. A summary of its content
    3. For what type of audience the work is written
    4. Its relevance to the topic
    5. Any special or unique features about the material
    6. The strengths, weaknesses or biases in the material

Annotated bibliographies may be arranged alphabetically or chronologically, check with your instructor to see what he or she prefers.

Guidelines for formatting the citations

Remember, the citations themselves must be formatted properly. UMUC has prepared these guides to help you correctly format citations according to APA, MLA or Chicago Style. Remember to check with your instructor if you are unsure which style to use.

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