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Preparing an Annotated Bibliography

Scope:This guide will familiarize you with annotated bibliographies and provide the basics on how to prepare one. Ask your instructor for any specifications he or she might have for how to prepare an annotated bibliography as part of a class assignment.


Table of Contents

What is an annotation?

An annotation, according to the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, "is a succinct explanation or description of a particular item,[...] Its purpose is to guide the reader to material worth his time, to warn him of works better left to gather dust." (424)

There are at least 3 types of annotations:

1. Descriptive or indicative: This type of annotation describes the source itself without summarizing the actual argument, hypothesis, or message in the content. It describes what the source addresses or covers, what subjects or topics are included, and any special features, such as appendices or bibliographies. 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?"

Example:

Hudson, Kenneth. World industrial archaeology. Cambridge, England, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1979. 247p.

An introductory section discusses the aims and techniques of industrial archaeology. Topical chapters follow on extractive industries, food and drink, construction, metal processing, transport, textiles, clothing and footwear, power, and chemicals. (59)

2. Informative or summative: This type of annotation summarizes what the content, message, or argument of the source is. It generally contains the hypothesis, methodology, main points, and conclusion or results, but like the descriptive/indicative type, without any editorial or 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?"

Example:

Harris, Marvin. "Why a Perfect Knowledge of All the Rules One Must Know to Act Like a Native, Cannot Lead to the Knowledge Of How Natives Act." JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH, vol. 30, 1974, pp. 242-251.

The prevalence of idealist models depicting human behavior in a culture as determined by a set of rules, plans and programs shared by all members of that culture is severly criticized in this essay. Stating that behavior cannot be fully understood without placing it in the total behavior patterns possible for human beings, three challenges to the idealist model are put forth. These involve the areas of predicting ideas and behavior, alternative responses to situations and the abscence of totally unchallenged authorities in most social situations. Idealist strategies, and their usefulness as tools for field research, are seen as somewhat incomplete. (100)

3. Evaluative or critical or analytical: This type of annotation makes evaluative statements about the content of a source. It might address the strengths and weaknesses of the source or the applicability of the conclusions in relation to the subject you are researching.

This type of annotation seeks to answer these types of questions:
"Is the reasoning sound?
Is the author's presentation of the facts objective?
Is the methodology sound? Is this source useful for my audience?
Are the conclusions still valid in light of new research?
What contribution does this make to the field?
Does this source address all the relevant issues?"
In short, "How does this source measure up in comparison to other sources on this topic?"

Example:

Noy, Dov. "The Jewish Version of the 'Animal Languages' Folktale (AT 670). A Typological-Structural Study", SH 22 (1971), 171-208.

An exemplary study of a Jewish folktale with essential theoretical conclusions. The author makes a bold attempt to present in clear, formal concepts the process by which Jewish folktales emerge and develop from biblical verses. Another important achievement of this study is the definition of the "Laws of Jewish Oicotypification" which, since this publication, serve as the basis for the study of Jewish folktales. This article is one of the most important contributions to the study of Jewish folktales in recent years. (176)

What is an annotated bibliography?

If you are asked to create an annotated bibliography of scholarly sources, that generally (but not always -- ask for clarification!) means that your instructor wants you to create annotations which are a combination of the informative/summative and the evaluative/critical/analytical types.

So, an annotated bibliography is a list of sources with information that describes and makes a value statement about each source. It is a research tool to assist you in synthesizing and reviewing your sources.

It allows someone unfamiliar with a source to quickly get a sense of what the source is about, its arguments, and its usefulness in research.

Purposes of preparing an annotated bibliography:

You may be assigned to prepare an annotated bibliography for a number of reasons:

  • As part of a research project.
  • As part of a seminar in which you are to share sources with classmates.
  • To show your understanding of a topic.

Annotated bibliographies are also prepared for the purpose of giving the reader background information on their sources, or to give the reader an idea of how their research topic has been treated by other writers over the years.

You will find that your annotated bibliography will help you explore your subject and determine what the issues are within your research field.

Choosing sources for your bibliography:

Appropriate sources for annotation could be books, newspaper articles, journal articles, pamphlets, films, Web sites, or broadcast news stories.

If your assignment calls for you to create an annotated bibliography with a select number of sources and write an entry for each one, it is wise NOT to just use the first few that you come across without evaluating these sources.

Your method for selecting which sources to annotate will depend upon the particular assignment's purpose and instructions. There should be a rationale for WHY you selected the sources you did, and you may want to indicate this rationale in your bibliography. (Ex., "These works, although older, are standards in the field and the basis for much subsequent work.") The sources you choose should contribute to your discussion of the issue.

Format and content of the bibliographic entry:

The format of an annotated bibliography can differ depending on its purpose and the instructor. Ask your instructor for specific guidelines in terms of length, focus, type of annotation (descriptive, critical, summative), etc. Here are some guidelines which were suggested for a particular assignment by the University of Maryland Department of English Freshman Writing Program:

1. Annotated bibliographies may be arranged alphabetically or chronologically. Ask your instructor which he or she prefers.

2. The first part of your entry should contain a citation written in a standard documentation style, such as MLA or APA (ask your instructor which style he or she prefers).

The second part is your annotation. It should summarize the material contained in the source. You may want to include the following:

  • main points of the discussion
  • the author's position and credentials to speak on the topic
  • useful or important information that the author mentions
  • any conclusions the author may have drawn

3. Your annotation should also provide critical commentary that evaluates the source and its usefulness for your topic and for your paper, if you are writing one. Some things to consider when writing a critical annotation are:

  • Does the essay offer a good introduction on the issue?
  • Does the source (or section from the source) deal with a particular aspect of the issue?
  • Would novices find the piece accessible? Or is it geared to an audience already familiar with the topic?
  • What limitations, if any, does the piece have (reading level, timeliness, reliability, etc.)?
  • What is your overall reaction to the source?

4. Finally, if you are doing this as part of a research paper, you should describe how this piece will contribute to your project.

Other examples of annotated bibliographies:


Works Cited:

Gravel, Pierre Bettez, and Robert B. Marks Ridinger. Anthropological Fieldwork: An Annotated Bibliography . New York: Garland, 1988.

Katz, William A. "Annotation." Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science . Eds. Allen Kent and Harold Lancour. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1968.

Rampolla, Mary Lynn. A Pocket Guide to Writing in History . Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 1998.

Westerman, R.C. Fieldwork in the Library: A Guide to Research in Anthropology and Related Area Studies . Chicago: ALA, 1994.

Yassif, Eli. Jewish Folklore: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1986.