Organizing Your Research: Annotated Bibliography
A very common way to organize research in the academic world, in all disciplines, is by creating an Annotated Bibliography for each of your sources. An annotated bibliography is a basic summary of the main ideas, claims, and arguments of your source or author, in addition to the MLA (or other formatting style) citation of the source. An annotated bibliography accomplishes two, sometimes three important steps for you as a writer:
- it provides a summary of the source, in your own words, and
- It starts your Works Cited page
- Often, it can be a good way to start collecting quotes or evidence from your annotations of a source.
For another perspective and tips for writing an annotated bibliography, watch this video:
Jolie’s Instructions and Sample annotated bibliography.
What is an ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY?
A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, websites, periodicals) one has used for researching a topic. Bibliographies are sometimes called “references” or “works cited” depending on the style format you are using. A bibliography usually just includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher) in whichever style your professor specifies. For our purposes we use MLA style.
An annotation, in this context, is a summary and/or evaluation of a source.
Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and evaluation of each of the sources, which include an assessment of and reflection on the source. Thus, an annotated bibliography has three parts: summary, assessment, and reflection for each source.
Why Write an Annotated Bibliography?
- Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research-based essay or project. Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when writers have to write annotations for each source, they are forced to read each source more carefully understanding the source on its own in relationship the assignment and other sources. They begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information.
At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow people to see what has been done in the literature and where their own research or scholarship can fit.
- A second reason to write an annotated bibliography is to clarify your own stance and begin to revise your working thesis, or initial stance on your Inquiry Question. Every good research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to help formulate and support a thesis. So a very important part of research is developing and revising a working thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current.
Writing an annotated bibliography can help writers gain a good perspective on what is being said about the topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, writers will start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, what background information supports the topic, and then writers will be able to develop their own informed, point of view.
Steps to writing an annotated bibliography:
- Determining the sources: Conduct research based on the assignment’s topic then work with each source individually, or use the source/s your instructor assigned to work with individually.
- Read and annotate the source: Practice the critical and active reading strategies we introduced in Chapter 1.
- Summarize the source: Address the following questions after or during your annotation process: What is the article’s title and who is the author? What are the main arguments? What is the point of this source? What topics are covered? If someone asked what this source is about, what would you say? Make certain that the summary follows the order of the source and completely represents it while remaining brief. Include the page numbers of the source in parenthesis at the end of the summary to show where you took the information. The length of your summary depends on the length of the source, but for this class a paragraph will suffice.
- Assess the source: After summarizing a source, in a paragraph evaluate the source looking at its ethos and value in comparison to the other sources. Address the following concerns: Give specific examples and explain why the source is or is not useful to you based on the assignment and/or your argument; Give specific examples and explain how the source compares with other sources in your bibliography; Consider why the information in the source is or is not reliable; Give specific examples and explain how the source is biased or objective. What is the goal of this source? (Writers may have to do a bit of research to online about the source to properly answer these questions.)
- Reflect on the source: Once you have summarized and assessed a source, ask how it fits into your research. Address the following concerns: Considering the topic and/or assignment, give specific examples and explain why this source was or was not helpful to you; Give examples and explain how and why the source helps you shape your argument (refer to the source itself); Give examples and explain how and why you will use this source in your research project or assignment (refer to the source specifically with quotations or paraphrased text that you might use in your paper). How has the source changed what you think about your topic?
- Format, edit, and proofread
- The Format is for each source individually: bibliographic information, summary, assessment, reflection, followed by the next source in the same format. Please see below for an example.
- Follow MLA format for your document with your heading and a title of what your annotated bibliography is for or about. Then, address one source at a time, introducing the bibliographic information, then devoting a paragraph (or more) to the summary, assessment, and reflection.
- The bibliographic information: Generally, the bibliographic information of the source (the title, author, publisher, date, etc.) is written in MLA format. You can often find the MLA citation of a source in the search results of your Library or browser’s search engine.
- THE ANNOTATIONS (SUMMARY, ASSESSMENT, REFLECTION): The annotations or notes for each source are written in paragraph form without headings. The lengths of the annotations can vary significantly from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages. The length will depend on the purpose, length of the source, and assignment. The summary, assessment, and reflection will help you understand how you can fit the sources into your larger paper or project can serve you well when you go to draft your essay or project.
Source: Purdue OWL “Annotated Bibliographies,” https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/common_writing_assignments/annotated_bibliographies/index.html
Rules for summary
Knowing how to summarize effectively and efficiently is a useful tool to have in your writing arsenal, whether in an Annotated Bibliography, or simply to understand any text better by paraphrasing or summarizing sections in your own words. A summary is a brief restatement, in your own words, of the content of a text (a group of paragraphs, a chapter, an article, a movie, a book). This restatement focuses on the text’s central message, which can be done with the shortest of all summaries (one or two sentences). A longer, more complete summary will indicate, in condensed form, the main points in the text that support or explain the central message. The summary will reflect the order in which these points are presented. It may include some important examples, but it will not include minor details. It will not contain any of one’s own opinions or conclusions. A good summary therefore has three central qualities:
Writing a good summary demonstrates a reader’s understanding of a text and shares it with their audience as a writer. Writing a summary is more challenging than one might think; in fact, there is an art to summary writing, which is one of the reasons we are practicing it.
Step one: Preparation for writing the summary
1. Preread to understand the assignment in relationship to the text
- Read and understand the prompt or assignment directions. What are you being asked to write about?
- Preread the text. Skim and become familiar with the text you are going to summarize and divide it into sections. Focus on any headings and subheadings. Also look at any bold-faced terms and make sure you understand them before you read.
- Read the text. At this point, you don’t need to stop to look up anything that gives you trouble—just get a feel for the author’s tone, style, and main ideas, or the set up of the text and the manner in which the information is presented.
- Reread and actively work with the text, annotating it, underlining main ideas, divide the text into stages of thought, labeling them in the margin. If the text does not have a main idea (for instance, the Bulletin for your major), decide and note how the information relates to each other and how you might give the overall gist of the smaller components that relate to one another. As you work with the text think about and understand it. Read all of the material to make sure you know it well, make a note of any questions you have, so you can bring them to class.
3. Working with the text by note taking
- Write brief summaries of each stage of thought or if appropriate each paragraph, mirroring the article’s order. Use a separate sheet of paper to structure this information in an outline, so you follow the author’s ideas in chronological order. If the text does not have a thesis statement (for instance, the Bulletin for your major), follow the text’s chronological order clustering information into digestible bits that show the general topic this is addressed.
- In a single sentence using your own words, write the author’s main point in the text, creating a thesis statement. This should be a sentence that expresses the main idea as you have determined from the steps above. If the text does not have a thesis statement (for instance the Bulletin for your major), in a single sentence using your own words, state the overall goal of the source.
- In a single sentence using your own words and notes, write out each of the author’s main points that support her/his thesis statement. If the text does not have an argument (for instance the Bulletin for your major), cluster the information and write it in a sentence that represents the components of the text.
Step two: Writing the summary
1. Drafting the Summary
- Use the text and the information from step three to draft the summary filling out your outline to sentences and/or paragraphs
- Introduce the text’s title and the author’s first and last name (or organization) in the summary’s first sentence
- Follow the text’s exact organization and order
- Focus on the thesis statement and main points (for nonthesis based writing, the goal and general components of the article)
- Use your own words
- Your summary will be shorter than the article’s original length
Step three: Revision of summary
1. Revise: Read over your summary and compare it with the original document. Ask yourself if your summary meets the following criteria (and if it does not meet these criteria, revise so it does):
- Introduces the text’s title and author’s name (or organization) in the first sentence?
- States the thesis statement/overall goal of the source first?
- Emphasizes the main stages of thoughts by illustrating the main points/components?
- Captures the thesis statement and main points or goal and components of the article?
- Includes the most important details?
- Includes only the author’s ideas?
- Accredits the author for all of the ideas in each sentence?
- Cites page numbers in MLA format from which the information came?
- Transitions between sentences and paragraphs?
- Contains your own words?
- Makes the information clear and understandable to someone who has not read the original text by properly representing the author’s ideas? (Your summary needs to stand on its own.)
Step four: Edit your summary
1. Proofread Summary
- Check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
- Is the verb tense consistent?
- Are all names spelled correctly and capitalized?
- Do you have a Works Cited page that follows MLA format?
- Have your properly cited the page numbers that correspond to the text?
- Have you respected sentence boundaries?
2. Copy Edit Summary
- Look for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors that may arise during the revision.
- Reread your summary aloud to recheck sentence clarity.
3. Check Summary for Accuracy
- Reread your summary and make certain that you have accurately represented the author’s ideas or the source’s information.
- Also check to make sure that your text does not contain your own commentary on the piece.
- Check one last time to ensure you have included the page numbers from the text and a Works Cited Page.
Sample annotated bibliography
(Written by Jolie Goorjian)