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IST 210 - Research Design: Brief Introduction to Annotated Bibliographies

A Brief Introduction to Annotated Bibliographies

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

What is the difference between an annotated bibliography and...

...the bibliography I normally put at the end of my research papers?

The bibliography you put at the end of your research papers is a list of citations, with no annotations, and it is included in your research for the purpose of giving credit to your sources of information. An annotated bibliography contains descriptions of each citation and its purpose is to make it easier for other researchers to identify useful articles.

....an abstract of a paper?

Abstracts are the descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes. Like the annotations in an annotated bibliography, abstracts serve the purpose of helping researchers identify useful sources. But abstracts are often longer than the annotations in annotated bibliographies. Also, they are purely descriptive and do not offer any analysis of the work they describe. Annotations are descriptive and critical. They may describe the author's point of view, authority, or clarity and appropriateness of expression.

Why should I write and annotated bibliography?

To learn more about your research topic

One of the mistakes new researchers (students) often make is to draw a conclusion and then set off to find the research to support it. This approach is backwards. Researchers should investigate a topic thoroughly first. Through thorough investigation, researchers will identify gaps in the research, errors in assumptions or other new directions that they can pursue. Creating an annotated bibliography supports this approach to research. Writing an annotated bibliography encourages you to:

  • read extensively on your topic
  • read your sources more carefully/closely
  • read your sources more critically
  • formulate ideas on what new approaches you might take to research your topic

To help other researchers

A well-written annotated bibliography is worthy of publication on its own merits, if no current annotated bibliography on the topic exists. Researchers use annotated bibliographies to identify sources that will be useful to their current study. A good annotated bibliography can be a gold mine of time-saving information!

What should an annotated bibliography contain?

That depends on what types of annotated bibliography you have been asked to write.

Summative annotated bibliographies include:

  • Bibliographical citations according to the appropriate citation style (MLA, APA, CBE/CSE, etc.).
  • An explanation of main points and/or purpose of the work--an overview of the arguments and proofs/evidence addressed in the work and the resulting conclusion.
  • A discussion of the qualifications of the author and the methodology of the study.

Critical/evaluative annotated bibliographies include all the elements of a summative annotated bibliography, but they also offer an analysis of the work cited. The analysis might include:

  • Verification or critique of the authority or qualifications of the author.
  • Identification of the intended audience of the work
  • Examination of the work's objectivity or biases, adequate use of evidence, and methodology.

They may also:

  • show how the work may or may not be useful for a particular field of study or audience.
  • explain how researching this material assisted your own project.

Samples of annotated bibliographies

Summative sample (APA style)

Voeltz, L.M. (1980). Children's attitudes toward handicapped peers. American   
    Journal of Mental Deficiency, 84, 455-464.
      As services for severely handicapped children become increasingly available 
      within neighborhood public schools, children's attitudes toward handicapped 
      peers in integrated settings warrant attention.  Factor analysis of attitude 
      survey responses of 2,392 children revealed four factors underlying attitudes 
      toward handicapped peers: social-contact willingness, deviance   
      consequation, and two actual contact dimensions.  Upper elementary-age 
      children, girls, and children in schools with most contact with severely    
      handicapped peers expressed the most accepting attitudes.  Results of this  
      study suggest the modifiability of children's attitudes and the need to develop 
      interventions to facilitate social acceptance of individual differences in 
      integrated school settings.

Critical sample (APA style)

Schechter, H. (1971). Death and resurrection of the king: Elements of primitive
    mythology and ritual in "Roger Malvin's Burial." English Language Notes, 8, 
    201-05.
      Though Schechter reorganizes the material in an interesting format, basically 
      his study is a reiteration of Cassier's seminal argument in The Sacred and the 
      Profane: Modern Myth Studies. Schechter's major contribution to the debate 
      is his recognition that Reuben sacrifices Cyrus so that the curse of death-in-   
      life can be removed. Schechter's attempt to put Cassier's argument in a 
      Jungian context is intriguing but not quite successful, since he must ignore  
      important elements in the story to do so.

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