One set of skills that is important in both academic and professional settings is the ability to locate sources and to evaluative both their credibility and their relevance. To help you develop these skills, this section of the Handbook will provide information students need in order to complete the Annotated Bibliography assignment. You will be expected to:
- conduct background research related to your topic;
- use subject-specific databases appropriately matched to your topic,
- use a variety of popular and scholarly sources appropriate to your topic, and
- evaluate the comparative credibility of these sources.
This section defines the annotated bibliography and describes what one typically includes. It provides answers to the following questions:
- What is an annotated bibliography?
- Why do I need to write one?
- What is the difference between an annotated bibliography and a list of references?
- What is an abstract?
- What should I include in an annotation?
- What should I not include in an annotation?
- In what order should I list my sources in my annotated bibliography?
- Can I use an online tool to create my references?
- How can preparing an annotated bibliography help me refine research questions and answers?
An annotated bibliography is a reference list in which each source is, at a minimum,
- identified using a recognized format (such as APA style),
- explained in terms of how and where it was found,
- and evaluated for credibility and bias.
Gathering sources is an important step in the research process, but many students fail to get the most out of their sources. Writing annotations for your sources will give you an opportunity to dive in and really consider what each brings to the table.
Annotations also shed light on how you found your sources. This information can be helpful to your reader, who might be interested in retrieving these sources, and to your professor, who can advise you on ways of improving your search skills.
Annotations also will help you as you construct the argument for your speech or paper. They help you
- to remember what each source said,
- to find common themes among your sources, and
- to begin developing a “pattern” that will inform your final argument.
A References page includes only those sources that you actually use in the finished speech or paper. In a paper, these sources are identified in parenthetical or in-text citations because you have quoted, paraphrased, or summarized material from them. In a speech, these are the sources that you have verbally cited because you have quoted, paraphrased, or summarized material from them.
Your Annotated Bibliography likely will contain some sources that won’t appear in your References because you didn’t end up using those sources in the finished speech or paper. On the other hand, after completing your annotations, you may go on to find additional sources that you do end up using. These additional sources will show up on the References page but not in the Annotated Bibliography.
The Annotated Bibliography, then, captures a stage of the project. It includes sources that, as the project evolved, you set aside as no longer useful, and it probably lacks sources that you did end up using in the finished paper or speech. Keep in mind, then, that the Annotated Bibliography and References have different functions. The Annotated Bibliography represents the research process, and the References document the sources that were used in the finished project.
When you search a database for sources, the resulting list may provide you not only with authors and titles but also with paragraphs summarizing the source. In some journals, you also will find such paragraphs at the beginning of articles. These paragraphs are called abstracts. An abstract forecasts the thesis and key parts of an article and is therefore very useful to a reader who is deciding whether to go further into an article. However, reading the abstract is not a substitute for reading the article.
Make use of this tool as a way of deciding whether reading the article would be a wise investment of time. In addition, never copy the abstract into your Annotated Bibliography. The abstract is the authors’ understanding of their arguments, which isn’t the same as your understanding. In doing an annotation of a source, the summary needs to provide your best understanding of what the source is saying. If the source is very complex and difficult for you to understand, it probably isn’t the best source for you to use.
Just as abstracts will show up in your search, so will book reviews. In some cases reviews may include extended discussions and can be treated as sources. However, in many instances, book reviews may be brief notices that a book has been published and should not be annotated. Instead, if the book looks promising, use the book as your source. Check with your instructor as to whether a given book review is a legitimate source before you write your annotation.
What you will include in any particular course will depend on your instructor, so be sure to talk with her about the assignment guidelines.
For Core 201, each annotation should include at the least the following:
- reference to the source (in APA style unless you are instructed otherwise),
- a description of your search strategy, including the database you used,
- keywords used to locate source,
- summary of thesis and key ideas,
- assessment of source’s credibility, and
- assessment of source’s relevance to your argument.
An annotation is meant to reflect your engagement with a source, so do not quote. Instead, demonstrate your understanding of the source by paraphrasing, summarizing, and describing the source.
Do not copy and paste the abstract from the source or its database record. Copying the abstract will not demonstrate your grasp of the source’s thesis and key ideas. In addition, if done without acknowledgment, copying the abstract is plagiarism.
Instructors in other courses may have additional or alternative criteria for annotations, but these rules apply to your Core 201 Annotated Bibliography.
Do not separate the sources by type of source. All sources will be organized alphabetically in one unified list.
When possible, list sources in alphabetical order by author’s last name.
If an item does not have an author, begin the reference with the title. Use the first word in the title (other than “A,” “An,” or “The”) to determine where to place it in the alphabetical list.
Do not place the year first when the source has no author. The date of publication is always in the second position in the reference. If there is no author, move the title into the first position to keep the date in the second position.
Many websites, databases, and word processing programs have reference generators for APA and other documentation styles. These generators can be helpful in that they will create a basic reference, but they usually get some of the details wrong for one or more reasons.
- Sometimes the generator is given “bad” information. For example, the volume number may be in the date field, or an abbreviated month is entered into the form. The generator cannot fix bad information.
- The generator cannot know “cultural” information. In APA, only the following are capitalized in an article title: the first word of the title, the first word of any subtitle, any proper nouns, and any acronyms. The generator would not “know” that Apple Computers is a proper noun when used as the name of a company and thus would not “know” to capitalize it if it appeared in the title of an article.
- Many generators don’t handle spacing well. APA requires hanging indents and double-spacing for references. Because of coding constraints, automatically generated references rarely reflect these requirements.
- These tools are not built to handle unusual sources. Generators may be useful as starting points for creating book and article References, but if you are trying to document websites, images, or other non-printed sources, they are not very helpful.
If you use an online generator, treat the results as suggestions rather than as guidelines. Check over the references created by the generator and correct mistakes according to resources such as the APA 6th for Radford University Undergraduates, one of the many LibGuides provided by McConnell Library.
In addition to avoiding uncritical reliance on reference generators, be certain not to copy/paste the information from databases. Each database has its own system for listing sources, and none of them correspond closely to APA style—or to any other style for that matter. For example, one database may completely capitalize all words in an article title. The all-caps may make the title very visible on the screen, but the format certainly is far from APA style.
One advantage of preparing an annotated bibliography is that you begin to sort out information on your topic well before you start drafting your paper or speech. As you do so, your research question may change. You may find yourself abandoning or modifying the “answers” to the research question that you were tempted to give at the outset of the project. The research question, as well as the answers, will evolve because you are processing an ever-increasing stockpile of evidence, and as you do so you are noticing when sources do and do not agree, and on what topics.
You may report areas of agreement as representing a consensus in a field, but when your sources conflict, begin by trying to determine whether one source is more current than another. If currency does not provide the explanation, reexamine the sources and try to pinpoint the reason for the disagreement. As you do so, you will become aware of areas of contention in the field, and with your newfound awareness you can return to the databases or the library catalog to resume your search for sources, this time looking for books and articles that will specifically shed light on the issue that you have now identified through making thoughtful use of the annotation process.
*For a review of research questions, see the questions What is a research question?, How do I create a research question?, and What are some examples of effective and ineffective research questions? under the Research Narrative assignment in CORE 102.