Annotated Bibliographies

Annotated bibliographies are common writing assignments and forms within academic communities. They function as forms of information collection and sharing, evaluation, and preparation for further research or writing. In graduate school, annotated bibliographies are frequently used for preparing to write extended papers (or capstones or thesis papers), developing comprehensive examination reading lists, and collaborating with research teams by establishing a collective sense of existing scholarship.

In the following resource, you will find a selection of external readings, resource guides, and webinars that introduce what an annotated bibliography is, what distinguishes it from a survey of the literature, tips and tricks for collecting sources, citing them, and writing brief annotations to accompany them.

Following the suggestions, guiding questions, and tips below should help start you on the path toward creating an annotated bibliography that will prepare you to write a first draft of your final paper. The purpose of the assignment in this class is two fold: to guide the process of discovering, evaluating, and organizing potential sources for your final paper and to refine the skills you will need to write your thesis / capstone proposal in the coming semesters.

Selected Readings

What is an annotated bibliography? What is the point of creating one if it is not the same thing as a survey of the literature? Are there purposes for the annotated bibliography other than torturing students? The following selected tutorials, resource guides, and webinars define the annotated bibliography and situate it within the graduate student experience.

  • Jones, Brenda. Annotated Bibliography for Graduate Students. YouTube, Accessed 22 Apr. 2020.
    This short YouTube video gives an overview of the annotated bibliography, its composite parts, and helpful questions you might use to begin writing your annotations. It ends by describing three uses of the annotated bibliography for graduate students.
  • Lab, Purdue Writing. “Annotated Bibliographies // Purdue Writing Lab.” Purdue Writing Lab., Accessed 22 Apr. 2020.
    This resource includes a definitional overview of the annotated bibliography, some tips for writing annotations, links to standard style guides to help with formatting the bibliographic entries, and very useful samples of what an annotated bibliography may look like in a variety of disciplinary fields.
  • Lai, Paul. Academic Guides: Common Assignments: Annotated Bibliographies., Accessed 22 Apr. 2020.
    This resource includes an overview, step by step tips, formatting help, and an introduction to writing annotations, as well as examples. Also linked from this resource is a recording of two webinars on the annotated bibliography, one of which is written specifically with graduate students in mind. The webinar is available using Adobe Connect, includes recorded question and answers, and also a transcript if you would prefer to read the presentation.

Before you Begin

One challenge for first year graduate students is learning how to find, collect, organize, filter, and evaluate a variety of sources for your writing. The advantage and disadvantage of doing research in a digital age is that you have access to so many possible resources right from the convenience of your own laptop. Finding a way to keep track of what you find, as well as an efficient way to sort through your sources, is a necessary skill for the 21st century scholar.

Citation management applications are digital tools help you to collect information about the sources you find so that you can take notes, write inline and endnote citations. They can also help you find and organize your materials for quick retrieval and reference while you are writing. I strongly suggest using Zotero, which is a free, open source, citation management system. [Full disclosure: I used to work for the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media with the Zotero team, but that’s not the only reason I’m a fan.] Zotero was designed by historians for academics, especially with the humanities and social sciences in mind. The Mina Rees Library has a useful LibGuide on Citation Managers & Style Guides that I strongly encourage you to review. That guide includes links to comparative analyses of different citation management programs. Wikipedia has one as well.

Please consider signing up for one of the library’s Zotero on Your Laptop workshops. You can also schedule an appointment with a librarian to discuss getting Zotero installed and set up to use. You could also use one of the online video tutorials librarians have created for Zotero.

Getting Started

One of the aspects of the annotated bibliography that is often overlooked is that there is a degree of evaluation, selection, and organization that takes place. Annotated bibliographies are alphabetical, but they can also be divided into thematic categories. You should not include every resource that you’ve found so far in your annotated bibliographies. Instead, you’ll want to focus on a representative sample that demonstrates the quality and range of sources from which you will draw your work. As you skim, read, and categorize your materials, you will also re-evaluate which sources you will include and which you will leave out.

The elements of an annotated bibliography are best found in the readings above, but a short list includes:

  • a bibliographic entry for each source that follows a unified citation style, such as MLA, Chicago, APA, etc.
  • a typed, double-spaced annotation with:
    • a summary of the information or argument in the source;
    • an evaluation of the credibility, sufficiency, limitations, value of the source (particularly as it relates to your research topic);
    • a reflection on how this entry compares or is related to other entries.

TIP: Writing the reflection or evaluation of the argument may be hard to do before you’ve read at least a couple of the sources you are working with. One trick is to begin by writing a quick summary for each in the first draft, then going back to write the evaluation and reflection after you’ve had a chance to read other sources.

Revise & Re-evaluate

Once you’ve completed your first draft, review your annotated bibliography with these questions in mind:

  • Are these sources all directly applicable to my topic? If not, is there another source that I could replace an entry with that helps narrow the focus or scope of my thesis?
  • Are there clusters or groups of articles that begin to come clear? Are there ways that my evaluation and reflections in each entry might draw on the similarities and differences among the methods, perspectives, or suggested actions these sources suggest?
  • Are there gaps in my research? If my writing primarily draws on these sources or materials, are there places where my argument will lack support or evidence? Why do those holes exist? Is it because there is a gap in the scholarship, or is it possible that I could look at another database or use another set of search terms to help fill in those gaps?
  • Could your annotated bibliography make use of hyperlinks to connect entries with others within the same bibliography or with additional external resources?
  • Are my bibliographic entries correct? Double check them against the MLA or Chicago manual to make sure that you have all the relevant information. If you are using citation management software, such as Zotero, there is a chance that you are missing important metadata. If so, try to fill in the missing information and regenerate the entry so that it is correct.
  • Consider taking your annotated bibliography to the Writing Center. You can book an appointment to go through questions you might have about the bibliographic format, for example, or how to write a better annotation. Be sure to make use of the resources that you have available to you.

What Comes Next?

You may consider sharing your annotated bibliography with peers, librarians, or an advisor or teacher. Doing so can help you to identify potential holes in your research process and to identify potential biases that you may be unaware of yourself. Such an approach can be especially valuable if you are developing an annotated bibliography for a research group. Gaps or holes in the assembled sources may help point to gaps in representation. Is your working group or research team missing a perspective that could benefit the project?

Once you have your abstract, which contains a thesis, suggested methods or approach, and a list of primary and secondary sources, you are in a good position to begin writing a first draft. The activity of reflecting on each source has hopefully prepared you to begin writing paragraphs that a.) define the state of the field b.) identify where your argument fits into that larger picture and c.) helps put your point of view in conversation with other scholars in the field.

NOTE: If you are creating a website or other multimedia research project, you may consider including your annotated bibliography for the benefit of your audience. Consider how you might revise entries in your annotated bibliography to accommodate a variety of audiences.