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Annotated Bibliographies

An annotated bibliography provides an alphabetized list of sources with descriptive commentary. Each entry in the bibliography consists of a citation, in the citation style preferred by your discipline or reader(s), followed by 1-3 paragraphs (roughly 100-150 words total) that describe and evaluate that source.

What Is the Purpose of an Annotated Bibliography?

More than summaries, each entry should demonstrate your critical awareness of the sources related to the topic and their various connections. Consider the following "3 Cs":

  • Content: Provide a thorough summary of the source, including information about the author(s), the main points and/or the hypothesis or purpose of the study, the methods and data used, and the findings and implications.
  • Comparison: Point out the comparisons and contradictions between and among sources—that is, what a source is saying or not saying about a particular topic and how it relates to other research sources you've found. Doing so demonstrates you know and can enter scholarly and scientific "conversations," and it will position this source within those conversations.
  • Commentary: Comment on the usefulness of each source to your particular topic and how it will help you communicate your ideas to a larger audience. For example, does it support or counter your argument and how so? does it provide background information? present useful data? offer new insights or a different perspective?

Important Questions to Ask about a Source

As you read your sources, consider the following questions. Your annotated bibliography should incorporate most, if not all, of the answers.

  • What are the main points of the study or article?
  • What method was used in the study?
  • What are the results?
  • What are the larger implications?
  • Is the study reliable?
  • In your opinion, was the study effective and why?
  • How does it compare with your other sources?
  • Was the study objective or biased?
  • How does this article relate to your own research project?
  • What does it add to your understanding of the issue?

Important Steps to Take When Analyzing Sources

When locating and analyzing sources, consider the following:

  • Start with the abstract to get a general sense of the article and whether it's valuable to understanding your own topic—if so, read on for deeper details, insights, and connections to other sources and your project.
  • Look at the References or Bibliography page to find who an author(s) is citing—doing this can help you better understand the research conversations you're entering.
  • Pay attention to dates! Old articles are not necessarily bad, but make sure you're aware of and reading up-to-date research.

Sample 1

In the first sample annotation below, the writer includes three paragraphs: a summary, an evaluation of the text, and a reflection on its applicability to his/her own research, respectively.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor Books, 1995. Print.

Lamott's book offers honest advice on the nature of a writing life, complete with its insecurities and failures. Taking a humorous approach to the realities of being a writer, the chapters in Lamott's book are wry and anecdotal and offer advice on everything from plot development to jealousy, from perfectionism to struggling with one's own internal critic. In the process, Lamott includes writing exercises designed to be both productive and fun.

Lamott offers sane advice for those struggling with the anxieties of writing, but her main project seems to be offering the reader a reality check regarding writing, publishing, and struggling with one's own imperfect humanity in the process. Rather than a practical handbook to producing and/or publishing, this text is indispensable because of its honest perspective, its down-to-earth humor, and its encouraging approach.

Chapters in this text could easily be included in the curriculum for a writing class. Several of the chapters in Part 1 address the writing process and would serve to generate discussion on students' own drafting and revising processes. Some of the writing exercises would also be appropriate for generating classroom writing exercises. Students should find Lamott's style both engaging and enjoyable.

[Source for this example: Purdue Online Writing Lab]

Sample 2

The annotation below both summarizes and connects the source to other sources. This particular annotation does not reflect on the source's potential importance or usefulness for this person's own research.

Waite, L. J., Goldschneider, F. K., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review, 51(4), 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

[Source for this example: Cornell University Library]

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