How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography assignment generally has two parts. The first describes the overall project–its themes, the region, the time period, any key people or terms–and it will usually outline a working thesis or at least a research question. A working thesis is a preliminary argument: it is what your paper will prove. It is preliminary because it will likely change in the course of your research. Sometimes a research question is preferred, in which case you will state what you want to know more about.

The second part is the actual bibliography and its annotations. My recommendation is to do the second part first (if you try to begin with the first part you’ll struggle because you won’t know what to say).

Here are some general tips:

1. The Annotated Bibliography is an exploratory tool. You are exploring whether or not the research topic is possible. If you make a good case (by finding strong academic sources and writing a thoughtful proposal), then your topic will seem feasible.

2. When using academic articles from JSTOR or EPSCO host, make use of their abstracts, introductions, and conclusions. These are key points in an essay where the author summarizes their argument. They are intended to help you know, faster, whether or not the article is useful. Ensure that your articles are no less than 12 pages. Relevant academic research is generally that which has been published in the last 10-15 years. If your article/ book was published prior to that, you should comment on why you think it is relevant despite being outdated. 
The assignment might ask you to include Primary Sources. If so, when you write your annotation, you’ll have a different set of questions to answer. Please see the page on Primary Sources which gives you a hint as to how to approach this.
3. You are not intended to find articles that address your topic (Siberian tigers in Manhattan zoos) and your thinker (Frantz Fanon).  This won’t happen–until you write your paper. Your articles should, in contrast, help you understand one of the aspects of the paper: more about the thinker you’ve chosen, more about Siberian tigers, more about Manhattan, more about the period you’re studying (1984) or the incident you’re interested in (How Crocodile Dundee was formerly called Siberian Dundee). Your paper brings it all together. For now, you’re just finding the parts.
4. This assignments asks you to pay attention to form (clear sentences, properly punctuated citations) and content (what are the theses of the books and articles you’ve found).
5.  Always ensure that your annotations are alphabetized by author last name. Never number them.
Websites I recommend:
  • On how to read effectively
  • How to make good citations
    • Owl Purdue
    • Easy Bib
    • Citation Machine
    • Zotero
    • Note: These websites are good, but they are not infallible. They make mistakes. Go to OWL at Purdue to check whether or not the formatting is correct.
    • Further note: Most libraries and most software (Word is a good example) don’t make good citations.

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