When I used to get assignments with the joy-killing words meaning ‘An annotated bibliography needed on time,' I didn't feel much inspiration. Genuinely, I'm a bit afraid of people who can be inspired by the task like this one. At the moment like that, I was wondering whether it was the right decision to get to the college at all.
The very name of it - an annotated bibliography - doesn’t promise you any fun or delight. At its best, you’ll complain about it in typical students’ publics on Facebook. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll manage to create some good meme out of your suffering.
But as time went by, and as my academic experience was growing, I've learned how to turn such monotonous, time-consuming thing into something... less boring and time-consuming.
Anyway, I didn’t see any other way out except elaborating the efficient algorithm for preparing such tasks. And I actually figured it out, even though it did cost me most of my social life (kidding).
So now I’m ready to share it with you, a secret step-by-step guide on how to write an annotated bibliography and not to start hating the whole world for it.
What is an annotated bibliography?
Organising is the question I should've started with, but I don’t like to rush into pleasures. An annotated bibliography is an alphabetic list of sources you have quoted or based your research on. Additionally, you should accompany each of the sources in the list with a short description - this is what people call an annotation.
You may need to prepare an annotated bibliography as a supplement to a larger project, or have it as a single standing task.
Before the start, ask your professor about the details. What are the requirements for the annotations? Should you keep it short or detailed? How many paragraphs should it include? Which style of formatting should you choose?
These questions are essential because the answers make an impact on the structure of your annotation. I’d like to consider a classic option where the annotation appears as a paragraph of five or six sentences.
In this case, your annotation should answer the five following questions:
- Who is the author? Why his opinion is valuable?
- What is the type of this source: an article, a case study, a monograph, etc.
- What is its fundamental idea or agenda? How the author presents the problem.
- How the problem raised in this source concerns the subject of your research.
- A sentence about a direct impact of this source on your own paper. No details are needed, provide a general picture of how this source can contribute to your project.
As you might have already figured out, to write a high-grade annotated bibliography you should get these three steps done:
- Understand the topic and the purpose of your research. Define the core problem.
- Read the related literature. Make profound notes to each of the sources.
- Learn the styles of formatting, so your work will be edited correctly.
Ever wondered how to use mysterious APA and MLA styles to make your annotated bibliography shine? Here is the explanation!
APA and MLA Styles Examples
When you just start your academic path, one of the first things that can make you feel dizzy is the most popular formatting styles: APA and MLA.
APA (states for American Psychological Association) is the most popular formatting style used in the scientific publications. The thing is that guys from this psychological association were the first to start using this way of formatting. So don’t be confused by its name, people use this style in a wide range of scientific fields.
I’ll explain to you how it works on the example.
Let’s imagine that your Art History professor assigned you to write an extended essay about the history of visual studies. As one of your primary resources you’ve chosen an article of
W.J.T. Mitchell, titled Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture.
With APA style formatting your reference will look like this:
Mitchell, W.J.T. (2002) Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture. In M.A. Holly & K. Moxey (Eds.), Art History, Aesthetics, Visual Studies (pp.231-250). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Here I have used the rules for making references to the source that is a part or a chapter of a book.
NOTE: For each type of referrals (article, monograph, a section of the book, essay, electronic sources, archival materials, etc.) there is a particular format of citing. But keep calm. You will easily find this information, for example on the Purdue OWL.
According to an APA style, you also should make a special formatting for your document. For APA it is a double-spaced 12 pt. text with a Times New Roman font. Keep margin 1” for every side. So the text of your annotation to the referenced source should follow the same formatting guidelines.
Do you remember the questions you should answer in your annotation? I’ve given you this structure above, let´s recall it again.
- Who is the author? Why his opinion is valuable?
- What is the type of this source?
- What is its central idea or agenda
- How is it related to your research?
Direct impact of this source on your own paper
Accordingly, the text of your annotation to Mitchell’s article could be as following:
W.J.T. Mitchell is one of the key figures in the history of Visual studies in the U.S, who has made a profound contribution to the development of the research methodology for the new study field. This essay is one of his most famous works, first published as an article in the Journal of Visual Culture in 2002. The main agenda of this work is to summarize the argues about what is visual culture as an academic discipline. The goal of my research project is to outline the main theoretical and methodological standpoints of the visual studies, so the article of W.J.T. Mitchell corresponds directly to my research purposes. This source helped me to understand the complexity and the inner problems of the visual studies as a research field. Besides, this article made me aware of the ten common wrong ideas among the researchers about what is the object of visual studies.
If you are assigned to write it in an MLA style (MLA is for Modern Language Association), the text can be the same. However, you should change the formatting of the whole document and the reference.
MLA Example for the part of the book:
Mitchell, Thomas “Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture.” Art History, Aesthetics, Visual Studies, edited by Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey, Yale University Press, 2002, pp. 231-250
The formatting guidelines for MLA style are pretty similar to the APA: double-spaced text, 12 pt. Times New Roman, obligatory 1-inch layouts on each of the sides. For more details (aka title, numbers and names formatting), refer to Purdue OWL’s guide on MLA style.
NOTE: each popular style (MLA, Chicago, and APA) has several editions that differ from each other. Ask your professor to specify which exact version of the style is required.
At first sight, all these reference-formatting things look confusing and useless, but after a couple of research papers made, you’ll understand that it all makes perfect sense. To complete them accurately just follow the templates in the MLA or APA style guides.
And remember: correct formatting is like a candy wrapper: it creates a favourable impression of what is inside and is pleasing to the eye.
Why annotated bibliography is not a pointless thing to do
You might think that this assignment doesn’t develop any of your skills and doesn’t help you with your research project. Well, that’s not true. Such a task serves to numerous goals at once:
- It makes it easier to find sources for your work
Let’s say you search for authoritative resources to gather some materials for your argumentative essay. Where to start? How to proceed? The best way is to start from the most acclaimed works on your issue and then dig into the bibliographies of these works. Yes, you look for the sources of the sources used by the most famous researchers of your topic. You can call yourself lucky if the researcher whose article is credible provides an annotated bibliography. Why? Because it allows you to get familiar with lots of sources in a short amount of time.
Now imagine that your work also comes in handy to somebody who works on a topic related to yours. To check how it works, look up for annotated bibliography samples in our database.
- It teaches you to be mindful in sources selection
The very format of the annotated list of sources requires organizing and processing the literature for your research. It also protects you from a risk of a possible surplus of sources. It is important because at some point young researchers tend to include as many bibliography points as possible, which doesn't always bring a real value to their projects. In other words, an annotated bibliography teaches you to be picky about the literature you want to work with.
- It eases the navigation between the sources
If you are working on a big research paper, you most probably involve at least a dozen of authoritative resources. And believe me, it is quite easy to get confused by this bulk of information, especially when the issues they concern are all pretty much the same. I have this problem all the time. When I’m on my research stage of preparing the paper, I read a lot of articles on a topic. So when I try to elaborate my own idea and to support it by the quotation of the author I’ve read, I simply don’t remember which of them said that! Such thing as a commented bibliography will help you to navigate between the sources you use for your paper. It also saves you a lot of time, because a list of sources with a description will always let you know exactly whom to cite.
- It disciplines you as a researcher
My project professor told me once, the day you start making notes while reading articles is the day when you become a researcher. I remember these words because my academic experience has proved them many times. If you want to be a decent researcher, you have to become an efficient reader, and you cannot be one until you learn to make notes.
So what does it all have to do with writing an annotated bibliography? The thing is, you cannot prepare it all quick and efficient until you make notes to each of the sources you've read. And if up to this moment you did not develop a habit of making notes, then writing an annotated bibliography may help.
It will teach you to do records of everything you read, and gradually you will elaborate both research discipline and intuition.
- It helps you to see the scope and results of your work
Honestly, it is a very satisfying feeling when you see a hell of a reference list with annotations, written by you. It gives you a clear idea of how much you have read and how much you’ve got from it. In case you seriously consider a scientific activity as your future career, annotated bibliographies would become the perfect reminders of your research path and sources. In a word, it is an indispensable tool for any young researcher.
I hope that all my advice and arguments have convinced you that an annotated bibliography is not an impossible or useless thing to do. Anyway, you have to do this. The question is how much you will get from it. And from all of the mine one-million-dollars-advice, this one is my favorite: you cannot do something well until you like the process. Yeah, the process of preparing the commented bibliography doesn’t look much promising in this light. But I know that it is definitely worth all the efforts.
And the last tip: the only way to enjoy your task is to take enough time to do it. So, stop reading this and start writing.