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Understanding and maintaining an Annotated Bibliography

A bibliography is a list of the sources that you may have referred to (but not directly cited) in your work and which you are now providing for the reader to follow up on, should they wish to read more on the subject. An annotated bibliography is an expanded bibliography, offering additional brief annotations – or notes – on each source. These annotations should focus on summarising the source’s main argument and could also include how it informs or is relevant and significant to your work.

Purpose of annotated bibliography

a. Demonstrating your topic knowledge

An annotated bibliography helps to demonstrate your knowledge of your chosen field of study. In addition, your annotations show your competency at locating and summarising a source’s key arguments. For example, in some PhD programmes, doctoral students may be required to submit an annotated bibliography as a part of their early assessments. This is an excellent opportunity for you to demonstrate the breadth of your reading, the understanding of key texts in your subject and how you plan to engage with them in your own research.

b. Keeping track of your references

A common problem with extended research projects is keeping track of all your sources. You might find yourself trying to recall where exactly you had read a specific point about a particular subject, or the details of certain sources you had read, such as their publication dates or why they were significant. By keeping an updated annotated bibliography (if only for your own reference), those answers will be right at your fingertips. 

You could choose to use referencing software, such as Zotero or Endnote, which offer options to annotate and keep notes on your references. Alternatively, you might prefer to keep all your references in a searchable document, or even as hard copies organised in alphabetical, chronological or thematic order. No matter how you choose to keep track of your sources, you will find that including some notes on the nature of the source’s arguments will help you down the line. 

c. Writing your literature review

Annotated bibliographies also constitute very helpful preparation for writing your literature review. As you focus in on which sources would be most important to discuss to introduce and contextualise your research, you will find an annotated bibliography extremely useful for getting the ball rolling: you would have already done the bulk of the work by having summarised each source’s main arguments. In fact, you may even wish to use your annotations as a starting point around which to shape your discussions for your literature review.

Maintaining an annotated bibliography

  • Length: Each entry in an annotated bibliography is typically 100–300 words in length. 
  • Style: You could write your annotations as full sentences or as brief bullet points. Whichever method you choose, consistency is key. 
  • Objectivity: Make sure that you use objective language as far as possible. In other words, make notes about the source’s main points or arguments, rather than your personal opinions or preferences.

Examples of annotated bibliography

Here are some sample (fictional) entries that you might find in an annotated bibliography, one each for STEM and SSAH.

STEM example

Chris Christopher, 2010. ‘An excess of cornflake consumption increases the risk of diabetes’, Journal for Breakfast Foods, 66:10, pp.100–108

Christopher argues for direct correlation between excessive cornflake consumption and increased risk of diabetes

Based on comprehensive data collected from 5500+ participants over 25 years 

Builds on previous research on sugar composition in cereals by Jo Jones and Al Aleson

SSAH example

Sam Samson, The Life of Queen Maleficent, (Big City: X University Press, 1995). 

Samson’s original contribution to the field of 17th-century Central European history lies in his in-depth analysis of Queen Maleficent – the first project of this length to do so. Using the combined methodologies of critical discourse analysis and book history, Samson critiques the field’s oversight of Queen Maleficent, and argues for the necessity to consider her in all future research undertaken in this period of history.

 

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