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How To Write Annotated Bibliographies

Annotated bibliographies, especially those done by graduate and post-graduate students, need to do more than give a brief synopsis of the work’s contents. They need to discuss – in a concise but substantive fashion – the entry’s relative strengths and weakness, especially in comparison with the representative body of literature in the field.

Your annotations should include the following elements. You should name the author of the source (or if it is anonymous use terms like “the author” or “the writer”) followed by a rhetorically accurate verb (such as asserts, argues, suggest, believes, reports, insists, indicates, contends) and a ‘that’ clause containing the major proposition (thesis statement) of the work. Then explain how the author develops or supports the thesis, usually reflecting the order of development in the work. You should also state the author’s apparent purpose followed by an ‘in order to’ phrase. Finally, you should describe the intended audience of the source. You will also want to evaluate the usefulness, reliability, strengths and weaknesses of the source. You should use a standardized referencing format.

Example:

Goodall, Jane, “Primitive Research is Inhumane” Animal Rights: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Janelle Rohr, San Diego, Greenhaven, 1989, 95-100.

Goodall argues that most laboratories using primates engage in inhumane practices. She supports her argument through detailed descriptions of lab environments and draws special attention to the neglect of psychological comforts which these primates endure until they sometimes become insane. Her purpose is to speak on behalf of the chimpanzees (because they cannot speak for themselves) in order to persuade her readers to see that if we do not fight for improvements in lab care “we make a mockery of the whole concept of justice.” Goodall writes for a non-specialist audience interested in the issues of animal rights; there were no extensive footnotes or bibliography, and the diction was aimed at a well-educated but general audience. This source was a useful introduction to the topic and seems reliable, but was fairly short and very basic. Goodall is a well-known primate researcher and is passionate in her defense of primates, but did not present all points of the issue or counter arguments.

In these annotations you should concentrate on analyzing the source to discover how credible it is and the persuasive strategies used by its author. The annotations should help you keep track of your sources as well as encourage you to read carefully and thoroughly. Additional questions you might consider in writing your annotations:

  1. Is the author “qualified” to write on the subject and in what way?
  2. Does the author have a bias or agenda or make assumptions that affect his or her data or argument?
  3. What method of collecting data to support claims is used by the author? Interviews? Library research? Laboratory experiments? Case studies? Questionnaires?
  4. How does this study compare to similar studies? Does it agree or disagree with conventional wisdom, established scholarship, government policy, and so on? Are there other works to which this one is specifically indebted or against which it reacts?

Your annotations should be detailed but also succinct, probably no more than 300 words. As in the example, you should give bibliographic information in an approved style for a list of works cited.