Creating an annotated bibliography of your research sources can help you take control of them and put your own voice and personality back into your research writing. Unlike conventional bibliographies that simply provide information about the work’s author, title, publisher, and so on, each entry of an annotated bibliography briefly summarizes an entry and then evaluates its possible application to research and writing.
According to Owen Williams, a librarian at the library of the University of Minnesota, annotated bibliographies are created with the following purposes:
- To review literature on a particular subject.
- To illustrate the quality of research that you have done
- To provide examples of the types of sources available
- To describe other items on the topic that might be of interest to the reader.
Williams then provides an example of an entry from an annotated bibliography:
“Sewell, W. (1989). Weaving a program: Literate programming in WEB. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Sewell explains the code language within these pages including certain lines of code as examples. One useful idea that Sewell uses is to explain characters and how they work in the programming of a Web Page. He also goes through and describes how to make lists and a title section. This will be very useful because all Web Pages have a title section. This author also introduces Pascal which I am not sure if I will include in my manual but after I read more about it I can decide whether this will be helpful to future users. This book will not be the basis of my manual but will add some key points, which are described above.”
Note that the author of this entry not only summarizes the content of a source, but also evaluates the usefulness of this source a specific research project. Annotated bibliographies are not just exercises in the rules of citation. Instead, they help writers to begin the transition from reading sources into writing about them. By combining evaluation with description, annotated bibliographies help writers approach their research actively by beginning to make sense of their sources early on in the research process.
Begin a research project by collecting and annotating possible sources. Remember that not all the sources which your annotated bibliography will include may end up in your final paper. This is normal since researchers cast their nets much wider in the beginning of a project than the range of sources which they eventually include in their writing. The purpose of creating an annotated bibliography is to learn about the available resources on your subject and to get an idea how these resources might be useful for your particular writing project. As you collect your sources, write short summaries of each of them. Also try to apply the content of these sources to the project you are working on Don’t worry about fitting each source exactly into what you think your project will be like. Remember that, in the process of research, you are learning about your subject, and that you never really know where this learning process takes you.