As you develop a working thesis for your research project and begin to collect different pieces of evidence, you will soon find yourself needing some sort of system for keeping track of everything. The system discussed in this chapter is an annotated bibliography, which is a list of sources on a particular topic that includes a brief summary of what each source is about. This writing exercise is a bit different from the others in this part of The Process of Research Writing in that isn’t an “essay” per se; rather it is an ongoing writing project that you will be “building” as you discover new pieces of evidence for your research project.
Here is an example of an entry from an annotated bibliography in MLA style:
Parsons, Matt. “Protecting Children on the Electronic Frontier: A Law Enforcement Challenge.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 69.10 (2000): 22-26.
This article is about an educational program used by the U.S. Navy to educate people in the Navy and their families about some of the things that are potentially dangerous to children about the Internet. Parsons says that the educational program has been effective.
Annotated bibliography entries have two parts. The top of the entry is the citation. It is the part that starts “Parsons, Matt’” and that lists information like the name of the writer, where the evidence appeared, the date of publication, and other publishing information.
Hyperlink: For guidelines on how to properly write citations for your Annotated bibliographies, see Chapter 12, “Citing Your Research Using MLA or APA Style.”
The second part of the entry is the summary of the evidence being cited. A good annotated bibliography summary provides enough information in a sentence or two to help you and others understand what the research is about in a neutral and non-opinionated way.
The first two sentences of this annotation are an example of this sort of very brief, “just the facts” sort of summary. In the brief summaries of entries in an annotated bibliography, stay away from making evaluations about the source—“I didn’t like this article very much” or “I thought this article was great.” The most important goal of your brief summary is to help you, colleagues, and other potential readers get an idea about the subject of the particular piece of evidence.
Summaries can be challenging to write, especially when you are trying to write them about longer and more complicated sources of research. Keep these guidelines in mind as you write your own summaries.
- Keep your summary short. Good summaries for annotated bibliographies are not “complete” summaries; rather, they provide the highlights of the evidence in as brief and concise a manner as possible, no more than a sentence or two.
- Don’t quote from what you are summarizing. Summaries will be more useful to you and your colleagues if you write them in your own words. Instead of quoting directly what you think is the point of the piece of evidence, try to paraphrase it. (For more information on paraphrasing your evidence, see Chapter 3, “Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Avoiding Plagiarism”).
- Don’t “cut and paste” from database abstracts. Many of the periodical indexes that are available as part of your library’s computer system include abstracts of articles. Do no “cut” this abstract material and then “paste” it into your own annotated bibliography. For one thing, this is plagiarism. Second, “cutting and pasting” from the abstract defeats one of the purposes of writing summaries and creating an annotated bibliography in the first place, which is to help you understand and explain your research.
Different writers will inevitably write slightly different summaries of the same evidence.Some differences between different writers’ summaries of the same piece of evidence result from different interpretations of what it important in the research; there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, two summaries from different writers should both provide a similar summary. In other words, its not acceptable when the difference of interpretation is the result of a lack of understanding of the evidence.