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4.5: Researching an Exhibition

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    Learning Objectives

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • research the theme of your Heritages of Change exhibition.
    • evaluate sources.
    • organize research.
    • write summaries of and critiques about sources.

    Once you have established a theme and selected your artifacts, the next step is to do more research. You will want and need a deeper understanding of your artifacts and your theme, including knowing what others have already said or thought.

    Research: Annotated Bibliography

    About This Type of Research

    A bibliography is a list of the sources you use when doing research for a project or composition. Named for the Greek terms biblion, meaning “book,” and graphos, meaning “something written,” bibliographies today compile more than just books. Often they include academic journal articles, periodicals, websites, and multimedia texts such as videos. A bibliography alone, at the end of a research work, also may be labeled “References” or “Works Cited,” depending on the citation style you are using. The bibliography lists information about each source, including author, title, publisher, and publication date. Each set of source information, or each individual entry, listed in the bibliography or noted within the body of the composition is called a citation.

    Bibliographies include formal documentation entries that serve several purposes:

    • They help you organize your own research on a topic and narrow your topic, thesis, or argument.
    • They help you build knowledge.
    • They strengthen your arguments by offering proof that your research comes from trustworthy sources.
    • They enable readers to do more research on the topic.
    • They create a community of researchers, thus adding to the ongoing conversation on the research topic.
    • They give credit to authors and sources from which you draw and support your ideas.

    Annotated bibliographies expand on typical bibliographies by including information beyond the basic citation information and commentary on the source. Although they present each formal documentation entry as it would appear in a source list such as a works cited page, an annotated bibliography includes two types of additional information. First, following the documentation entry is a short description of the work, including information about its authors and how it was or can be used in a research project. Second is an evaluation of the work’s validity, reliability, and/or bias. The purpose of the annotation is to summarize, assess, and reflect on the source. Annotations can be both explanatory and analytical, helping readers understand the research you used to formulate your argument. An annotated bibliography can also help you demonstrate that you have read the sources you will potentially cite in your work. It is a tool to assist in the gathering of these sources and serves as a repository. You won’t necessarily use all the sources cited in your annotated bibliography in your final work, but gathering, evaluating, and documenting these sources is an integral part of the research process.

    Research projects and compositions, particularly argumentative or position texts, require you to collect sources, devise a thesis, and then support that thesis through analysis of the evidence, including sources, you have compiled. With access to the Internet and an academic library, you will rarely encounter a shortage of sources for any given topic or argument. The real challenge may be sorting through all the available sources and determining which will be useful.

    The first step in completing an annotated bibliography is to locate and compile sources to use in your research project. At the beginning, you do not need to be highly selective in this process, as you may not ultimately use every source. Therefore, gather any materials—including books, websites, professional journals, periodicals, and documents—that you think may contain valuable ideas about your topic. But where do you find sources that relate to your argument? And how do you choose which sources to use? This section will help you answer those questions and choose sources that will both enhance and challenge your claim, allowing you to confront contradictory evidence and synthesize ideas, or combine ideas from various sources, to produce a well-constructed original argument.

    In your research, you likely will use three types of sources: primary, secondary, and tertiary. During any research project, your use of these sources will depend on your topic, your thesis, and, ultimately, how you intend to use them. In all likelihood, you will need to seek out all three.

    Primary sources allow you to create your own analysis with the appropriate rhetorical approach. In the humanities disciplines, primary sources include original documents, data, images, and other compositions that provide a firsthand account of an event or a time in history. Typically, primary sources are created close in time to the event or period they represent and may include journal or diary entries, newspaper articles, government records, photographs, artworks, maps, speeches, films, and interviews. In scientific disciplines, primary sources provide information such as scientific discoveries, raw data, experimental and research results, and clinical trial findings. They may include published studies, scientific journal articles, and proceedings of meeting or conferences.

    Primary sources also can include student-conducted interviews and surveys. Other primary sources may be found on websites such as the Library of Congress, the Historical Text Archive, government websites, and article databases. In all academic areas, primary sources are fact based, not interpretive. That is, they may be commenting on or interpreting something else, but they themselves are the source. For example, an article written during the 1840s condemning the practice of enslavement may interpret events occurring then, but it is a primary source document of its time.

    Secondary sources, unlike primary sources, are interpretive. They often provide a secondhand account of an event or research results, analyze or clarify primary sources and scientific discoveries, or interpret a creative work. These sources are important for supporting or challenging your argument, addressing counterarguments, and synthesizing ideas. Secondary sources in the humanities disciplines include biographies, literary criticism, and reviews of the fine arts, among other sources. In the scientific disciplines, secondary sources encompass analyses of scientific studies or clinical trials, reviews of experimental results, and publications about the significance of studies or experiments. In some instances, the same item can serve as both a primary and a secondary source, depending on how it is used. For example, a journal article in which the author analyzes the impact of a clinical trial would serve as a secondary source. But if you instead count the number of journal articles that feature reports on a particular clinical trial, you might use them as primary sources because they would then serve as data points.

    In addition to primary and secondary sources, you can use a tertiary source to summarize or digest information from primary and/or secondary sources. Because tertiary sources often condense information, they usually do not provide enough information on their own to support claims. However, they often contain a variety of citations that can help you identify and locate valuable primary and secondary sources. Researchers often use tertiary sources to find general, historical, or background information as well as a broad overview of a topic. Tertiary sources frequently placed in the secondary-source category include reference materials such as encyclopedias, textbooks, manuals, digests, and bibliographies.

    Not all sources are created equally. You likely know already that you must vet sources—especially those you find on the Internet—for legitimacy, validity, and the presence of bias. For example, you probably know that the website Wikipedia is not considered a trustworthy source because it is open to user editing. This accessibility means the site’s authority cannot be established and, therefore, the source cannot effectively support or refute a claim you are attempting to make, though you can use it at times to point you to reliable sources. While so-called bad sources may be easy to spot, researchers may have more difficulty discriminating between sources that are authoritative and those that pose concerns. In fact, you may encounter a general hierarchy of sources in your compilation. Understanding this hierarchy can help you identify which sources to use and how to use them in your research.

    Academic article databases are the best starting places for finding sources. There are too many databases to cover them all in this chapter, but you would be wise to familiarize yourself with those to which you have access through your school or program.

    Just as writing is recursive, requiring you to go back and forth between different stages of the process, you will likely return to your annotated bibliography at different points. You may begin by looking for sources related to your topic, or you may choose or narrow your topic after an initial database search for sources. If your project has a variety of possible topics, you may even start with a current issue of a leading journal in the field, find an article that interests you, and use that article to shape your topic selection. As a bonus, you will have your first reputable source.

    Choosing sources to include in your annotated bibliography may seem overwhelming. However, if you can find a few good academic articles as a starting point, use them to guide your research. Academic articles are efficient, scrutinized by experts in their fields, and organized in ways that aid readers in identifying key findings that relate to their argument. The following tips will help you choose solid sources to guide your research:

    • Look for relevant scholarly articles. Even the briefest Google search can yield an overwhelming amount of content. Sift through it by looking first through academic databases to find high-quality sources relevant to your research.
    • Read abstracts. As you sift through scholarly articles, you can get a good idea of what each one is about by reading the abstract. It includes the findings and will show you in about 100 words whether the paper holds relevance to your research.
    • Skim. Once you have determined that an article may be useful, skim each section to glean the information you need. Closer and more extensive reading can come later as you develop and support your argument.
    • Avoid getting bogged down in technical information or industry-specific jargon. The benefit of reading peer-reviewed research is that you know the reviewers have determined it to be solidly constructed. Therefore, even if you don’t understand some portions completely, you can still feel confident about using relevant information from the article.
    • Work smarter by using the research provided. Once you have identified an article that is helpful to your research, use it to find more like it. Search for other publications by the authors; researchers often spend much of their careers researching one overarching topic or theme. Use the review of literature to identify related articles that may add to your research. You can also use the article’s bibliography to find additional sources. Or reverse engineer the process: use article databases to find other articles that cite the article in their literature reviews.

    An annotated bibliography goes further than the citation entry. Beginning with the formal citation as shown above, it continues with information about the text, discussing the work’s author(s), authority, and impact on or usefulness to the research project. Most annotated bibliographies also present a short critical analysis of the source. Annotations are written in paragraph form. Depending on the purpose of your project and the instructions given, your annotations may range from relatively simple summaries to thorough analyses of your sources and how you will use them. Typically, you will provide this information in one or two paragraphs of around 100 to 200 words total.

    The function of an annotated bibliography can vary according to the purpose of the writing and the stage at which it is completed. These functions often include

    • providing a review of literature for research related to a argument;
    • formulating a thesis, particularly if you compile the annotated bibliography at the beginning of the writing process;
    • demonstrating the amount and quality of your research on a subject or topic;
    • providing examples of sources of information available on a topic; and
    • supplying items and publications of interest to readers or other researchers.

    An annotated bibliography allows readers to determine the scope and credibility of the sources you have used in your research. Each annotation goes beyond a summary of the source, providing information that helps readers determine whether to read the entire work. In other words, if someone else were researching the same or a similar topic, your annotations would help them decide whether the sources would be useful and why. Occasionally, confusion may arise about the function and purpose of abstracts versus annotations. As defined, an abstract is a purely descriptive summary, typically found at the very beginning of a journal article or in a periodical index. Abstracts are usually short, intended to provide readers with a concise understanding of a paper’s basic content, research, and findings. Although annotations also can be descriptive, informative, and similarly brief, they are usually evaluative and critical.

    A useful and thorough annotation contains three basic parts:

    • A summary of the source, detailing the topic(s), major arguments and claims, and main ideas discussed.
    • An evaluation of the source’s usefulness to your argument, its validity, its reliability, and any bias present. When you evaluate sources, you discuss the authors and their credentials, any agendas present, and the sources’ goals.
    • A reflection on how the source fits into the puzzle of your research project. You will examine how it shapes your argument and influences your thinking about the topic.

    Creating an annotated bibliography requires you to read your sources critically. As you first collect your sources, briefly review and examine the information they contain, specifically through the lens of how each can add to your research. As you read more critically, choose those that represent different perspectives on your topic as well as those that have similar viewpoints but arrive at them in different ways or from various angles.

    Example MLA Style Annotated Bibliography Entry

    Citation: Buciek, Keld, and Kristine Juul. “‘We Are Here, Yet We Are Not Here’: The Heritage of Excluded Groups.” Ashgate Research Companion to Heritage and Identity, edited by Brian Graham and Peter Howard, Ashgate, 2008, pp. 105-123.

    Summary: Buciek and Juul focus on the heritage of marginalized groups, particularly that of immigrants. A central issue in immigrant heritage, for instance, is that it is more transient than that of the host or majority culture, which prevents it from claiming – or being allowed to claim – space. As they state, “Where the majority culture expresses heritage through what we may call ‘monuments of events’ (battlefields, national heroes, buildings, memorial sites, stones, and so on), the heritage of excluded groups manifests itself in artefacts [sic] that remember the journey, both the traumatic journey, and the repeated visits to the homeland. In other words, this is where routes and roots come together” (115). Heritage and preservation need to redefine themselves to include these more invisible artifacts.

    Evaluation: Keld Buciek is an Associate Professor in the Department of People and Technology at Roskilde University. They are a prolific scholar on the topic of heritage, particularly that of marginalized communities, including the book (B)Ordering Otherness. Kristine Juul is also an Associate Professor in the Department of People and Technology at Roskilde University. They specialize in migration, immigration, and transnationalism. Both authors are specialists in fields directly related to the topic of the article. Ashgate is a well-known scholarly publisher, especially for their research companions such as this one. The article was written in 2008, which is quite some time ago, but the issues are still timely. It is well-researched, and extensive sources are cited.

    Reflection: For a topic concerning the heritage of marginalized communities, this source is particularly useful. It describes the ways different immigrant groups can define their own heritage, which might be different from the majority group in which they reside. The ideas presented can be applied to other marginalized groups in addition to immigrants. The source also provided examples that can help clarify the application of the authors’ argument. The point about what is heritage, which is more than the “monuments” of a culture – and may in fact be part of individual homes or souvenirs from journeys – clarifies what types of heritage are often overlooked.

    This is a page from "Dr. T's Guide to Annoted Bibliographies. The page has four sections: Citation, Summary, Evaluation, Reflection.
    Example MLA Style Annotated Bibliography Entry

    ​​Summary of Research Task

    • Identify search terms related to your Heritages of Change exhibition theme and artifacts. Reminder of questions to ask yourself when starting research (from 4.4):
      • What do you need as the researcher and writer?
      • What do your readers need?
    • Using the search tools and strategies outlined in this section and the previous one, search for research that will help you contextualize your theme. Keep track of your search strategies and sources found (suggestion: keep a search log).
    • Evaluate each source. Reminders of questions to ask yourself when evaluating sources (from 4.4):
      • Is the author identified?
      • Is that person a professional in the field or an interested amateur?
      • What are their biases likely to be?
      • Does the document represent an individual’s opinion or peer-reviewed research?
    • Narrow down the sources you have found to the best (i.e. most relevant, most credible) ones. A collection of at least ten sources is a good starting point.

    ​​Summary of Writing Task

    • Create an Annotated Bibliography.
    • For each source, provide a full citation in the citation style most appropriate to your topic or the citation style provided for you.
    • For each source, using the discussion and example provided in this section, write an annotation. Reminder that annotations include the following three elements:
      • A summary of the source, detailing the topic(s), major arguments and claims, and main ideas discussed.
      • An evaluation of the source’s usefulness to your argument, its validity, its reliability, and any bias present. When you evaluate sources, you discuss the authors and their credentials, any agendas present, and the sources’ goals.
      • A reflection on how the source fits into the puzzle of your research project. You will examine how it shapes your argument and influences your thinking about the topic.

    Text Attributions

    This section contains material taken from “Chapter 14: Annotated Bibliography: Gathering, Evaluating, and Documenting Sources” from Writing Guide with Handbook by Senior Contributing Authors Michelle Bachelor Robinson, Maria Jerskey, and Toby Fulwiler, with other contributing authors, and is used under a CC BY 4.0 license.

    Media Attributions

    This page titled 4.5: Researching an Exhibition is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kisha G. Tracy (Remixing Open Textbooks with an Equity Lens (ROTEL)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.