Rhetoric and Composition/Teacher's Handbook/Teaching Annotated Bibliography

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Annotated Bibliography


The annotated bibliography is the first step to writing a successful research paper. It is beneficial for students as well as instructors. By assigning an annotated bibliography, students will begin their research long before the actual research paper is due, so they are not scrambling at the last minute to find sources. It also allows the instructor to evaluate the sources before students begin writing their papers.

There are several elements to be considered when teaching this unit:

  • Choosing a topic
  • Teaching research-where/how to find sources
  • Finding a variety of credible sources
  • Teaching proper style and documentation (MLA, APA, etc.)


Choosing A Topic

How do we get students to choose interesting, fresh topics? One way may be to first ban certain cliched, overdone topics. Some of these may include: Genocide, abortion, war, the legalization of marijuana, global warming, lowering the drinking age, and gun control. There will be a collective groan from the class, but they will get over it. There are many other topics students can write about, and by banning certain topics, students will need to really think about what they want to write about.

Brainstorming: A quick way to do this is to have students write for a few minutes about topics that interest them. This will help get the wheels in motion.

The Library: Library time is helpful too-let the students browse the internet, magazines, newspapers, books, etc. to give them inspiration. It is helpful to have students go through a library orientation in a classroom computer lab, with special attention paid to researching scholarly databases (such as JSTOR) that may house credible information about their future topics.

Narrowing: Sometimes it can be beneficial for the students to have a spectrum of topics to choose from. For example, requiring the student's topic to be within a time period, like the 1960, can help eliminate cliché topic selections. Or, narrowing the choice to, for example, a historical figure, social movement, foreign country, or theme, will make the paper seem more manageable.

The Proposal: Once students have chosen a topic, it's time to get your approval. Have students write a one page proposal about their topic. The proposals should include: the subject of the paper, the stance they plan to take, what they know, what they don't know, what they plan to learn while doing their research, the list goes on... By doing this you can put out any fires before they start. Once they have your approval, the next step can begin.

Teaching Research-Where/How To Find Sources

Source Limits: One of the first things you will need to determine when assigning the bibliography/research paper is the number and variety of sources students will be required to include. The students first instinct will be to go straight to the internet for all of their research, so it helps to put a limit on the number of sources you will allow from a particular medium.

The Library: Again, scheduling library time will be extremely helpful. By doing a library orientation students can become familiar with the many types of resources the library has to offer. One of the most important tools are the scholarly databases (JSTOR, CQ Researcher), these will help students find scholarly journal articles about their chosen topics. (More examples)

Finding A Variety of Credible Sources

Source Types: Once students have the tools to do their own research, the next step is to help them determine whether or not a sources is credible. These questions will be helpful for all sources, but particularly for internet sources. Remind students to get bibliography information from all of their sources as they are searching, this will cut down on having to backtrack later.

Remember to differentiate between they types of sources you want them to have. Help them to understand the difference between scholarly journals, trade journals, and popular journals. Sometimes it my be appropriate, especially if the topic is about popular culture, to use non-scholarly sources.

Evaluating Resources Questions

  • What type of website is it? A .com is a commercial site, a .gov is a government site, a .org is a non-profit organization, and a .edu is an educational institution.
  • What type of source is it? A book, magazine? Does the author or publication have any particular bias?
  • Who is the source/author? Cites without an author may have questionable validity.
  • What are the author's qualifications/expertise?
  • When was the web page last updated?
  • Was the source ever in print form? Video form?


Teaching Documentation/Citation

Teaching Documentation can be difficult, but the key here is practice. Students need to familiarize themselves with the style guide they will be using. A good way to do this is simply to bring citation information (author names, titles, etc.) and have students practice finding the correct way to site each source using their text. Also, bringing in examples of annotated bibliographies will give them a good visual example of what it is supposed to look like.

Sample Assignment Sheets

Sample Assignment One

Overview: An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and websites with a small, descriptive paragraph. Annotated bibliographies generally have the following components: a summary, an evaluation of credibility, and a description of how the source fits in to your paper.

Directions: Write an annotated bibliography with 8-10 scholarly sources. Each annotation should be about 150 words and be in MLA format. The topic of your annotated bibliography should relate to the topic you choose for your research paper.

Your bibliography should include (as a minimum):

  • One book
  • Four scholarly articles or chapters of an anthology (found in person at the library)
  • The remaining can be websites, encyclopedias, etc.

Grading: The annotated bibliography is worth 5% of your total grade.

Your grade will be determined based on the following components:

  • Validity: are the sources you have chosen valuable in the field of research?
  • Scholarliness: are your sources scholarly, credible, and/or peer reviewed?
  • Citation: are your sources documented properly and according to MLA?
  • Evaluation: did you evaluate the source in a clear and fair manner?
  • Assignment: did you fulfill the requirements of the assignment?


Sample Assignment Two

Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Definition:

An annotation is a brief summary of a book, article, or other publication. An abstract is also a summary, but there is a difference between the two. An abstract is simply a summary of a work, whereas the purpose on an annotation is to describe the work in such a way that the reader can decide whether or not to read the work itself. A bibliography, of course, is a list of writings and is a standard appendage to scholarly books or articles. An annotated bibliography helps the reader understand the particular usefulness of each item. The ideal annotated bibliography shows the relationships among individual items and may compare their strengths or shortcomings.


Characteristics:

Conventional and accepted rules of good writing should be followed: 1. Brevity and clarity are essential; 2. Avoid abbreviations; 3. Do not report information in the title; 4. Remain objective and avoid introducing personal prejudices.


Length:

Although there is no lower limit, annotations should not exceed 150 words.


Person:

Third person should always be used.


Language and Vocabulary:

Use the vocabulary of the author, as far as possible, to convey the ideas and conclusions of the author; paraphrasing can lead the reader into channels of thought unintended by the author. In cases where you decide to include a quotation excerpted from the work, set it within quotation marks. Avoid introducing annotations with superfluous and/or redundant phrases like “The author states,” “This article concerns,” “This new contribution to,” etc. Also avoid the monotonous starting of sentences with “It was suggested that,” “It was found that,” “It was reported that,” etc. Annotations in which most sentences end with “are discussed” and “are given” are similarly ineffective.


Sentence Format:

Use complete sentences. Sentence length should vary as much as possible to avoid the unpleasant effect of a series of short, choppy sentences. Every sentence should convey a maximum amount of information in a minimum number of words. Overlong, complex sentences should be avoided.


Paragraph Format:

Annotations should be one paragraph long. The paragraph should contain a statement the work’s major thesis from which the rest of the sentences can develop. You can avoid writing a paragraph that is nothing more than a series of unconnected sentences summarizing separate ideas, arguments, and conclusions, by following the same order of information as the author and by intelligently using transitional words and phrases.


Step-By-Step Approach to Annotating:

The following approach to annotating will help you to use your reading time to best advantage.

  • Familiarize yourself with the contents of the book or article. Examining the table of contents, the foreword, and the introduction can be helpful.
  • Read as much of the book or article as is necessary to understand its content.
  • Outline or make notes of the information you think should be incorporated in the annotation.
  • Write a paragraph that covers the spirit of the book or article without undue emphasis on any one or more particular points.
  • Individualize annotations in a bibliography; avoid using the same words and repetitive phrasing.
  • Write in complete sentences.
  • The most effective annotation is tightly written with succinct and descriptive wording. Annotations are short notes and are normally no more than 150 words. Verbosity is the major sin. Brevity and clarity are the goals.
  • Grab the attention of the reader at the beginning of the annotation.