What is the point of an annotated bibliography these days?
April 13, 2016 7:46 AM   Subscribe

What does an annotated bibliography do for the writer (or someone else)?

I'm wondering where annotated bibliographies fit in the writing process these days. I tend to mark up articles I read using Bookends and Excel to pull and store the necessary info/quotes/data for an article. Sometimes I'll note for myself if I think the research or statistics (given a limited understanding) leave things out or are wanting/outstanding/biased in some way.

In my own life, I'm getting ready to write a literature review for school, but first I have to go through a semester-long research class that is all about creating an annotated bibliography for said review. Is the additional step of creating an annotated bibliography going to be at all helpful to me, or is it about giving something useful to my advisor?
posted by aaxelrod to Education (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on the specific assignment, but I have found these to be pretty useful for undergrads to organize their sources and make sure they actually HAVE enough of different types of sources for whatever the assignment is (for example, if students need to have 4 primary sources and 2 secondary sources, having to actually put those sources down on paper and categorize them is a useful task). I also typically have students include in the annotation why the source is useful/what role it is going to play in their research, which again is not a question everyone thinks of if they are just keeping track of thigns in a less organized way.

I would think formal annotated bibliographies tend to be less useful for graduate students (I would never assign one), although I have essentially created what amounts to an informal annotated bibliography at various points for various research projects throughout grad school/post-grad research. Mostly I find it useful for organizing my thoughts, seeing all the sources in one place, and being able to see possible gaps in the literature where I can (hopefully) insert my own research. :) It also makes the lit review process WAY easier when you have a handy list of everything with all your notes, and can just go ahead and write it up rather than constantly going back to search for citations, etc. I don't put them in any sort of formal format or anything like that; I just create an informal list from my EndNote notes and add anything else relevant. But, I don't think it would necessarily be that much more work to make it look nice, unless your advisor is asking for a ton of extraneous information that you wouldn't otherwise be gathering. And I do think it will at least potentially be genuinely useful in the lit review process -- it's basically just making a detailed outline of what your lit review will look like, which then will make that process go faster later.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:03 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you're already writing up notes about the scholarly literature you read, then you are basically making a type of annotated bibliography. In some sense a class that walks you through that process is unnecessary (designed for your peers who are don't have your good habits); but there's also possibly things you can learn (eg trying out different bibliography softwares like citavi, zotero, etc to compare and contrast with your current excel+bookends approach.)
If this course is a requirement, I'd do it happily, consider it low-effort course credits that will get you closer to your goal (review paper complete), especially if you're only 50% done with your reading and they'd basically be giving course credit for making progress on your research. If the course isn't a requirement but a submitted annotated bibliography meeting their specifications is, I would just take the class anyway to avoid the hassle of interpreting their specifications. If the class is just a tool to improve the quality of the paper (i.e. optional class, bibliography not a part of the paper submission) then there may not be a lot of new information for you and you could justifiably opt out.
posted by aimedwander at 8:04 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think rainbowbrite hit squarely upon why an annotated bib would be useful to the writer.

Additionally, a quick search of JSTOR shows that some journals publish annotated bibliographies--a publication for the writer and a valuable resource for other scholars/researchers because someone else has done at least some of the legwork of tracking down sources on a specific topic. I've found annotated bibliographies really useful for my own research because it gives me a place to start. (You can also find book-length annotated bibliographies, which can serve as great overviews of a given field.)
posted by xenization at 8:25 AM on April 13, 2016

I'm in the humanities. I assign annotated bibliographies to my undergrads as a way of helping them situate their own reading/thinking/argument with the context of a broader scholarly conversation. Assigned early-ish in the process of a longer research project, my hope (and generally my experience) is that asking them to go through the process of succinctly summarizing and assessing larger arguments, and placing those summaries in close proximity to other summaries/assessments of related arguments, allows students to more easily see the big picture and the broad strokes of the debates and intellectual traditions that surround and comprise their subject matter. Getting a handle on this big picture early - and realizing how diverse, contradictory, and nuanced different approaches can be - is useful in helping to avoid the common undergrad trap of interacting with secondary and critical sources purely as Captial-A "Authorities" and Final Words instead of as interlocutors that they can fruitfully engage with.

In my own work (I'm a graduate student), I use annotated bibliographies in much the same way that I ask my students to. Writing them (albeit in a much less formal way than what I assign to undergrads) helps me gain "big picture" perspective of what the historical and ongoing scholarly conversations in my specific corner of the field are, and more practically helps me organize my thinking and note-taking, so that six weeks from now when I only vaguely remember the context of a quote or argument I want to engage with, I can easily find the relevant details of the piece alongside thoughts and insights from a former me who was more intimately and immediately engaged with the work than present me is. I also occasionally consult the annotated bibliographies written/published by others when my work touches on fields and areas that are outside of my own little niche so that I can quickly get a fast-and-dirty grasp on the high-level concepts before diving in to whatever details are particularly relevant to my own work.
posted by Dorinda at 8:49 AM on April 13, 2016

I keep annotated bibliographies for two reasons:

1. As a supplement to my BibTex file and margin notes. Writing short summaries helps me remember and organize ideas. Having them in a single document makes it much easier to review. Basically, my annotated bibliography is a lit review that hasn't yet been put into prose form. I find it very useful.

2. As a resource I plan to share eventually. I do research in a field that's under-resourced but developing, and think that I'm in a position to create a useful guide for anyone else who is looking for resources.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:08 AM on April 13, 2016

As a reader i like annotated bibliographies if, but only if, I feel the writer makes his cleverness clear in what he has written. Then, the bibliography leads me to read in other works that are related to what I have just read or takes me a bit astray into interesting areas worth exploring. That is not scholarly reading but then I am not doing such reading for scholarly purposes.
posted by Postroad at 9:32 AM on April 13, 2016

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