Critical Bibliographic Essay

Dr. Beth M. Sheppard, a librarian at United Library at the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary has written an excellent essay on the bibliographic essay. She describes very clearly the differences and similarities among book reviews, annotated bibliographies, and articles. Her article is only 3 pages long and easy to read and understand. If you want a good grade for this assignment, it's imperative that you read this article and fully understand what you will be writing. After you have read the article, I would suggest you review some of the BEs I have linked for you under Examples. Below is the link to Dr. Sheppard's article:

http://journal.atla.com/ojs/index.php/theolib/article/viewFile/29/44

To synthesize Dr. Sheppard's article, the required elements of a bibliographic essay are:

  • the essay should be well ordered and follow a planned scheme
  • the resources discussed should flow easily from one to the next;large gaps in the discussion disrupts the reader
  • keep in mind that you are selecting the BEST resources to include; assume you are creating a list of the best materials available on a topic in order to recommend to a colleague; do not limit your list to print sources-- other formats are perfectly acceptable
  • how do these resources compare and fit
  • introduce your essay telling the reader what the context is for the particular study
  • a closing statement is also appropriate
  • use appropriate grammar and writing style; there are several very good writing manuals

In addition to Dr. Sheppard's recommendations, I would add these:

  • use the assigned style sheet (APA, MLA, Chicago) or select the most appropriate if given a choice by your professor
  • check in at the reference desk for writing and style manuals if you don't already own one

Annotated Bibliographies

Summary:

This handout provides information about annotated bibliographies in MLA, APA, and CMS.

Contributors: Geoff Stacks, Erin Karper, Dana Bisignani, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-02-09 12:16:22

Definitions

A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, Web sites, periodicals, etc.) one has used for researching a topic. Bibliographies are sometimes called "References" or "Works Cited" depending on the style format you are using. A bibliography usually just includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher, etc.).

An annotation is a summary and/or evaluation. Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of each of the sources. Depending on your project or the assignment, your annotations may do one or more of the following.

  • Summarize: Some annotations merely summarize the source. What are the main arguments? What is the point of this book or article? What topics are covered? If someone asked what this article/book is about, what would you say? The length of your annotations will determine how detailed your summary is.

    For more help, see our handout on paraphrasing sources.

  • Assess: After summarizing a source, it may be helpful to evaluate it. Is it a useful source? How does it compare with other sources in your bibliography? Is the information reliable? Is this source biased or objective? What is the goal of this source?

    For more help, see our handouts on evaluating resources.

  • Reflect: Once you've summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How does it help you shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?

Your annotated bibliography may include some of these, all of these, or even others. If you're doing this for a class, you should get specific guidelines from your instructor.

Why should I write an annotated bibliography?

To learn about your topic: Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project. Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when you have to write annotations for each source, you're forced to read each source more carefully. You begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information. At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow you to see what has been done in the literature and where your own research or scholarship can fit. To help you formulate a thesis: Every good research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to state and support a thesis. So, a very important part of research is developing a thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current. Writing an annotated bibliography can help you gain a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, you'll start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and you'll then be able to develop your own point of view.

To help other researchers: Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published. They provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic. You may not ever get your annotated bibliography published, but as a researcher, you might want to look for one that has been published about your topic.

Format

The format of an annotated bibliography can vary, so if you're doing one for a class, it's important to ask for specific guidelines.

The bibliographic information: Generally, though, the bibliographic information of the source (the title, author, publisher, date, etc.) is written in either MLA or APA format. For more help with formatting, see our MLA handout. For APA, go here: APA handout.

The annotations: The annotations for each source are written in paragraph form. The lengths of the annotations can vary significantly from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages. The length will depend on the purpose. If you're just writing summaries of your sources, the annotations may not be very long. However, if you are writing an extensive analysis of each source, you'll need more space.

You can focus your annotations for your own needs. A few sentences of general summary followed by several sentences of how you can fit the work into your larger paper or project can serve you well when you go to draft.

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