Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Annotate This!

You Sick Bastard, You!
Photo © MGM
If only students knew the truth. That like them, we too find ourselves silently crying inside, or at the very least whimpering, as we bring out the dreaded Assignment That Must Not Be Named. Albeit not for the same reasons. After all, we know how to write an annotated bibliography. But how many of us know how to teach students how to write an annotated bibliography? You may not even remember how you learned yourself; though I suspect it was in the depths of your academic library under bright neon lights as you found yourself cursing the dreaded day your teacher insisted that it be done. Held hostage by the thought of a lower GPA (or R-Score for you Quebecers!) you clung to every period, reviewed every comma as sweat dripped onto every italicized word. All the while you found yourself as a student thinking that one day, when you're all grown up, should you ever find yourself working as a professor that you will not torture your students in this cruel way. After all...

Why Bother With An Annotated Bibliography?

Photo © Purdue OWL
As I write this I must confess that I have become the very thing that I vowed to avoid. I am the sick bastard that assigns these assignments for the sake of education. However, try as I might I must equally confess that my efforts to teach this specific academic tool has been met with the same bewildered looks of sorrow as no doubt once adorned my own face. So, why bother, you ask? According to Dana Bisignani and Allen Brizee (2013) "they provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic." Thus, it forces you to critically evaluate your topic and develop a more concrete research proposal and thesis. It can help you organize your thoughts and develop your knowledge of a given topic. Like it or not, they are an important part of the research process and inevitably will make your academic work all the better for it!

Teachers - How Do I Teach Students 

How to Write An Annotated Bibliography?

I pride myself on my creativity in the classroom... except when it comes to technical assignments like an annotated bibliography! Fortunately, the world has so many more clever people in it. Cue Sarah Clark's simple but brilliant lesson on annotated bibliographies!

Sarah Clark manages to make something as daunting as an annotated bibliography fun and relatable, something every teacher should be aspiring to. Whilst her subject matter may not be your cup of tea, inevitably you can substitute her examples with something familiar to your own class. This is also true of the remainder of her presentation. After all, as students inevitably learn, every department (sometimes even within the same academic institution) have their own referencing guidelines and expectations!

Students - So How Do I Write An Annotated Bibliography?

Depending on what school and department you hail from there will undoubtedly be subtle differences. Thus, ensure to consult your teacher first and avoid unnecessary mistakes! For simplicity's sake let's focus on the APA Guidelines (6th Edition) provided by Bishop’s University John Bassett Memorial Library. As a student you may be thinking any set guidelines would be fine, especially as there are software programs like RefWorks that do the referencing for you. Technically, you would be right, especially if you were writing for yourself and not for your class. However, like it or not, academic departments around the world have made the decision to use certain referencing guidelines because they have been adopted as department policy and meet said discipline's conventions. Thus, avoid losing unnecessary marks and adhere to the appropriate guidelines that have been provided for you.

Peer to Peer Learning
Don't fret, pets, and allow a fellow student to prove to you just how straightforward and easy it can be! Marianne Lassonde is a student in Social Sciences at Champlain College Lennoxville who is presently undertaking my class, The Beast Within. Like so many students Marianne was expected to complete her annotated bibliography prior to her literature review. The annotated bibliography consists of two parts: the citation and the annotation. The citation is the referencing. Adhering to the APA (6th Edition) citation guidelines, Marianne's looks like the following:

Journal Article, Three to Six Authors
Click on Photo to Enlarge!
Photo © Marianne Lassonde

Remember, your citations must be in alphabetical order and double spaced. The first line must be flush with the left margin, however, all subsequent lines are indented once. Italicise books and journal titles but not journal article titles. Page numbers are required and the date should be placed after the author(s) name in brackets followed by a period.

Other examples will be given but first, let's not forget that annotation! The annotation should consist of a brief summary of the source. Depending on who your teacher is, word count may vary. For the above citation Marianne writes:


Click on Photo to Enlarge!
Photo © Marianne Lassonde

Of course, this is one example. Depending on your teacher and department guidelines an annotation could also include the source's strengths and weaknesses, information about the author's background, why the source is relevant to your field of study or even your personal conclusions about the source. Other notable examples from Marianne's work include:

Book With One Author and Annotation
Click on Photo to Enlarge!
Photo © Marianne Lassonde

Website With No Author and Annotation
Click on Photo to Enlarge!
Photo © Marianne Lassonde

Journal Article with DOI and Annotation
Click on Photo to Enlarge!
Photo © Marianne Lassonde

When in Doubt...

Librarians Are Superheroes - Ask One For Help!
Photo © Bishop's University
The above are just a few examples that Marianne shared with us. Her exercise illustrates one important thing that many students forget sometimes... it is possible to complete an annotated bibliography in a timely manner and succeed! If you are new to tertiary education remember that there are a multitude of resources available to you on campus. The first and most obvious place should be your teacher. However, there is also the school reference librarian. Most schools have writing workshops too. However, if you do decide to use an online source be smart and make sure that you edit your work to reflect the appropriate citation guidelines.

It has been my experience thus far that those students who do poorly on this type of assignment are those who do not take the time and trouble to actually read the citation guidelines. Other times the material can be confusing and frustrating and students are too shy to ask for help. However, the biggest culprit tends to be poor time management and organizational skills! Any citation work, let alone one requiring annotations, cannot be rushed or completed at the last minute. It requires meticulous attention to detail and patience. As I say to my students, citation is a language in its own. Poorly done, it detracts from your research and inevitably results in a poor grade. So go ahead, ask for help. We won't bite... much.


I wish to thank Marianne Lassonde for allowing me to share her work with fellow academics proving once and for all that students and teachers can work together in making learning feel more like collaborating!

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