An important step in beginning research is to conduct a survey of the materials available. By formulating a preliminary bibliography before beginning work on a research project, you can help kick-start your project. The first step in constructing a working bibliography is to consult an encyclopedia. Now, an encyclopedia is not a valid source in itself. It can provide you with a general overview of a topic, and subtopics you should be familiar with. The most useful part of using the encyclopedia as a beginning point is that it will list a few key resources the authors of the article are familiar with. Include these sources in your working bibliography. Also, note any keywords or phrases that you can use in addition to your topic – these will be gold when you go searching for other potential sources.
For example, if I am writing an article on Venus, and I consult the Wikipedia (not a valid reference for research, but useful for our purposes) and scroll to the end, I will find a long list of references. These references are a starting point for further research. I would make note of them in my own file, and of any keywords such as “Morning Star” or “Evening Star” that pop up.
Next, go to your library’s search page. Search for the keyword you are using. Record bibliographic information for all of the books you think will be useful in your research. After you search for books, search for articles using your library’s databases. Your librarian should be happy to show you how to use the databases applicable for your field of study.
By now, you should have a pretty good list of reference material. You will find, as you start to compile this material that some of it is not applicable to your research after all. This is okay. You will also find that the reference material you are using will have bibliographies of their own. This is also a good place to find further references you should be familiar with. Add applicable resources to your bibliography as you go along and take resources that don’t work for you off the list. By doing this, you are constructing your working bibliography – and once your project has been completed, you will have an accurate depiction of the sources you used in your research.
If you constructed an outline before beginning your research phase, you can organize your preliminary/working bibliography by outline topic in order to stay organized and focused.
Remember that being organized with your research is the best way achieve success in writing your article or paper.
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Annotated Bibliography Example
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 12:16:53
Stem Cell Research: An Annotated Bibliography
Holland, Suzanne. The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy. Boston: MIT P, 2001.
This is the annotation of the above source, which is formatted according to MLA 2016 (8th ed.) guidelines for the bibliographic information listed above. If one were really writing an annotation for this source, one would offer a brief summary of what this book says about stem cell research.
After a brief summary, it would be appropriate to assess this source and offer some criticisms of it. Does it seem like a reliable and current source? Why? Is the research biased or objective? Are the facts well documented? Who is the author? Is she qualified in this subject? Is this source scholarly, popular, some of both?
The length of your annotation will depend on the assignment or on the purpose of your annotated bibliography. After summarizing and assessing, you can now reflect on this source. How does it fit into your research? Is this a helpful resource? Too scholarly? Not scholarly enough? Too general/specific? Since "stem cell research" is a very broad topic, has this source helped you to narrow your topic?
Senior, K. "Extending the Ethical Boundaries of Stem Cell Research." Trends in Molecular Medicine, vol. 7, 2001, pp. 5-6.
Not all annotations have to be the same length. For example, this source is a very short scholarly article. It may only take a sentence or two to summarize. Even if you are using a book, you should only focus on the sections that relate to your topic.
Not all annotated bibliographies assess and reflect; some merely summarize. That may not be the most helpful for you, but, if this is an assignment, you should always ask your instructor for specific guidelines.
Wallace, Kelly. "Bush Stands Pat on Stem Cell Policy." CNN. 13 Aug. 2001.
Using a variety of sources can help give you a broader picture of what is being said about your topic. You may want to investigate how scholarly sources are treating this topic differently than more popular sources. But again, if your assignment is to only use scholarly sources, then you will probably want to avoid magazines and popular web sites.
The bibliographic information above is proper MLA format (use whatever style is appropriate in your field) and the annotations are in paragraph form. Note also that the entries are alphabetized by the first word in the bibliographic entry. If you are writing an annotated bibliography with many sources, it may be helpful to divide the sources into categories. For example, if putting together an extensive annotated bibliography for stem cell research, it might be best to divide the sources into categories such as ethical concerns, scholarly analyses, and political ramifications.
For more examples, a quick search at a library or even on the Internet should produce several examples of annotated bibliographies in your area.