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Research Tips: Annotated Bibliographies

Tips from topic selection to evaluating sources to aid in the research process

Using Annotated Bibliographies to Save Source Information

Sometimes abstract filing alone will not give you a clear idea of the article's appropriateness to your current research needs, such as this abstract below:

Results of a study into the relationships between students’ academic performance and their cognitive and learning styles are presented. A questionnaire containing three instruments assessing learning and cognition was distributed to second- and final-year undergraduates studying on a general and business management degree. The outcomes of this are explored and analyzed in relation to the students’ selection of modules and performance in assessments. The research explores whether students’ approaches to learning and cognition influence their selection of and performance in modules. This paper also incorporates consideration of the impact on performance of other factors, notably gender, and mode of study. Results show some impact of style on performance and module selection, but these are not consistent. The implications of this for higher education practice and learning and cognitive style research are discussed.

 Spicer, D. P. (2004) The impact of approaches to learning and cognition on academic performance in business and management. Education +Training46(4/5), 194-205. 

The author only hints at his findings, and there seem to be multiple threads to this study that probably need to be read in the context of the paper to fully appreciate.  

Abstracts are never a substitute for reading the article itself, and while they are a great tool for organizing your research in a ready reference format (see the Abstract Filing page), you can create an even richer resource by creating annotated bibliography entries for each research article you have read and want to save for later projects. 

Because you are the author, this way of recording resources allows you to put the ideas into your own words, creating an automatic paraphrase you can use in your own work with no qualms about plagiarizing (properly citing the idea, of course!), and add analytic or evaluative information that will help you fit the author's work into your own research framework. 

This method also works equally well for all resources: books, articles, pamphlets, DVDs, government reports, etc.  

There are a number of strategies for creating annotated bibliographies that depend on who your audience is.  For your own records, a good strategy is:

1. Begin by creating the reference citation.  This example will be in APA, but you should choose a reference style that you are most likely to use in your own field of study.

Pattee, A. S. (2008). What do you know? Applying the K-W-L method to the reference transaction with children. Children and Libraries, 6, 30-38.

2. Under the citation, write one or two sentences that describe the overall purpose of the work, the topic of the whole, what was being said about or the focus of the topic, and if applicable, any conclusions the author drew--this might include their research methodology or logical structure as well (analogous argument versus heavily deductive, for example).

The author defines the needs of children patrons as including both answers as well as instruction.  She posits that using a graphic organizer method called KWL will allow for the reference interview structure to fulfill both of these requirements.

3. Then write another 2-3 sentences that briefly describe the major support or evidence used to reach this conclusion.  This might include the population observed, experiments run, the main sources cited, or the like.

Pattee’s work appeals to the literature on child development to show that child-focused reference interview interactions are not just about gaining information, but about meeting the child’s needs at the developmental level most appropriate  for his current abilities.  

4. The next step is to react to the work according to your needs: will you contextualize it by comparing it to a similar work?  Will you analyze the argument for logical gaps or how it can be applied to the situation you are working on?  Will you evaluate the appropriateness of using this source for a particular context or population?  

Write 1-2 sentences that will help you connect this source to your own scheme--you can use one or all of the suggestions above depending on your needs and of course, the work being annotated.

This article can be taken further to inform other special-group contexts of the reference interview.  The discussion of the obstacles children face in attempting to use the library, for instance, can be applied to other users of the library as well: the librarian, in a reference interview session, might find that points of reference, lack of background knowledge, or autonomy are just as necessary to establish for himself as they are to be established for the patron, and that developmental readiness—metacognitive, cognitive, emotional—can affect the effectiveness of the reference interview’s outcome if not taken into account.  Materials that are appropriate to the question asked, but that are not accessible to the patron at his current level of ability, will serve only to frustrate the patron and could discourage further interactions.  

Here's an example with all the ideas put together to make one cohesive paragraph:

Francis, L. S. (2004). The genealogy reference interview. PNLA Quarterly, 68(3), 13-15. 

   Francis gives a short, succinct, and practical guide to structuring the reference interview to meet the needs of genealogy researchers, both experienced and inexperienced.  These interviews require more direct questions from the outset to be sure the patron is in the right place to get their questions answered—genealogy libraries and the materials they carry, it seems, vary greatly one from the other—and to ascertain what the patron already knows about their family history.  Though Francis only hints at it, this type of research has the potential to be very personal for the researcher, as a search for identity and family roots are often the impetus for such queries.  Francis also mentions that teaching the patrons to access and use the materials available is one of the main functions of the personnel in a genealogy resource center.  Based on the topics discussed in this article, then, a librarian hoping to work on genealogy will want to incorporate both instructional strategies as well as specific questions into their reference interviews in this setting.  The librarian might also think about what sensitive topics family history can be in order to address possible difficulties as they arise during reference interviews with inexperienced genealogists. 

Congratulations!  You now have a record of a source that you can refer back to throughout your program and professional career.  And who knows?  Maybe it will come in handy the next time you are writing a lit review and need sources, or you have to create a report and need a paraphrase of this information.