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HISC34 Race, Segregation, Protest: South Africa & the United States

This guide will help you to find the resources needed to complete your research assignments

How-To Guides

Check out the following tip sheets for writing annotated bibliographies:

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Select "Annotated Bibliography" as the assignment type.

How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is more than a regular bibliography (alphabetical list of research sources with bibliographic data), it gives an account of the research that has been done on a topic. An annotated bibliography provides a concise summary of each source and some assessment of its value, relevance, and contribution to the topic.

Selecting the sources:

The quality and usefulness of your bibliography will depend on your selection of sources.

  • What problem am I examining? What question(s) am I trying to explore?

If your bibliography is part of a research project, this project will probably be governed by a research question. If your bibliography is an independent project on a general topic (e.g. aboriginal women and Canadian law), try formulating your topic as a question or a series of questions in order to define your search more precisely.

  • What kind of materials am I looking for? (Academic books and journal articles? Government reports or policy statements? Articles from the popular press? Primary historical sources? etc.)

  • Am I finding essential studies on my topic? (Read footnotes in useful articles carefully to see what sources they use and why. Keep an eye out for studies that are referred to by several of your sources.)

Summarizing the argument of a source:

An annotation briefly restates the main argument of a source. An annotation of an academic source, for example, typically identifies its thesis (or research question, or hypothesis), its major methods of investigation, and its main conclusions. Keep in mind that identifying the argument of a source is a different task than describing or listing its contents. Rather than listing contents (see Example 1 below), an annotation should account for why the contents are there (see Example 2 below).

Example 1: Only lists contents:

McIvor, S. D. (1995). Aboriginal women's rights as "existing rights." Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme 2/3, 34-38.

This article discusses recent constitutional legislation as it affects the human rights of aboriginal women in Canada: the Constitution Act (1982), its amendment in 1983, and amendments to the Indian Act (1985). It also discusses the implications for aboriginal women of the Supreme Court of Canada's interpretation of the Constitution Act in R. v. Sparrow (1991).

Example 2: Identifies the argument:

McIvor, S. D. (1995). Aboriginal women's rights as "existing rights." Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme 2/3, 34-38.

This article seeks to define the extent of the civil and political rights returned to aboriginal women in the Constitution Act (1982), in its amendment in 1983, and in amendments to the Indian Act (1985).* This legislation reverses prior laws that denied Indian status to aboriginal women who married non-aboriginal men. On the basis of the Supreme Court of Canada's interpretation of the Constitution Act in R. v. Sparrow (1991), McIvor argues that the Act recognizes fundamental human rights and existing aboriginal rights, granting to aboriginal women full participation in the aboriginal right to self-government.**

*research question
**method & main conclusions

The following reading strategies can help you identify the argument of your source:
  • Identify the author's thesis (central claim or purpose) or research question. Both the introduction and the conclusion can help you with this task.
  • Look for repetition of key terms or ideas. Follow them through the text and see what the author does with them. Note especially the key terms that occur in the thesis or research question that governs the text.
  • Notice how the text is laid out and organized. What are the main divisions or sections? What is emphasized? Why? Accounting for what will help you to move beyond listing contents and toward giving an account of the argument.
  • Notice whether and how a theory is used to interpret evidence or data. Identify the method used to investigate the problems addressed in the text.
  • Pay attention to the opening sentence(s) of each paragraph, where authors often state concisely their main point in the paragraph.
  • Look for paragraphs that summarize the argument. A section may sometimes begin or conclude with such a paragraph.

Assessing the relevance and value of sources:

Your annotation should now go on to briefly assess the value of the source to an investigation of your research question or problem. If your bibliography is part of a research project, briefly identify how you intend to use the source and why. If your bibliography is an independent project, try to assess the source's contribution to the research on your topic.

  • Are you interested in the way the source frames its research question or in the way it goes about answering it (its method)? Does it make new connections or open up new ways of seeing a problem?
  • Are you interested in the way the source uses a theoretical framework or a key concept?
  • Does the source gather and analyze a particular body of evidence that you want to use?
  • How do the source's conclusions bear on your own investigation?

In order to determine how you will use the source or define its contribution, you will need to assess the quality of the argument: why is it of value? what are its limitations? how well defined is its research problem? how effective is its method of investigation? how good is the evidence? would you draw the same conclusions from the evidence?

 

Adapted from UTSC Writing Centre's Annotated Bibliography handout. (Based on materials originally developed for the Equity Studies Program, New College.)