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Study Skills

Annotated bibliography

Demonstrate your understanding about the quality and depth of your reading and research

An annotated bibliography is a list of references (bibliography) which includes a brief summary of each article reviewed, and often a brief comment about the usefulness of each one.

Purpose of an annotated bibliography

Depending on the assignment, an annotated bibliography can:

  • demonstrate the quality and depth of reading that you have done, and show your critical understanding of the ideas of different authors
  • help you think through various issues related to a subject
  • provide a summary of experts’ ideas that can be used for assignments at a later stage
  • review the literature of a particular subject.
Content of an annotated bibliography

Each annotation may contain all or most of these elements:

  • full bibliographic details
  • relevant details about the author
  • content and scope of the text
  • the main argument of the text and key ideas
  • the research methods (if applicable)
  • any special features of the text that were unique or helpful (charts, graphs etc.)
  • a discussion of the relevance or usefulness of the text and/or how it contributes to the subject area
  • a discussion of any strengths or limitations of the text.
Questions to consider before writing

You may be required to choose texts for your annotated bibliography. If this is the case, consider the following questions before selecting them.

  1. What topic/problem or question am I investigating?
  2. Does each text relate to my topic and assignment requirements?
  3. What kind of material am I looking for? (e.g. journal articles, reports, policies)
  4. Are the texts specific to the question or too generalised?
  5. How useful are the texts to your inquiry?
Examples of an annotated bibliography

Example 1: Belenky, MF, Clinchy, NR & Tarule, JM 1986, ’Constructed Knowledge: Integrating the voices’ in Women’s ways of knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind, Basic Books, New York, pp. 131 – 152.

The authors of this book state that there are five ways of knowing: silence, received knowledge, subjective knowledge, procedural knowledge and constructed knowledge. Their main focus in this particular excerpt is ‘constructed knowledge' defined as a more integrated way of knowing.

Constructed knowledge has been described as more than the need to acquire knowledge, it is also about knowing how and from where the knowledge was/is acquired. Being a constructivist requires self reflection, inquisitiveness and a need to question outside the normal boundaries. So ‘constructivist women’ display tendencies such as posing questions and posing problems, examining fundamental assumptions, evaluating experts and  showing an appreciation for complexity and ambiguity. They are committed to a quest for truth and learning and are passionate about caring for people and the betterment of the wider community.

Example 2: Mackie, SE 2001, ‘Jumping the hurdles – Undergraduate student withdrawal behaviour’, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 265–275.

This study is based on quantitative research conducted on a large cohort of 450 first year students at a new university in 1996/7. This data was used to examine the reasons for students leaving or staying at university, and identifies the differences between those students who voluntarily abandon the university experience and those who share similar experiences and difficulties who remained at university. It explores the issues, behaviour, and in particular, the complex interplay of forces – social, organisational, external and individual – which lead up to and influence the decision made by a student to leave or stay at university.

This publication, although only representative of students in one particular discipline, is an extremely useful reference for educational practitioners and students alike in helping them understand why students withdraw. The author’s purpose for this investigation is fulfilled as it comes up with some useful insights into why the ‘expectant hope’ of some students turns to fears realised, uncertainty and doubt and eventual departure from university. As the research concluded it is an interplay of forces – social, organisational, external and individual – in particular an individual’s commitment, which affects a student’s decision to stay at or leave university.

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