Prepare a bibliography of 3-6 sources on your topic or question:
- Finding Sources: As soon as possible, you should begin identifying and collecting your sources. Do not delay your research: you may find that your sources are not available or are only available through interlibrary loan. Also, don’t wait until you having difficulties to consult a librarian or ask me for help. If you can’t find sources, you may need to choose a different figure or widen the scope of your research. Use Zotero to organize your sources in one folder.
- Primary sources are original works, artifacts, memoirs, newspaper articles, etc., that you analyze.
- Secondary sources are works about your topic by critics, scholars, and historians that you engage in conversation. At least two your sources must be secondary sources, or you won’t be able to represent different sides of the debate.
- Tertiary sources are reference works such as encyclopedias and dictionaries (although you may consult wikipedia to find sources, restrict your bibliography to articles found in subscription databases such as the Gale Virtual Reference Library). Tertiary sources give a broad overview of your subject, but typically do not reflect the most up-to-date information or controversial arguments.
- Evaluating Sources: The research stage involves evaluating your sources (see questions below). Seek out authoritative, credible sources. Remember that, when it comes to secondary and tertiary sources, you are only as good as the company you keep: invoking writers whose opinions are not well respected, or selecting online sources for ease of reference, will drag down your credibility. Consider the date of publication of any sources, too. Make sure your sources reflect the most up-to-date and reliable information on the subject. If you include older sources, they should be influential sources that continually get cited in subsequent articles and books.
- Determining Relevance: The research stage also involves deciding which sources seem most relevant. At this stage, evaluation usually involves skimming the index, the introduction or preface, and any potentially relevant chapters or sections. As you narrow down your 3-6 sources, aim for a combination of primary sources and scholarly books and articles that can help you to give the most complete understanding of your topic.
- Citing Sources: An annotated bibliography involves the citation of each source in MLA format. Use Zotero to generate a bibliography in MLA Style, but remember to check each entry for errors and omissions. Zotero often makes mistakes; you don’t want to.
- Summarizing Sources: An annotated bibliography involves following the citation of each source with a brief (one double-spaced paragraph) summary and analysis of the source. If your entry is a primary source, you may describe and analyze it. If your entry is a secondary or tertiary source, you should summarize it. Summaries should identify each source’s thesis, motives, and evidence.
- DO NOT just describe what the source is about, e.g.: “this article discusses racial bias in the criminal justice system” (in which case I have no idea what the article actually says).
- DO give a substantive summary, e.g.: “this article argues that racial bias in the criminal justice system is a myth generated by the liberal ‘race industry’ in an effort to relieve criminals from personal responsibility for their crimes.” (in which I understand the substance of argument).
- Re-read They Say/I Say for advice on how to write a purposeful summary that is accurate and true to the original, but reflects your emphasis on your topic.
At the top of your post, indicate the topic or question you are researching. Divide your bibliography into three sections: 1) primary sources, 2) secondary sources, 3) tertiary sources. Within each section, arrange your sources alphabetically according to authors’ last names, and begin your summaries immediately following the citations. Follow the MLA citation format for a “Works Cited.”
Questions for Evaluating & Summarizing Sources
- Relevance: is the source closely related to the topic of your research? Does the source address your figure directly?
- What is the author’s argument, point of view, or approach? Does the author have an obvious bias? What is the author’s tone?
- What experts or studies do the authors call upon to support their claims?
- What arguments do they defend their claims against?
- What kind(s) of evidence are used? How accurate is the information? How well does the source credit its own sources?
- What are the author’s credentials?
- When was the work published?
- Who is the audience — was the source written for the general public? specialists?
- Is the work published by a reputable company? If a periodical, what kind: academic? literary? art historical? popular?
- How comprehensive is the information? Have the best available resources been used? Does it provide a citations and/or a works cited?
- If using a digital source, who has posted the document: an individual? a journal? an institution? Is the source peer-reviewed and/or respected in the academic community?