When getting started in the research process–whether for a project or a paper–the best position to adopt is curiosity. Sure, it’s great to know things. But revel in the fact that you have an idea or two and want to explore more. It’s too early to end up anywhere. You need to go find out what’s out there.
This is where you rock the annotated bibliography.
An annotated bibliography is a working document that keeps you honest about where you’ve been and where you’re going. In it’s basic form, it has the addresses of the sources that you’re engaging (i.e. bibliographic citations). And it has some brief notes on the source.
In my classes, unless I say otherwise, we’ll be using the Chicago Manual of Style’s author-date form. I could tell you a story about why this format is better than others, but it’s more a matter of preference based upon conventions in my field of study. What I like about the CMOS is that it’s a pretty exhaustive resource. So there’s little you’ll need to make up. There’s an example out there for the type of source you’re citing. And if there’s not, do the best you can based upon the patterns you see there.
ProTip: Even though there are tons of citation generators and other official-looking sources, these are tools to help you with your bibliography. The onus is on you to confirm that these tools are accurate. They are not perfect.
The second part of the annotated bibliography is where you’ll see the most variety. What kind of notes should you put in a reference? Different professors will have different references, but I think that you can’t go wrong with what I call the “Get to the Point +1 model.”
Search for the source’s topic, research question, and thesis. These three elements are the same you’d use in writing an awesome introduction as shown in the video below. And even if the source’s author isn’t hip to the Get to the Point Introduction, you can still determine those elements by skimming their introduction (and conclusion for good measure).
The +1 part is where you’re going to tell me what you think about the source in terms of your research. How is it helpful? Do you have concerns about something in it? Does it connect to other things you’ve read or hunches that you hold? Could it be sending you to go research something else. The +1 is where you lay this out.
When it’s all said in done, you have entries that look like this:
Citation in author-date form from the CMOS.
Sentence one is telling me about the topic of the source. Sentence two is telling me about the research question that keeps the author up at night. Sentence three gives me the thesis statement in such a way that you’ve spoiled the punchline of the source. And sentence four tells me about the source’s place in your research process.
And with that last sentence, keep it real. If you fancy things up for your prof., you’re not doing yourself any favors. You’re making notes to yourself. All I expect to see are four sentences (or so) worth of annotations per source. But if you need to go to town adding extra details or quotations or something after giving me the requisite material, then trust that you are doing research.