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Using an Annotated Bibliography to Teach Basic Research Skills

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an actual annotated bibliography
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Brief Assignment Overview: 

In this assignment, students conduct research and build an annotated bibliography.

Type of Assignment: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

1) Practicing basic research methodologies.

2) Contextualizing research.

3) Learning to state why certain resrouces are important.

4) Learning to articulate scholarly intent.

Required Materials: 

Students should go into this assignment with some idea of what they want to research.

Full Assignment Description: 

Rather than outline or map a group of sources in a 5-7 page written paper, in this assignment students find 6-7 sources form them into an annotated bibliography. Students should write 300-500 words about why each source is relevant and interesting. Part of the way this assignment is assessed is the degree to which students are able to articulate how the given sources are articulate and interesting. All sources must be cited in MLA-style. Students are strongly encouraged to find at least 3 argumentative sources pertaining to their topic, each arguing from a different set of premises to reach a different set of conclusions, and students are encouraged to use their remaining sources to provide context for their topic. All of this work is done outside of class in order to make time in class for various interesting readings. If you choose to give your students this assignment, be sure to encourage them to come to office hours for help brainstorming about various research strategies.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Some students will inevitable have a hard time finding sources, so do plan to make yourself available if students need help finding sources.

Instructions For Students: 

Your task in this assignment is to compile an annotated bibliography in which you organize a mass of research that you’ll later draw from when composing an argumentative essay in Paper 3.1. (For those of you who haven’t encountered an annotated bibliography assignment before, an “annotated bibliography” is basically a Works Cited page in which each entry also contains some commentary on that particular source.) Your annotated bibliography for this assignment should contain 6-7 sources, and the commentary for each source should run 300-500 words. Remember, like a Works Cited page, the sources in your annotated bibliography should be listed in alphabetical order and cited in correct MLA style. Since each source’s commentary will come directly after the citation, if you want to do something like set your citations in bold in an effort to make things seemed more organized – be my guest. It goes without saying that your assignment should contain the standard MLA info at the top (your name, my name, course name, and date), and that your pages should be numbered. Lastly, at the top of your annotated bibliography, you should include a brief introductory paragraph in which you introduce your topic, state what issues or sub-arguments are covered in your topic, and make some mention of why your work will be interesting and fun.


At least 3 of your sources should be different arguments about your topic. (“Different” here means arguments that use alternate sets of premises to reach alternate sets of conclusions.) At least 2 of your sources should be historical or contextual (i.e., an interview found on the web in which the subject of your research project discusses relevant issues).

Evaluation Suggestions: 

One way this assignment could be assessed is through a points system. For instance, each citation and annotation will be worth 20 points. 4 points will be granted automatically, just by virtue of students having found a source and written something about it. The remaining 15 points for each source will be earned as follows:


1 point – correct MLA citation;

2 points – quality of source (citing some random blog is not sufficient, unless you can articulate how the blog an example of something);

3 points – some awareness of how rhetoric’s at play in the given source (if the source is an Op-Ed piece this should be fairly straightforward; if the source is merely contextual, you should articulate this but also display some awareness of how biases effect how that history is presented);

4 points – your ability to coherently and comprehensively and appropriately summarize your source (“appropriately” means that the style of your analysis should be relevant to the type of source you’re citing – if that source is argumentative, merely paraphrasing it will not do);

3 points – evidence of original intellectual engagement and care for the source;

3 points – your ability to relate your source to other sources within your annotated bibliography.

Course Description: 

The New Yorker is a highbrow magazine that’s been around since the 1920s. Published weekly, the magazine regularly offers various forms of cultural commentary, from fiction submitted by respected authors, to investigative journalism written by first-rate essayists, to cartoons composed with unfailingly witty captions.[1] Each issue contains calendars highlighting upcoming social events across Manhattan. Quite often longer content in the magazine relates to current events outside of New York City, and increasingly outside of the United States. This course will examine all the various rhetorics that surround the magazine. We will consider each week’s cover and the various rhetorical strategies therein at play. We will read several famous articles from the magazine’s past, as well as current articles commenting on the world in which we live. Ultimately, we will consider the various ways that arguments in the magazine are made.

Regular reading of The New Yorker will guide us as we practice research and writing over the course of the semester. Vital to your success will be your ability to “interpret” another’s argument, which basically means coming up with a cogent, interesting account of what an argument means, what it’s trying to do to/for the reader, what technical choices the author’s made in order to try to achieve the effects he wants, and so on. In light of this, you’ll also be asked to compose your own arguments. You will pick a controversy towards the beginning of the semester and, in addition to our reading from the magazine, investigate this particular issue. The goal of this research will be for you to produce a New Yorker-style essay by the end of the semester. This is all designed to enhance your ability to analyze the various positions held in any public debate and to advocate your own position effectively and responsibly.

[1] Kurt Vonnegut commented on The New Yorker in 1974 that “One thing we used to [say about literature] – when I was out in Iowa – was that the limiting factor is the reader. No other art requires the audience to be a performer. You have to count on the reader's being a good performer, and you may write music which he absolutely can't perform – in which case it's a bust. Those writers you mentioned and myself are teaching an audience how to play this kind of music in their heads. It's a learning process, and The New Yorker has been a very good institution of the sort needed. They have a captive audience, and they come out every week, and people finally catch on to Barthelme, for instance, and are able to perform that sort of thing in their heads and enjoy it.”


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