Skip to main content

PHIL 430: Philosophical Methodology: The Scholarly Conversation

Annotated Bibliography: Definition & Purpose

For your research assignment in this class, you'll need to compile an annotated bibliography that surveys the scholarly literature on your topic. An annotated bibliography is a document that provides a summary and evaluation of the sources you have used. It may also include works you consulted during the research process but did not use.

Keep in mind that an abstract is not an annotation. An abstract is a summary of the source.

Why write an annotated bibliography?

  • Keeps track of source materials consulted
  • Lets the reader know what you have found
  • Demonstrates your ability to critically evaluate sources within the context of a topic

Anatomy of an Annotated Bibliography

An Annotated Bibliography consists of these parts:

  • Complete citation
  • Summary
    • Briefly summarize the purpose and scope of the source in a few sentences. What are the main arguments? Don't just read for content! Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. How have other scholars organized their ideas? What methods or theories have been used to understand your topic? 
  • Evaluation
    • Evaluate the overall quality of the source. What is its contribution to understanding the research problem? How does it relate to other sources in your bibliography? 
  • Reflection
    • Assess the usefulness of the source for your own research project. Did it provide you with new insights about your topic?

Write the annotation in complete sentences. If you quote text from the source, cite it.  The average length of an annotation is about 100-150 words.

Practice: Visualizing the Scholarly Conversation

Most research questions do not exist in a vacuum nor are academic books and journal articles isolated, self-contained packages of information. Rather, every academic text represents one intersection in a network of ideas and debates that scholars have been tracing through their writing, sometimes over long periods of time. Think of each academic text (including the one you are writing!) as one contribution to a scholarly conversation. 

Practice: In this activity, we will examine the first page of a scholarly article to determine how a philosopher critically engages with their sources. As you read, consider the following questions:

  • What is the author's motive for this research? (Keep in mind, there may be two levels of motive here - the philosophical problem and/or a problem from the literature)
  • What is the author's thesis or claim in relation to the conversation? Can you find a sentence that best encapsulates their argument?
  • Which of Mark Gaipa's strategies best represents how the author engages their secondary sources?
  • Draw a visual representation of the "scholarly conversation" taking place in this article.

Synthesizing Sources

When integrating research into your final project, your literature review should move beyond basic summarizing to focus on a critical analysis of the works you've reviewed and their relationship to your research question.

There are many ways for you to organize your literature review - chronologically, by thematic categories, methodological approach, major debates/conflict, or the position/argument of the author(s). Avoid simple lists and discussing each of your sources individually, and only use the chronological method if there is a clear chronological path of development in the research on your topic.

Practice synthesizing your sources thematically using the matrix below.