Not Your Grandma’s Annotated Bibliography

The annotated bibliography is a stalwart assignment for students undertaking research projects. 1 I frequently encounter the annotated bibliography with the classes I support.

In upper level classes, students know the drill: collect 5-10 ‘scholarly sources’ and write a few sentences about why each source might be useful for their research papers.  Ready, set, go!

Sometimes, this assignment can feel mechanical; as long as the sources meet basic requirements (NOT a Wikipedia entry) and supports a question (I think this article will tell me about what a non-state is) generally, it’s fine. But what if we could transform the classic assignment, aka, your grandma’s annotated bibliography? In this post, I will propose modifying the traditional annotated bibliography into an enhanced ‘learning intervention’ 2 that will push students to give greater consideration to who they are citing, what types of journals are they using and begin to assess the quality of the the scholarship they are citing? An enhanced annotated bibliography is a moment of creating an environment in research education for learning for understanding. 3 

Clearly, this would not be your grandma’s annotated bibliography.

Front Row Center: ACTUALLY my great-grandma

Front Row Center: ACTUALLY my great-grandma

The Enhanced Annotated Bibliography

  1. Collect 5-10 sources that inform your topic using the library catalog (monographs/books) *and/or* the databases discussed in a research session with your librarian to locate journal articles.
  2. Cite each of the sources in the style of your faculty’s choice. 4
  3. Compile a basic dossier about the author(s) (basic author bio, institutional affiliation). If you located a book, locate and cite reviews of the book. What did the reviews say about the book? Provide information about the press that published the item.

If you located a journal article, track if and how the article has been cited. Locate information about the journal in terms of disciplines represented, what is the editorial process like?

For example:

Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke University Press. 2011.

Judith Halberstam (Jack Halberstam) is a Professor at the University of Southern California of American Studies and Ethnicity and is the author of five books published primarily by university presses in the United States and various journal and magazine articles.

The Queer Art of Failure is a well-reviewed book in American Studies journals, Queer Studies Journals, and Gender Studies journals published by Duke University Press, a leader in the humanities and the social sciences publishing.

Reviews Consulted

  1. Ayu Saraswati. “The Queer Art of Failure by Judith Halberstam (review).” American Studies52.2 (2013): 179-180. Project MUSE. Web. 2 Mar. 2016. <>.

Nishant Shahani. “The Future Is Queer Stuff: Critical Utopianism and Its Discontents.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 19.4 (2013): 545-558. Project MUSE. Web. 2 Mar. 2016. <>.

Tara Mulqueen. “Succeeding at Failing and Other Oxymorons: Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure.” Theory & Event 16.4 (2013). Project MUSE. Web. 2 Mar. 2016. <>.

Next, conduct an audit of your bibliography. Are there any patterns that emerge? How many of your authors present as white? How many of them practice in the global north? What disciplines are you encountering? What do you think these patterns of trends suggest about the results you are encountering? Can you find additional sources that diversity the pool of authors you will cite?

My hope is that your annotated bibliography will challenge students to think critically about the scholarly record, read the sources they collect more deeply, and ask questions as they revise the research.


  1. “Annotated Bibliographies” UNC Writing Center
  2. Learning Interventions is a term I learned about through a MOOC I am taking through MIT about the history of educational technology
  3. While “routine learning” helps students learn mechanical tasks, learning for understanding aims to foster deeper, conceptual understanding generally through experiential learning.
  4. Chicago, obviously