It is a curious thing that we learn more from other people's mistakes than from their successes. I had not thought to include a chapter in this book on annotated bibliographies but was drawn to do so by coming across a bad example.
This bibliography was unhelpful because it did not group the titles in clusters of meaningful topics, and it did not offer any commentary on most of the individual entries. Good annotated bibliographies group entries in some way or another — for example, by method (experimental studies . . ., qualitative studies . . . , short reports . . .) or by age (studies with children . . ., studies with adolescents . . ., studies with parents . . .). This particular example did not do this. After a brief introduction, mentioning some thirty works, a list of over 200 titles was presented in alphabetical order determined by first author's surname. Furthermore, where no author was quoted (putting 'anon' would be appropriate), the first word of the title determined the position of the entry in the list. Thus 'Guide to . . .', 'How to . . .', 'In this issue . . .', etc., became separate alphabetically related entries. In short, the list had no perceivable structure.
Further, the entries seemed to have been culled from contents' pages of some of the appropriate journals for the topic, but not from all of them. Indeed, entries from the journal in which the bibliography appeared were singularly missing, but there were no entries from other well-known journals in the list that claimed to be a list of publications in the field from 2001 to 2005. Good annotated bibliographies are more selective in their choice of entries and cover the full range of relevant publications.
Indeed, it is the commentary in an annotated bibliography that is the important thing. Anyone can find titles by using an appropriate search engine, but judgements about the quality of the contents are harder to come by.
Many writers (and Ph.D. students) maintain a list of publications in their field (see Chapter 4.1). Publishing a brief list of the key books, chapters and papers in a particular field, each with a brief commentary, can be extremely helpful for other authors and students anxious to find out what is available.
Other aspects of academic writing
Was this article helpful?