Critical Annotated Bibliography Rubric

Annotated Bibliographies

This project shows improvement in students' annotated bibliographies in three especially important areas: appropriate source type use, annotation quality, and plagiarism reduction. Figures 1​–3 represent the most recent 3 yr of bibliographic analyses in each of these areas. (Percentages represent the proportion of total bibliographies analyzed for each individual year, but they may not add up to 100%, because they have been rounded.)

Figure 1.

Student use of source types over 3 yr.

Figure 2.

Quality of student source annotations over 3 yr.

Figure 3.

Plagiarism within bibliography source annotations over 3 yr.

Figure 1 shows a small, but meaningful, increase in the overall percentage of primary scientific literature articles examined by students for their annotated bibliographies. In 2004, primary scientific literature represented 46% of the total number of sources cited by students. By 2006, that number increased to 51%. Although the inclusion of secondary resources (reference materials and review or trade/popular press articles) has remained fairly constant over the past 3 yr, totaling 36% in 2004, 34% in 2005, and 41% in 2006, we have managed to reduce the inclusion of more tertiary sources represented by the Internet and other categories (17% in 2004, 17% in 2005, and only 8% in 2006). It should also be noted that when students were initially given this assignment, they were asked only to vaguely consider three sources, whereas students are now required to locate, critically evaluate, and compare/contrast at least eight information sources in their annotated bibliographies (Supplemental Material 1 and 2). Therefore, successfully meeting the carefully structured annotated bibliography requirements today is a more rigorous task for students than it has been in the past.

Figure 2 illustrates another trend in the quality of the source annotations provided by students. As previously noted, the earliest version of this research project description contained no concrete instructions to students about writing a high-quality annotated bibliography. Unhappily, the result was that in 2000, one-third of the very first class turned in bibliographies with extremely poor (e.g., one or two sentences, purely descriptive abstracts rather than comparative/evaluative paragraphs, plagiarized language) or no source annotations. In 2001, the number of students who wrote poorly constructed source annotations jumped to 60% of the total class; in 2002, this percentage fell slightly to 57%. In 2004, the class hit an all-time high, with 64% of students turning in bibliographies demonstrating extremely poor source annotation quality.

One explanation for poor source annotation quality was likely a lack of clear guidelines. Many students told us they had never been asked to do an annotated bibliography before and that they had no idea where to begin. Some students even admitted they did not know what an annotated bibliography was. However, another contributing factor is likely to have been the ease with which students began accessing electronic library research tools. Plagiarism became an especially significant problem within the annotated bibliographies during 2001–2004. These dates directly coincide with the addition to Concordia's library of several electronic versions of the scientific indices students needed for this assignment.

Certainly not all students who created poor-quality source annotations within their bibliographies plagiarized directly from an electronic database, but many did, particularly during the early years of this study. These students either copied and pasted portions of database abstracts or entire abstracts directly into their own annotated bibliography. More frequently, however, students simply rephrased a source's online database abstract rather than actually obtaining, reading, and reflecting upon the study itself.

Based on the bibliographies students turned in during the earliest years, it was painfully obvious that students needed more complete instructions to help them understand the purpose, scope, and usefulness of doing an annotated bibliography. Due to the frequency with which students plagiarized, it was also clear that they needed clearer, more explicit directions for how to construct an annotated bibliography. Therefore, in 2004 the instructor expanded the description for the annotated bibliography, adding several specific evaluative criteria for students to consider when writing their source annotations (e.g., authority, audience, compare and contrast, applicability, bias). Unfortunately, even with the new written guidelines, the instructor did not explicitly tell students that merely rephrasing database abstracts would constitute a misuse of sources, and a number of students still relied on this plagiaristic strategy. However, in 2005, we included written and verbal injunctions against this practice. Once these instructions were further reinforced by our grading rubric, we began to see major improvements in the originality, evaluative nature, and comparative quality of students' annotated bibliographies.

Student Questionnaires

We began making use of a research project evaluation questionnaire in 2004. Students are given this questionnaire after they complete the course and they are ensured their participation is voluntary. Figure 4 shows that student response rates have been high.

Figure 4.

Rate of response to BIO 352 research project evaluation questionnaire.

In general, students seem to enjoy this course. They report high levels of satisfaction with their instructor, librarians, and their overall experience with writing a scientific research paper. Because their comments have been uniformly positive, student responses to five of the 12 survey questions are particularly worthy of note here.

We were interested in how students might rank their experience with this paper project compared with other projects they had been assigned in other courses. We also wanted to gauge whether the means we were using to increase rigor of this project would result in any increase in dissatisfaction among students. Based on their interest in the project, the project's difficulty, and the extent to which they felt “stressed out” by their library research, students were asked to evaluate the BIO 352 writing project in comparison with research papers they had completed in other biology and nonbiology courses. Figures 5–7 display response data over time for each of these questions.

Figure 5.

Interest comparison between BIO 352 and other courses.

We were pleased to note that despite this assignment's increasing rigor, many students continue to rate their interest in the BIO 352 writing project as “higher” than their interest in writing research papers for other courses. Figure 5 shows that over the past 3 yr, in comparison with other biology and nonbiology courses, students consistently report strong levels of interest in this particular writing project.

However, student responses to questions about project difficulty are mixed. Figure 6 illustrates student responses to questions asking them to compare their perceived difficulty with the BIO 352 project to research paper assignments they have completed for other courses.

Figure 6.

Difficulty comparison between BIO 352 and other courses.

In general, a higher proportion of students continue to rank the overall difficulty of this project as “about the same” or “lower” than research paper projects they have completed for courses both in and out of the biological sciences. Yet, there is evidence that some students perceive this particular project as being more difficult than papers they have written in other courses, especially nonbiology courses. Although some students continue to report finding this project demanding, we remain optimistic about this aspect of the project for several reasons. First, BIO 352 is a course intended for juniors and seniors who are majoring in biology; thus, the content of the course necessarily requires assignments that challenge and stretch highly motivated upperclass students. Second, we do not see an inordinately dramatic change in students' perceptions of difficulty over time (i.e., at this point, there is no trend toward an increased perception of difficulty). Finally, students undoubtedly have varying perceptions of the difficulty of this writing project for any number of variables that we cannot control. For example, some students will have taken fewer courses requiring significant amounts of writing than others. It is also likely that students have differing perceptions of the challenging nature of the course and the writing based on their own motivations for enrolling in the course (e.g., they liked the professor, they thought the parasitology portion of the course would be “cool,” a friend may have told them the class was easy, fun, or interesting).

Overall, we are satisfied with student rankings in terms of the writing project's difficulty, especially when viewed in conjunction with the assignment's increasing rigor and the improvements most student work demonstrates. Although some students continue to find this assignment difficult, the majority complete this project effectively. Additionally, based on the number of students reporting the project as “about the same” as paper assignments they receive in other biology courses, we think the difficulty of this particular writing project falls in line nicely with the members of our Biology Department's expectations.

Regrettably, students continue to report unease with the library research portion of this project. Figure 7 represents students' responses to questions asking them to rate their “library stress” during the BIO 352 project compared with research paper projects completed for other courses.

Figure 7.

Library stress comparison between BIO 352 and other courses.

Although students consistently rank library support for the project as “excellent” (Figure 8), librarians had hoped that their close involvement with this course would result in a trend reducing student library anxiety compared with the library stress students may have experienced in courses where less collaboration between faculty and librarians occurs. Unfortunately, students still report higher rates of library stress during this project than they do in comparison to other biology course projects. And a definite upward trend is evident for high levels of library stress when the BIO 352 project is compared with writing projects in other nonbiology courses.

Figure 8.

Student rankings over time of assignment expectation clarity, value of learning experience, and library support.

Although librarians continue to plan ways to alleviate students' library stress, we think one explanation for why some students report high levels of library stress during this project relates to the amount of prior library work students have been asked to do in other courses. If, as we suspect, students have not been required to do much library research in their lower-level courses, the learning curve for successfully completing the BIO 352 research assignment is undeniably steep. Therefore, the students' response to this question lends some credence to the argument for greater integration of information literacy throughout the entire curriculum so that students can build their research skills throughout the undergraduate experience rather than trying to learn everything they need to know all at once for individual course assignments.

Figure 8 shows how students ranked their overall experience with the BIO 352 research paper project over the past 3 yr.

Students used a four-point Likert scale of excellent, good, fair, or poor to rank their instructor's clarity of expectations, their overall learning experience, and their satisfaction with the support they got from librarians. Although we realize that student perceptions data can be highly variable and has the potential for overgeneralization, Figure 8 shows reasonably stable upward momentum in the students' responses in all three areas (instructor clarity, learning experience, and library support) over the past 3 yr, when the most significant of our changes were made to this assignment. Again, we feel especially good about these rankings in light of the overall increase in rigor of this project and student performance.

Annotated Bibliography Example


This handout provides information about annotated bibliographies in MLA, APA, and CMS.

Contributors: Geoff Stacks, Erin Karper, Dana Bisignani, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-02-09 12:16:53

Stem Cell Research: An Annotated Bibliography

Holland, Suzanne. The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy. Boston: MIT P, 2001.

This is the annotation of the above source, which is formatted according to MLA 2016 (8th ed.) guidelines for the bibliographic information listed above. If one were really writing an annotation for this source, one would offer a brief summary of what this book says about stem cell research.

After a brief summary, it would be appropriate to assess this source and offer some criticisms of it. Does it seem like a reliable and current source? Why? Is the research biased or objective? Are the facts well documented? Who is the author? Is she qualified in this subject? Is this source scholarly, popular, some of both?

The length of your annotation will depend on the assignment or on the purpose of your annotated bibliography. After summarizing and assessing, you can now reflect on this source. How does it fit into your research? Is this a helpful resource? Too scholarly? Not scholarly enough? Too general/specific? Since "stem cell research" is a very broad topic, has this source helped you to narrow your topic?

Senior, K. "Extending the Ethical Boundaries of Stem Cell Research." Trends in Molecular Medicine, vol. 7, 2001, pp. 5-6.

Not all annotations have to be the same length. For example, this source is a very short scholarly article. It may only take a sentence or two to summarize. Even if you are using a book, you should only focus on the sections that relate to your topic.

Not all annotated bibliographies assess and reflect; some merely summarize. That may not be the most helpful for you, but, if this is an assignment, you should always ask your instructor for specific guidelines.

Wallace, Kelly. "Bush Stands Pat on Stem Cell Policy." CNN. 13 Aug. 2001.

Using a variety of sources can help give you a broader picture of what is being said about your topic. You may want to investigate how scholarly sources are treating this topic differently than more popular sources. But again, if your assignment is to only use scholarly sources, then you will probably want to avoid magazines and popular web sites.

The bibliographic information above is proper MLA format (use whatever style is appropriate in your field) and the annotations are in paragraph form. Note also that the entries are alphabetized by the first word in the bibliographic entry. If you are writing an annotated bibliography with many sources, it may be helpful to divide the sources into categories. For example, if putting together an extensive annotated bibliography for stem cell research, it might be best to divide the sources into categories such as ethical concerns, scholarly analyses, and political ramifications.

For more examples, a quick search at a library or even on the Internet should produce several examples of annotated bibliographies in your area.


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