Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Analysis Writing -->

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Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Analysis Writing

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More than most commonly assigned graduate writing papers, the annotated bibliography is an assignment whose structural components remain largely unchanged. Unlike other common writing prompts and assignment that can change a great deal across curriculum and specific areas of focus, the requirements of a single annotated entry are relatively straight forward and easy to follow. The main sections of the annotated paper, not including the reference entry for the actual source, are: the summary, the analysis, and the application. Let’s talk about the second section, the analysis.

Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Analysis Writing

The analysis portion of the annotated entry is the area of the paper to discuss both short-comings and strengths of the research being reviewed. Unlike the first section, the summary, the goal of the analysis is not to provide an overview of the research but, rather, to discuss to what effect the study’s construction and organization aided or hindered its pursuit of information.

What some students find challenging about the analysis is that it requires them to sit in a position of power above the study itself and, in essence, review the quality of the work. For many students, this task comes with a certain amount of responsibility and fear. As graduate students working towards an advanced degree, a master’s or doctorate, many students writing annotated assignments have yet to complete and publish original research on their own, and the prospect of critiquing material that is already out in the world can seem a bit daunting. 

Beyond the actual nuts and bolts of jumping into the reviewed research to look for seams and cracks, there is the added difficulty of using the language of research construction (i.e. sample size, validity, bias, confounds, etc.) that carries its own set of difficulties. Although students at the graduate level may be familiar with the terms and language used to describe research studies when seeing them on the page, the actual analytical practice of deconstructing a study to identify would-be errors in its methods or application can be a very daunting challenge. Not only does this kind of thinking require the student to mentally “travel back in time” within the study to look at its construction, the student must also be able to hypothesize, imagine, and articulate an invisible road not taken that may have led the study to a more complete, more applicable, or more significant outcome. For students who have not a great deal of experience reading about or constructing research studies the process of thinking in this way, too, may seem very intimidating.

When starting on a new annotated bibliography assignment the best advice an apprehensive student can follow is to learn by example: look for examples of other annotated bibliographies online and take note of the structure and ideas they’re presenting. If one is unfamiliar with how studies are constructed or what language to use when speaking of the structure of a research study there are always more examples to be found within other annotated examples and additional research studies, as well.

The light at the end of this dark tunnel is that academia is a practice built on history; no student should ever feel completely alone or without resources when working on an assignment like this for the very basic reason that the annotated bibliography has been around for a very long time. In plain speak what the middle section of annotated bibliography represents is the application of learned material to an old problem presented as new: a study was conducted; how could it have been better?

The most promising and challenging aspect of the analysis portion of the annotated bibliography is that it challenges students to look towards the future. More than an isolated assignment that calls upon students to apply a certain amount of critical thinking, the very nature of looking at another person’s research, in essence, requires the graduate student to assume this position of power, if only for a few moments. As the student reviews the methods and thinking of a published piece of research, one could easily find one’s self slipping out of time into the future: a place where master’s-level or doctoral work is far behind and one is critiquing the soundness of a colleague’s research. To assume the role of one who has something to say, the role of someone who looks at a study to boldly claim what is, in plain terms, “just wrong” is a lofty place to sit. It carries with it the burdens of responsibility, scrutiny, and authority. 

In this way, it’s not surprising that the middle section, the analysis, of the annotated bibliography is as challenging as it is. More than just short section within a common writing assignment it is also a gateway to life beyond graduate school. It’s a short, written proposal of one’s fitness to speak as an academic, and to review another’s research with authority. It’s no wonder the middle section seems so scary. It’s the part of the assignment when the lights dim, the microphone goes on, and everyone quiets to listen.

Don’t be afraid.
You’ll be ready. 

If you're curious to learn more, click here to view all of the posts in this five-part series on Annotated Bibliography Essentials!

James A. Horwitz author image

James A. Horwitz is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. James received his MA and MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, having first earned undergraduate degrees in both English and Psychology. James has taught at the college-level for over 13 years and is passionate about student-learning, mentoring, and student writers developing their work.

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