Evaluating Sources – How to write an Annotated Bibliography

High Schoolers (such as in Carolyn’s classes) apply additional criteria summarized by CARRDSS or CRAP or SPACE or SOAPS.  Students are invited to use NoodleTools to generate citations and record annotations that they can “turn on’ or ‘turn off” when their bibliography is exported for printing or placement in Google Docs.)

Middle Schoolers can apply the guidance below.

What is an Annotated Bibliography?  It’s a proper bibliography of alphabetized citations.  In addition, each citation is followed immediately by a paragraph (called an “annotation”) that evaluates the source (explains its strengths and weaknesses.)

Purpose: Students might be asked to write an annotated bibliography in order to assess and see… Are you finding enough high quality sources?  How do your sources fit together for a complete understanding of your topic? It helps a student reflect on what additional sources she must find to fill in the gaps by applying the criteria explained by the rest of this page:





What criteria helps you evaluate resources?  You can explain…

1. What kind of library source is this? (Different KINDS of sources are useful in DIFFERENT WAYS.) For example, it might be a…

  • ___ reference source (like an article from an encyclopedia, it’s useful to get a broad overview of the topic but might lack details. As a reference source, it REFERS the researcher to ADDITIONAL carefully selected sources in a bibliography. These are often helpful in the first couple days of a project to define a focus for research.
  • ___ a detailed chapter book with depth, detail, quotations… (often helpful after basic understandings have already been established… week 2+ of a project)
  • ___ a short web site from an amateur or student?
  • ___ primary source (originating at that time in history which makes it especially useful if used with care)
  • ___ what format is it? a video, photograph, sound recording, print book, article from a database…

2. What’s the scope of the source: What’s the MAIN TOPIC of the source, and is it long, short, detailed or very brief about YOUR RESEARCH FOCUS? Is it only a paragraph long? Is it many chapters long detailing your topic?

3. Relevance: If the title doesn’t make it obvious, explain the way it relates to your research questions. For example, if it is useful to build your understanding of the historical context of your study. Here’s where you can broadly state in 1 sentence which categories of information it helps you to collect (but please do not put your actual notes here.)

4. Ease of use: How easy is the source for you to navigate, use and understand? Does it have text features that make this resource especially useful to you and easy to understand? Or what text features is it missing that would make it a much better source to you? If it comes with a citation which makes your research easier, mention so.

5. What are the sources behind the text? Can you rely upon its authors?  Is it professionally published? Was it professionally selected for an educational database (or library) like Gale or Salem History because it was written and edited by subject experts who are highly educated about the topic? Or is it a web site you Googled for that you need to scrutinize much more closely because it might simply be:

– open source (like Wikipedia) where mischief-makers might change the content?
– A gateway to selling products?  (Does the URL end with .com instead of .edu or .gov?)
– Loaded with distracting click-bait?
– Potentially fake news?
– put online by an amateur or enthusiast that may not have a research team to check facts?
– Popular but not accurate?
– Potentially a “hoax site” or biased propaganda?
– possibly biased information?  (Some .org web sites forcefully argue just ONE SIDE of a cause.)
– Infotainment that might exaggerate/dramatize in order to attract visitors?

6. Verdict: (in a sentence) state how valuable the source is compared to others you are finding, and what that means you STILL HAVE TO FIND.  e.g., While strong on detail and quotes about the effects of the war, it didn’t provide any visuals to use for my documentary.


Sample Annotations:

Sample 1: This 3-paragraph reference article provides a broad overview of George Washington’s experience of the American Revolution. I found it in a Gale database, which has professionally researched and reviewed information as well as a helpful citation. At the end, the article had a bibliography “for further reading” that included web sites that Gale professionals recommend for more detail on this topic. Compared to my other sources, it was easy to understand, included a timeline, but was weak in other imagery, details, and quotes which I’ll need to find in other sources.

Sample 2: This 8-paragraph primary source was a letter that George Washington’s allegedly wrote to his wife during a battle of the Revolution. I found it by “Googling” and it is from a HistoricalFacts.com web site that had annoying advertisements blinking in the margins. I could not find any information about who puts the web site together, i.e., there is no “About” tab or educational sponsors of the site, or awards given to the site. Therefore, I am not sure if I can trust the sources posted there as authentic. Compared to my other sources, it was very interesting, had George Washington’s own words I can quote, but first I will need to verify if the information is authentic. (It might actually be someone’s creative writing project.)

Sample 3: The professionally published book that our library purchased is 260 pages long, with chapters 6-9 directly related to the battle I’m studying (causes, events and outcome) so it added detail and quotes from soldiers and maps to the overview I got elsewhere. I am confident that I can rely on this information because the author of the book is a professor from Harvard University who has been teaching history for 35 years and this is her 4th book on the American Revolution. The subheadings, captions and primary sources make it easy for me to collect answers to my research questions, even though I had to build my own citation for it.