In upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses, you may be asked to complete an annotated bibliography, which is a list of citations, followed by a brief summary and evaluation of each source. This assignment involves finding, synthesizing, and critically analyzing relevant journal articles and books. You may be asked to complete an annotated bibliography to prepare for writing a major research paper assignment, for example.
Annotated bibliographies are helpful before writing a research paper because you do the hard work of critically reading what others have said on the topic before you begin drafting your own paper.
Creating an annotated bibliography draws on key intellectual skills: informed library research, concise exposition, and succinct analysis:
- First, locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information on your topic. Briefly examine and review the actual items. Then, choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.
- Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style.
- Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme of the book or article. Include sentences that (a) evaluate the authority or background of the author, (b) comment on the intended audience, (c) compare or contrast this work with another you have cited, or (d) explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic.
An annotated bibliography is an assignment powerhouse that builds your research and summary skills.
Wait, did you see that? A major part of creating the Annotated Bibliography is writing summaries. Summary writing is everywhere in academic writing. If you skipped over how to write an effective summary, then head back to “Convention One: Summary Writing.”
Scientific writing may differ from essay writing in process, organization and style. The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides very helpful information about writing lab reports. We have summarized key features of scientific reports for you here.
Scientific research entails formulating a research question, developing a hypothesis based on research in the field, testing it, and determining whether the findings support the hypothesis. Researchers carefully consider their purpose, their procedure, rationale for their choice, and the benefits of the study. When beginning their experiment, they create a detailed plan for the experiment and for recording the data. They work collaboratively with other researchers on their procedure, data collection, and findings. After conducting their scientific experiment, researchers write their report.
Scientific reports may vary depending on the discipline, but typically follow a consistent pattern of organization: introduction, methods and materials, results, and discussion, which is followed quite methodically.
The introduction presents the purpose of the study, background on the research area, the hypothesis, and reasons for the hypothesis.
As the methods and materials section can be complex, writers must choose what procedural details to highlight. Writers typically describe how they have tested their hypothesis and provide a clear rationale for their procedure. Scientific writers outline their procedure in chronological order, using the past tense and passive voice (emphasizing what was done, not who was doing it).
Once scientific writers have completed their methods and materials section, they include a shorter results section, where they present raw data, often through visual aides. Through the discussion section, writers highlight data trends and explore the extent to which the hypothesis was supported. This section also presents the implications of the findings and explores limitations with the experimental design.
Did you notice similarities between the essay and the lab report? Well, both have a type of thesis. A scientific report shows how a hypothesis was supported (or not) by data while a formal research essay develops a thesis supported (or not) by arguments. The research essay tells a story to build an argument, and a scientific report tells a data story to confirm a hypothesis. Additional tips on effective scientific writing can be found in “Essential elements for high-impact scientific writing.”
Timed and Take-Home Exams
Timed writing for predetermined and limited periods will occur throughout your post-secondary career – likely in the context of mid-term and final exams and/or in-class essays. The ability to recall and record information quickly is a desirable skill, and timed writing exercises can help enhance your ability to remember information and write under pressure.
There is another benefit to timed writing: For those of us who are overly concerned with choosing just the right word or ensuring that our commas appear in just the right place, timed writing can be an opportunity to let loose and engage less self-consciously with our ideas and those of others. In a timed writing environment, you may find that it is more difficult to write “stylishly” and that’s okay! It’s important to remember that, while there are expectations that come with timed writing, these expectations for in-class writing differ from the expectations for the writing assignments you complete outside of class.
This is not to say that style and format aren’t important, but your course instructor knows that you are limited in terms of time and, therefore, that you may not be able to edit your work as thoroughly as you would a research paper that you have had weeks to write.
Even so, many of us will still find timed writing daunting. We may forget or freeze under pressure, even if we’re familiar with the material we’ve been asked to write about. When writing in exam situations, have a “game plan” so that you can optimize your time. Reviewing, pre-writing (i.e., timed practice), and outlining are all effective strategies for timed writing situations. For a more comprehensive guide to preparing for in-class writing, you can read Kate Stericker’s blog post “9 Tips to Ace That Timed Essay.”
- This overview was adapted from Cornell University Library’s guide “How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography,” last modified May 15, 2020, https://guides.library.cornell.edu/annotatedbibliography/home. ↵
- https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/scientific-reports/. ↵
- See, for example, this CAC resource prepared by Dustin Van Gerven: https://www.uvic.ca/learningandteaching/assets/docs/instructors/for-review/Information%20for%20Students/Organizing%20a%20research%20report.DVG.FINAL.pdf. ↵
- Eric J. Buenz, “Essential Elements for High-Impact Scientific Writing,” Nature, February 11, 2019, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00546-7. ↵
- Kate Stericker, “9 Tips to Ace That Timed Essay,” Writing and Communication Centre, University of Waterloo, November 3, 2016, https://uwaterloo.ca/writing-and-communication-centre/blog/post/9-tips-ace-timed-essay. ↵