Preliminary Research Bibliography Sample

The Task

Make a list of at least ten sources you have found so far that may be relevant to your research question.

They do not all need to be scholarly, though I expect you to have some by now. The scholarly ones should be labeled (see below).

The Purpose

To develop a preliminary bibliography as a step toward the Literature Review and the final Research Paper.

This assignment is especially focused on the following course learning outcomes:

  1. Use current research methods, including technology, to retrieve college-level research information from a variety of sources.
  2. Read and critically evaluate sources in terms of bias, accuracy, authority, currency, purpose, relevance, audience, and other factors.
  1. Identify general requirements for documentation in different disciplines and employ proper conventions (MLA preferred)


There are certain rules you must follow in order to complete the assignment successfully:

  • Alphabetize the list by author’s last name.
  • Format the list according to MLA guidelines. If you’re using Noodle Tools (NT), all you have to do is enter the correct information in the correct fields and NT will do the rest for you. If not, these MLA citation guides will give you the basics on how to format your works cited page:
    • The MLA page at Shoreline Community College
    • The MLA page at the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)
    • The MLA page at Western Oregon University
    • The MLA guide from Highline Community College (PDF)

Besides the MLA formatting rules, I have some requirements of my own:

  • Identify the thesis of each source, in your own words (do not simply copy from the article). I want to be sure you are familiar with the basic idea of the source and that you understand exactly what a thesis is. Remember that a thesis can only be expressed as a complete declarative sentence, not a phrase or a question. Put the thesis at the end of the entry for that source, after all the information required in the MLA guidelines. (In Noodle Tools, put the thesis in the Annotation field.)
    • Clearly identify sources without a thesis (i.e. purely informative sources like newspaper articles and factual reports), to show you understand the difference between a source that makes a claim and one that simply presents information.
  • Summarize each of your five best (most useful) sources. The best way to do a summary is to list the main sections of the article. Usually 1 – 3 sentences is plenty. (In Noodle Tools, put the summary in the Annotation field.)
    • When writing summaries, concentrate on sources that have a thesis--i.e., those that make an argument, as opposed to those that simply report information.
  • Explain how those same five sources answers your research question, or how they contribute to an answer. (In Noodle Tools, put the explanation in the annotation field.)
  • Label all scholarly sources. This is so I can check your understanding of what a scholarly source is, and so you and I can both make sure you will have the required number of scholarly sources in your final bibliography. Scholarly sources can be labeled with an “S” at the end of the entry, by using special formatting (e.g. bold or italics), or in any other way that clearly identifies them. If you use formatting or special characters to identify scholarly sources, please include a note explaining this. (In Noodle Tools you may add “this is a scholarly source” in the Annotation field.)
  • Include your research question at the top of the page.

The Grade

The assignment will be scored on the following categories. Each will receive a score of 4, 3, 2, 1 or 0 (corresponding to the letter grades A – F). The total grade will be an average of those scores.

The research question

  • is focused and unified
  • leads to an arguable and descriptive thesis

The sources

  • are of the correct quantity and type (10 total, minimum 3 scholarly, reference works may be used but do not count toward the total, no textbooks without my prior approval)
  • are adequate and appropriate to your topic
  • are correctly categorized (scholarly vs. non-scholarly)

The summaries

  • identify the thesis of every source, in your own words
  • identify the main sections of your five best sources, in your own words
  • explain how each of your five best sources answers the research question, whether directly or indirectly

This assignment counts for 5% of your final grade.

The list should be formatted according to MLA guidelines, but I’m not going to grade on that because there are tools that will do it for you (e.g. Noodle Tools). If it’s not correct, I’ll either note the mistakes (if there aren’t too many) or make you do it over before I grade it (if there are a lot).

Grading Alternative

Most of you are far enough along that you already have, or will soon have, at least ten sources. That’s why I’ve included the summaries as part of this assignment. Doing the summaries now will leave you more time to read and critique the sources later, which is the core of the next assignment. However, if you are not quite ready to do that, I am offering an alternative. Here’s how it works:

You may choose not to include summaries in this assignment. You will still be required to identify the theses of all your sources. I will score all the other categories besides identifying the main points and explaining how the source answers the research question. Therefore all the other categories will be worth a little bit more.

If you prefer to use this option, please indicate your choice at the top of your paper or in the comments box when submitting the assignment in Canvas.

Whichever option you choose, summaries and explanations will be a required element in our next assignment. Doing them now gives you a chance to get started early and revise for the next assignment if you find problems.

Here is a (made up) sample to illustrate the elements of the assignment.

Just getting started? Know your terminology?

A bibliography is a list of resources in an appropriate citation format – MLA, APA, Chicago, etc. An annotated bibliography is different from a standard bibliography in that each citation also contains a concise, paragraph-long summary of the resource’s purpose and content, plus an evaluation of how each source (book, database article, web site, etc.) applies to your chosen topic.

An annotated bibliography is often assigned as a preliminary bibliography to help you plan your paper. A preliminary annotated bibliography is a list of resources that you could possibly use to write your paper. It is not necessarily the same as the list you will turn in with your final paper.

An annotated bibliography may also be the final bibliography for your paper. This means that you must include every source you actually used in writing the paper.

Process for Writing an Annotated Bibliography

  1. List the completed bibliographical citation.
  2. Explain the main purpose of the work.
  3. Briefly describe the content.
  4. Indicate the possible audience for the work.
  5. Evaluate the relevance of the information.
  6. Note any special features.
  7. Warn readers of any weakness, defect, or bias.*

Annotated Bibliography MLA Citation Examples

College Databases, Scholarly Article:

Also notice that the following example shows how to cite two authors, and notice that the citations are double-spaced. Also note that the annotation (summary) starts immediately after the citation. It is not put into a separate paragraph.

Tabor, Monica C., and Robert L. Lancaster. “Ethics and Education in Sixteenth Century England.” New Journal of British History 24:4 (2011): 12-22. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. This article discusses the major moral issues of sixteenth-century college education in England. Topics include the closing of schools and the forfeiture of college properties to the crown during the reign of King Henry VIII. Described are strategies used by schools attempting to avoid such forfeiture, and the role of monks and college professors as martyrs for their faiths. The authors are clear that they favor the separation of church and state. They are less clear on how sixteenth–century colleges in England could have avoided their fate at the hands of Henry VIII.

Print Format: Example for Book in Print:

This example shows a book with three authors.

Jones, Tamara, George Smith, and Angela Jones. A Study on Essential Racial Issues in Canada. New York: Scribner, 2010. Print. The authors attempt to support their claims that racial issues in Canada have never been as wide-spread or as inflammatory as race problems in the United States. Based on a review of the literature of hundreds of articles and books about race relations in both countries, this work also gives historical data and statistics that students may find useful, including twenty-three comparative charts. However, the writing suffers from a wordy style which slows reading almost to a standstill. In general, this book attempts to provide a thorough, academic-level discussion of an issue that may not have needed proving in the first place.

Magazine Article from a Print Source:

Williams, Lee. "Fears on DNA Studies Still Abound." Newsweek 14 Mar. 2012: 22-24. Print. Williams, a journalist not a scientist, claims that fears of "Andromeda Strain" types of genetic disease are unfounded. Dr. James D. Watson, co-discoverer of DNA, is quoted saying that no one since the discovery of DNA has suffered such a disease. Also mentioned is biologist Robert Schinsheimer who admits that fears are less justified than originally thought but who also fears that genetic engineering could result in a new route for the transmission of cancer. This short article attempts to provide the general public with a balanced and up-to-date overview of the issue.

The spacing in annotations found on this handout is based on Annotated Bibliography Format, page 130, MLA Handbook (7th ed.).

*Process for Writing an Annotated Bibliography.” LEO: Literacy Education Online. St. Cloud University. 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 2012.


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