Annotations are a kind of note-taking, a way of tracking your sources and the information they contain as you move through your inquiry process. They are also a way of sharing resources with one another in class. Your class might choose to post annotations to an on-line bulletin board, or to spend a few minutes in class regularly sharing annotations in small research groups.

A good annotation does the following:

  1. Gives full bibliographic information. We´re using MLA style documentation. The information for different sources (book, periodical, website) gets arranged differently. (Consult a writing handbook for specific information on sources. For now, be sure to take down the author; title; editor where appropriate; publisher, including location; publication date; and page numbers.) For a periodical, the bibliographic information would look like this:

Orleans, Susan. "Orchid Fever." New Yorker 23 Jan. 1995: 40-53

  1. Summarizes the source carefully and accurately. A summary should briefly state the main idea, the main points of the text. You´ll need to figure out what the author is saying and how to restate the gist of it in a few sentences and a short paragraph, in most cases.
  2. Assesses whether or not this source is useful for your inquiry. Does the article raise important questions? Does it contribute to your knowledge of the conversation? How is it similar or different to other sources you´ve found?

-from Chris Gallagher and Amy Lee´s Claiming Writing: Teaching in an Age of Testing (forthcoming, Scholastic Publishers)

Evaluating Authority

Very few of us routinely evaluate the authority of citations in texts we are reading. Indeed, very few of us ever even look up any of the citations in texts we´re reading. But perhaps we should. Critical readers and writers are skeptical; they don´t trust easily. Unless we examine and evaluate the authority of the sources being drawn upon, how can we know that we can trust the writer we´re reading? And how can we use a source in our own writing until we´ve determined that it is reliable? Obviously, we are not advocating checking every source in every text you read & no one has time for that, and most often, we pick up cues from how the writer presents her research that tell us whether or not to extend our trust. But locating and examining sources cited in texts can give us valuable practice in developing that skeptical habit of mind, as well as prepare us to evaluate sources for use in our own writing. This is precisely what this tool asks you to do. Here are the steps:

  1. Identify a text that draws on multiple sources. Make sure you are interested in the topic, because you will be learning more about it!
  2. Choose two of the texts cited in the text to examine for yourself. These could be articles, research studies, census data, etc. Make sure to choose short texts & not whole books, for instance − so this exercise remains manageable.
  3. Now, evaluate the authority of each source. Ask these questions:
  • Who conducted and supported the research? If it is a study, who funded it? (What can you learn about the sponsoring organization? Is it unbiased, or does it have a particular agenda?) If it is a scholarly argument, who wrote it? What do these people have at stake? What are their values? Are they authorities? Are they reliable?
  • Where did the research appear? Is the forum or the publication associated with trustworthy information? Does it have mechanisms for assuring quality research? (Peer review for journals, for instance, or professional standards for published studies.)
  • Does the research support the writer´s use of it in the piece you began with? Does the text say what the writer says it does? Is anything taken out of context? Is this text relevant to the topic the writer is examining?

-from Chris Gallagher and Amy Lee´s Claiming Writing: Teaching in an Age of Testing (forthcoming, Scholastic Publishers)