Annotated Bibliography, Historiography, and Abstract Help (page 3)
Even more than a bibliography, an annotated bibliography is prepared especially for your reader with his or her concerns specifically in mind. In essence it tells a reader why and how a particular book is a helpful or important source of information on the topic. Many times, an instructor will ask you to write an annotated bibliography before your paper is due so that he or she can read it and check to see whether or not you are using the right sources, and if you are reading helpful information. An annotated bibliography also saves you valuable time and a great deal of effort. If an instructor requests an annotated bibliography, reads it, and returns it immediately, he or she can often catch any errors in your research process before you spend too many hours in the library looking at useless sources.
What exactly is an annotated bibliography? Essentially, it is a bibliography with notes or notations. What does this mean? An annotated bibliography follows the same format as a regular bibliography except that after you list all your information for each source, you provide a sentence or two about why and how a particular book or piece of information is valuable to your research. Once again, if you cannot state why a book is helpful to you or helps prove your thesis, then you should not consult that particular book. For example, an annotated bibliography or version of a book you have consulted might look like this:
Miller, Sue. President Kennedy's White House Staff. London: Oxford University Press, 1989. This book is critical to understanding White House policy in the last days of President Kennedy's term because it provides full, unedited interviews with several of President Kennedy's key staff members. In addition to interviews with policy makers of the time, it also provides a comprehensive, chronological listing of Kennedy's policies and legislation during his presidency and includes excerpts from Kennedy's own diary.
Again, while this can seem like an unnecessary process that takes a great deal of time, it is critical. By writing an annotated bibliography, you allow a reader looking over your notations to immediately know the value of a particular source without him or her having to consult the book itself. Be careful, however, when you write your annotated bibliography. Be sure that your description of the books you consulted is not personal. Don't write, "I really liked this book because it was so cute and colorful and full of fun interviews. " An annotated bibliography is not an individual, personal, or informal review. Be professional and use formal language; assume a tone of authority and respect for your reader. Also, be sure to state not only whether or not a particular source is helpful, but how it is helpful. Include details and be specific. A description such as "This book is helpful because it contained a lot of illustrations," does not tell your reader what type of illustrations he book provides or how they shed light on your topic. You do not have to write an entire novel or even ten sentences that describe every single feature of your book. You are only highlighting those features of your book that are of critical importance to your reader. Many instructors require an annotated bibliography early in the research process or like to examine one before they ultimately read your paper because it allows them to evaluate your sources and determine if you are on the right "thinking" track. Many times, before you take all your notes and put them on note cards, an instructor will ask you to assess your sources. Obviously, those sources that do not offer precise information, offer information that is irrelevant to your topic and to your thesis, or are poorly written, are not valuable ones for you.
A historiography is not commonly required but if it is, it usually applies to research papers on historical topics. However, it is an important component of historical research papers and one that you should know about if it is required. A historiography is an overview of all your sources. It comes at the end of the text of your paper (before end notes and bibliography) and is usually written on a separate page. Unlike an annotated bibliography, which is an assessment of each individual book and its particular value to your paper, a historiography analyzes an overview or trend in historical thinking and usually applies to research projects or papers of considerable length. A historiography describes how a particular topic, historical figure, or idea has been viewed and written about over time.
For instance, if you have been researching John F. Kennedy's presidency and you have read dozens of books, you may have noticed that books written during the 1970s viewed President Kennedy and his policies in one way while more current books written in the late 1990s viewed President Kennedy's presidency in a whole different light. Maybe books written during the 1970s focused more upon President Kennedy's economic policies, while books written during the 1990s focused more on the ideology or beliefs of the Kennedy White House during that time and did not focus upon President Kennedy's role as a policy maker.
A historiography, in other words, is an overview of the perspectives, particular slants, and biases of particular sources that you have consulted and want to mention to your reader. Unlike footnotes or a bibliography, it does not need to follow a special citation or style format. It is simply a paragraph, several paragraphs, or a page (length is not set in stone) that summarizes this information while listing particular books by name. For example, your historiography at the end of your paper on President Kennedy might look something like this:
After reading over fifty titles about President Kennedy's final days in the White House, the most helpful studies were several biographies written during the 1970s. Lisa Jackson's biography, Kennedy's Last Days, was particularly insightful because of the firsthand interviews it related. Joe Thornton's work, Kennedy The Man: I Knew Him Well, was equally helpful. Many of the other biographies published during this time period placed particular emphasis on Kennedy's origins and upbringing as the deciding factor behind his policies. Kennedy's Financial Outlook, by Lorraine Newman, explored how his own economic circumstances and those of his family later influenced his worldview and national economic policies. Other books that were helpful but written from a different perspective were several of the biographies published during the 1990s. These historians and authors differed from their predecessors. They devoted less research to Kennedy's own experiences and personal circumstances and focused directly on the legislation he initiated. A particularly good examination of Kennedy's policies from a political perspective is written by Sue Miller, an authority on the subject and author of several books about Kennedy. Her most recent work, An Examination of Kennedy and Congress, written in the late 1990s, is the definitive examination of his legacy as president.
In essence, unlike your footnotes, citations, and your bibliography, you don't have to mention each and every book you consulted for your historiography. A historiography is your final overview or assessment of all your sources. Highlight those books that you feel were critical while providing your reader with a chronological, historical perspective on the books you consulted and how their overall analyses differed. Again, while this may seem complex, it's usually easy to do because it is just a matter of putting your thoughts down on paper. Since it is written at the very end of your paper after you have accumulated all your sources, done all your research, and written your work, it is a very logical and helpful way to summarize your entire research experience. A good historiography, like a well written annotated bibliography, is an extremely helpful tool for your reader.
Writing an Abstract
An abstract comes at the very beginning of your paper. It is usually required for scientific or mathematical papers that have involved the accumulation of data or facts based upon scientific experiments or formulas. Sometimes, however, it is required for papers written on historical or other subjects. An abstract is simply a short, succinct summary of your paper. It is no more than a paragraph in length and should be written after you have completed your entire paper even though it comes at the beginning of your work. In essence, you can think of an abstract as the blurb or commentary that you see on the back of a book cover. While these blurbs are usually written on the back of books so that readers will buy them, essentially, they function as abstracts. An abstract tells the reader before he or she begins to read your paper exactly what your paper will be about. Unlike the summary on the back of a book, you do not have to sell your paper or necessarily entice your readers. You simply need to provide them with a quick, straightforward account of your paper. An abstract that might appear before a paper written about President Kennedy's last days in the White House might look like this:
This paper examines President Kennedy's final ten months in the White House before his assassination. It places particular emphasis on the security policies and procedures of his White House staff and questions whether any specific, additional measures could have been taken to avoid his fatal trip to Dallas. Using primary source material such as speeches from Kennedy himself, official government documentation taken from the agencies of the CIA and FBI, and excerpts from interviews of key White House officials, this paper questions whether alternative security measures could have been in place. It concludes, however, that any additional procedures would not have altered historical events and that Lee Harvey Oswald was not detected as a threat to national security until it was too late.
Thus, by writing and providing your reader with an abstract, he or she knows exactly what your paper will discuss, how you plan to validate your discussion or argument, and ultimately, the conclusions that you have drawn. All the information in your paper has now been condensed and distilled into one succinct statement that summarizes the bulk of your work.
Although annotated bibliographies, historiographies, and abstracts are not always requested, they are extremely helpful tools and important elements for a writer, an instructor, and above all, a reader. Annotated bibliographies provide a truthful listing of your sources by detailing whether they are helpful and why. A historiography, on the other hand, does not examine each book individually but instead, looks at a body of work and assesses how many books examine and interpret a particular topic or issue. This allows your reader to be aware of particular trends and interpretations that were popular during different eras. Finally, an abstract provides a succinct and precise summary of your entire paper at the beginning so that a reader knows exactly what you plan to discuss and the conclusions that you have drawn from all your research. Written professionally and thoroughly, they function as extremely helpful tools and valuable resources for your reader.
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