As a class oriented towards upper-division majors and minors, ENGL/THRE 3333 should help to guide students into the kind of work done by scholars in the field. In large part, scholarly work in English studies and in the academic humanities more generally consists of interpreting art in one medium or another, commonly deploying the interpretations of others, and presenting that interpretation as a means to help others advance the collective understanding of the many ways in which art functions. Many of the presentations take place at academic conferences, where scholars are commonly invited to give fifteen- to twenty-minute talks as one of several taking related approaches to a particular body of work—and it is towards offering practice in doing so that the major sequence of assignments in ENGL/THRE 3333 is directed.
Note that much of the following material will echo that presented for a similar assignment at another institution, the Annotated Bibliography assigned to students enrolled in my section of ENGL 1213: Composition II during the Spring 2016 term at Northern Oklahoma College. The substantially similar tasks account for the similar usage made without further comment below.
Academic conferences in the humanities typically demand that their presentations be researched and work from the best available understandings of the field of inquiry being pursued. To compose a bibliography of such work, students will need to accomplish a number of tasks:
- Refine the topic and thesis from the Expl;
- Determine a method for searching for sources;
- Investigate secondary source materials;
- Optionally, but likely helpfully, investigate tertiary/critical source materials;
- Assess the utility of individual items uncovered through investigation of secondary and, optionally, tertiary/critical source materials;
- Summarize the selected individual items;
- Construct citations for the selected items; and
- Compose a eight-source annotated bibliography that presents the topic in its context, outlines the methods by which sources were selected, and offers three-part annotations of each selected source, submitting it electronically for assessment as a major assignment worth 15% of the total course grade.
The AnnBib is meant to help students transition their work from the Expl to the FinPap to come. As such, it asks students to reflect on their continuing efforts and refine them further, continuing the trend between the Prop and the Expl. Having a more focused idea of what thesis will be argued and the argumentative structures to be followed—since the FinPap will likely benefit from expressing counter-argument and rebuttal, and it will need to situate itself among the current scholarly context of Shakespeare studies—will allow for more adept and easily managed searching through sources.
Also allowing for more adept and easily managed searching is searching done with a plan in mind. As such, students are encouraged to plot out how they will make their initial forays into the already-existing research into the Bard’s works. What avenues for the search and what search terms are likely to be entered should be noted, as should important limitations on the search, namely that materials must be
- Scholarly in nature, being peer-reviewed or otherwise inviting independent validation (such as a professor’s professional blog or website, or the work of a major scholarly society); and
- Recent, published in January 2011 or later.
It is expected that initial plans will change as a result of the search encountering unforeseen opportunities and limitations. Those changes should be recorded, as the methods employed in conducting the search will inform the AnnBib.
While any scholarly project must make use of primary source materials—it is not possible to talk about a thing without recourse to that thing—the focus of bibliographic efforts needs to be on sources other than primary. At a minimum, the AnnBib will need to treat critical studies of the works of the Bard, looking at scholarship that takes Shakespeare’s writing as one of its primary sources and puts it to use in some way. Such critical studies can take many forms, ranging from master’s theses and doctoral dissertations to substantial monographs, from journal articles to published conference proceedings to editorial apparati. The important things are that they are recent scholarly works and that they are not themselves primary materials.
Not all of what is surveyed will necessarily be used. It is not expected that it will be; that some sources will need to be discarded as unworkable is not a mark of failure, but a recognition that Shakespeare studies is an expansive field and that critical thought is going into the project—and the latter, particularly, is a good thing.
As an optional extra step, although one likely to be of assistance as the project moves forward, students can look into tertiary or critical source materials. Unlike primary sources, which are necessary to any investigation, and secondary sources, which comment more or less directly on the primary materials or closely related items, tertiary or critical materials may not explicitly treat the particular subject being investigated. Their utility comes in providing frames of reference through which to approach primary and secondary source materials. That is, they offer guidelines for how to approach knowledge and develop understanding that may then be applied to the primary and secondary materials in the hopes of making sense of them.
Tertiary/critical sources can be found in and among secondary sources. Searching for the latter will doubtlessly bring up the former, as well. One note needs to be made, however; tertiary/critical sources are likely to be more expansive and stable than secondary sources. That is, they are more likely to be books than are secondary sources. Trips through library stacks might be in order therefore.
Finding sources is relatively easy. Indeed, it is too easy; searches are likely to offer hundreds of thousands of results, if not millions. Parsing the sources is therefore necessary; not all will be useful, and of those that are useful, not all will be equally useful. Nor will they all be useful in the same way; some will offer context, some will offer support, some will present convenient counter-arguments, and some will offer rebuttals to those counter-arguments. While specific rubrics for assessment will vary by topic and approach, they should (again) minimally include such concerns as the sources being both scholarly and recent.
Not only will it be useful for students to keep track of how they search for their sources, it will be useful for them to track how they determine sources’ utility to their projects, as well as how individual sources are likely to be of use to their specific projects. Both sets of information will be useful moving forward in the AnnBib and in the later work to be done in the course.
After the sources have been found to be useful, they need to be summarized. Summarizing texts effectively helps them be made accessible to other readers, as well as allowing them to serve as useful study guides for later work. Additionally, they serve as confirmation that the materials have been fully reviewed by the summary-writers, which helps improve writerly credibility.
The summaries in the AnnBib should begin with a sentence laying out the thesis of the article. Subsequent sentences should identify major argumentative points and methods of proof. They should be presented in the order followed by the piece being summarized, since the overall thrust of the summary should parallel the text being summarized.
What should not appear in summaries is quotation. Summaries serve to condense their source texts. This cannot be done if the original phrasing is retained. Similarly, minor details should not be presented in summaries; the retention of such detail inhibits effective condensation of the source texts, making the summary less effective than it could be.
Incumbent upon any scholarly work is accurate and appropriate accounting for the provenance of any information deployed. Part of this is citation, which documents where sources are found so that others can refer back to them as they conduct their own efforts to expand human knowledge. Because the AnnBib serves as a component of an ongoing research project, one that identifies and deploys outside information, it must include citation; each of its selected sources must be accorded formal identification. The context of the course asserts that that identification should align to the standards promulgated by the Modern Language Association of America (MLA).
Ideally, students will work from copies of the current version of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (the Eighth Edition at the time of this writing) to produce citations for each of their selected sources. Accessibility is always an issue, though, as the text is not necessarily free to students. A free and open online resource is available, however, in the relevant section of the Purdue Online Writing Lab. Widely used even by academics, it is available here. It reproduces much of the information about citation styles and formats included in the official sources and so is a useful guide.
Citations tend to be among the most difficult things for students to do well, as submitted work attests, but they are simply matters of attention to detail. Working carefully and methodically—and allowing time to do so—will be of substantial benefit.
The preceding items can be regarded as comprising a sequence of prewriting; that is, they lead towards deliverables, but they do not themselves generate them. The deliverable towards which they lead is the AnnBib itself.
The AnnBib should open with a paragraph that articulates the writer’s involvement with the topic, describes and contextualizes the topic, and presents the question to be answered and a selected answer thereto in an appropriate construction. (The paragraph can be thought of as a distillation of a successful Expl.) A second paragraph should outline how the sources meant to support the answer were found and their validity determined. Afterward should follow a series of annotative entries, each consisting of an MLA-style Works Cited citation for one source, a one-paragraph summary of that source, and a one-paragraph evaluation of the annotated source’s validity in supporting the advanced answer (in that order). They should be at least eight in number, at least six of which must be secondary; two may be either secondary or tertiary/critical.
The AnnBib is due through Schreiner One before the beginning of class time on 9 November 2016. It must be submitted in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format. The text of the AnnBib should be two paragraphs and at least eight entries long, exclusive of a four-line heading (student name, instructor name, course and section, and date of composition) and an appropriately descriptive title. It should be double-spaced on letter-size sheets with one-inch margins on all sides. It should be in 12-point Times New Roman, Garamond, or Georgia type. Page numbers should appear in the upper right corner of the page, with the student’s surname preceding the number; page numbers and surnames should be in the same typeface as the rest of the document. Paragraphs’ first lines should be indented half an inch from the left-hand margin; subsequent lines should be flush left. Citations will invert that indentation. Annotative entries should be separated from one another and from the preparatory paragraphs by an extra blank line. Usage should conform to standards promulgated by the MLA and discussed during class time.
The AnnBib will be assessed according to the rubric below as a major assignment worth 15% of the total course grade. Comments about the submitted work will be returned to students via email. Please note that, although the AnnBib should be able to stand alone as an independent piece of writing, it informs the FinPap to come. The comments returned should therefore serve to help foster better work on that later assignment, as well as on writing beyond the classroom setting.
The rubric through which the AnnBib will be assessed appears here: ENGL & THRE 3333 AnnBib Grading Rubric.
The AnnBib is in large measure an exercise in formal citation and identification of useful source materials. More than in many other assignments, attention to the details of the work done to account for the provenance of information is obligatory. Failure to offer such attestation may be investigated as an academic integrity violation, with substantially adverse consequences for students.
Additionally, many scholarly works will already have abstracts. Using them as the abstracts presented in the AnnBib is both counterproductive to students’ development as competent scholars in the field and likely to be investigated as an academic integrity violation, with substantially adverse consequences for students. At a minimum, it will be regarded as neglect of a component of the assignment, with grade penalties noted above.
Examples of the kind of writing requested for the AnnBib are widely available. The Annotated Chaucer Bibliography is one prominent example. Samples of similar work are available on the course website, as well, although their topics and requirements will be somewhat different than that for the present assignment:
- An annotated bibliography written for the aforementioned section of ENGL 1213: Composition II at Northern Oklahoma College, “Sample Annotated Bibliography: Why Not Have a Rhetoric Requirement among UL Lafayette PhD Students in English?”
- “The Fedwren Project: A Robin Hobb Annotated Bibliography,” one of the instructor’s personal projects
Additionally, an example directed towards the demands of the course is available: “Sample Annotated Bibliography: Shakespeare in Legend of the Five Rings.”
As always, consultation with the instructor throughout the process of writing the assignment is welcomed and encouraged. Office hours are generally open; appointments are available. Email for details.
Geoffrey B. Elliott
31 October 2016
Updated to add tailored example.