Research & Information Fluency: Resources for Arts and Humanities Courses

Creating and Annotating MLA Style Bibliographies

Bibliographies provide a kind of "hard copy" of research; they help us keep track of our sources, organize our research efforts, and document our use of others' work. An annotated bibliography takes the process a step further; it lets the reader know how the sources have been used and reminds the researcher of the relative value of the sources by requiring an evaluation of the author's qualifications and the quality of the information provided.

For your work in my classes you will be required to consult a variety of works: books, periodicals, databases, films, CD ROMs, and/or internet sites. Good research makes use of this variety of media to develop background for a project from different perspectives; thorough, creative work does not rely on a single source or a single medium. The most common of these will be books, print periodicals, and websites, but I encourage you to look into videos, CD ROMs, and online sources of periodicals as well (such as those made available through the Library).

The ability to properly document consulted sources is a mark of professional and academic development. Students who cannot follow the relatively simple requirements of standard documentation style (in AiDallas's case, MLA or APA) indicate a lack of preparedness and seriousness about their professions.

All bibliographies require alphabetical listings of works by author (or by title if an author is not listed) and include titles, publication information, and dates of publication (not copyright dates).

Double-space all entries except annotations, and indent second (and subsequent) lines. Since I want you to become familiar with the Modern Language Association (MLA) bibliographical style, it will be useful to know the following pattern:

Author (Last name first; subsequent authors of the same source are listed first name first).

Title (underlined or italicized for long works; shorter works are noted in quotation marks).

Publication information and date of publication.

Use my "Flintstone Bibliography" (.pdf) as a model for how various sources are set up within this pattern, and consult the most recent MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, (on Reserve in the Library). Textbooks for most written communication courses also contain information on MLA style, and a few useful sources are linked below. The main thing to remember is that MLA no longer requires that you include URLs for web-based sources, and I now prohibit them.

The information you provide should usually be as succinct as possible. Therefore, a university press can be listed as "Princeton UP" rather than Princeton University Press; "Routledge and Kegan Paul" is typically listed as "Routledge," and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. is listed simply as "Abrams." Leave out "Inc." and "Ltd." and Company, and use only the first city listed if more than one appear on the title page.

Although you are no longer required to include a URL for web materials (either websites or online databases), you will need to identify the medium: Web, Print, Film, etc. For e-books, note the publisher (in our case, VitalSource Bookshelf); the medium is Digital File.

Remember that the purpose of a bibliography is to tell your reader where you got your information, so that he or she can pursue a topic you raise, or check on the reliability of your sources. It's therefore to your benefit to locate the best possible sources to support the work you do in this class.

Navigating MLA Style

One of my Art History1 students has generously supplied me with a website that might help students who have difficulty deciding what goes where in citations. The page comes from Long Island University's Schwartz Memorial Library, and is color coded to help you visualize information arrangement: LIU Post: MLA Citation Style.

MLA Formatting and Style Guide. Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). Follow the guidelines on page style as well as those on citations, but see my requirements for a cover sheet/title page (on my Style Guide) instead of placing that information on the first page of your essay. Do, however, include the title of your essay, centered, after the top margin.

Research and Documentation Online by Diana Hacker and Barbara Fister. The section on the Humanities includes up-to-date information on MLA style.

The Kelley Library has sources on using MLA style, but make sure you get the most recent information. Please resist the temptation to use a "fill-in-the-blanks" engine/template that does your work for you, because they're frequently not up to date, and you really have to know what you're doing in order to use them properly. If you're having trouble sorting it all out, e-mail me or come by my office.

Important Things to Remember about Bibliographies

They are not numbered! The reason the author's name is reversed (Uhlmeyer, Candace) is so that it can easily be alphabetized; numbering a bibliography is superfluous and also indicates that you're not paying attention. Don't bullet entries, either (even if you have access to lovely bullets like mine).

It follows logically, then, that instances of multiple authors require that only the first author's name be reversed: Fry, Roger, and Vanessa Bell. If more than three authors are listed, you may choose to use the Latin abbreviation et al. (et alia = "and others") after the first one or two.

Bibliographies should contain sources appropriate to a college-level assignment. This means that general encyclopedias (including Wikipedia) and dictionaries (except historically-oriented, scholarly efforts like The Oxford English Dictionary) are not suitable sources for my classes. If you know absolutely nothing about a word or a topic, or if you don't understand something you read or I say, by all means look it up. But this kind of basic information does not reflect the level of research you need to be conducting for this class. When using a dictionary, by the way, try to consult one with at least 50,000 words listed. And please be sure to keep the context of what you're reading in mind. Since most words have multiple meanings, it makes no sense at all to simply take the first meaning listed and assume that it's correct for any context.

I realize that many of you have spent a good deal of money on textbooks. However, for research purposes, textbooks are only marginally appropriate sources. Even a comprehensive art history survey text, such as Gardner's Art Through The Ages or Janson's History Of Art are meant to be used as general reference books, not the the kind of specialized resources I want you to locate. You may use your textbook, but it should be only one of several sources consulted.

Bibliographies must be properly formatted on a word processor, and all entries (including names) must be properly spelled. Edit your work; don't simply slap your bibliography into the computer and print it out. Carefully go over it for spelling, punctuation, etc. before you print it. After you print a copy, go over that, and make any changes necessary before you print the final copy. Spell-checkers are not trained to recognize many proper nouns, names, foreign words, etc., so you will need to examine details carefully.

Annotations in bibliographies let your reader know something about the source and its appropriateness to your assignment; they also remind you of what you found useful or valuable about it. If you do not find anything of use, don't list the source. The general rule is to evaluate both the credentials of the author and the quality of the information (especially how it enhanced your understanding of the topic).

Annotations should be made in complete sentences, and set aside visually so that the fact that they are separate from the entries themselves is apparent. One way to do this is to reduce the size of the font you are using, and block-indent the annotation. A short paragraph that describes your debt to the author, his or her qualifications, and specific information on how you used the source will usually do the trick.

The proper heading for a general bibliography is simply Bibliography. Don't bold or italicize it, don't change the font size. Just call it Bibliography. It is placed after the last page of your essay, and is numbered in sequence. Do not use a header or footer.

Did I mention that bibliographies are not numbered? Rather, they are alphabetized according to the first letter of the entry (usually, but not always, the author). Please remember that in English, the articles a, an, and the do not "count" in determining alphabetical order.

Research Strategies

For workshops in my classes I have provided appropriate and useful sources on their assignment pages. I have done so in order to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete them, so you need not look further than the links on related topic and workshop pages. The provided sources are selected precisely because of their utility, so unless you know of something absolutely stupendous, don't look any further. These small, course-material focused tasks do not require searching databases or the internet. In some cases I have required that you read a particular source before beginning the workshop.

For general advice on how to conduct research for assignments such as the Formal Analysis Essay in Art History 2, or seminar presentations in my humanities electives, here are some worthwhile resources:

Class Zone's Web Research Guide seems pretty helpful; it offers several tutorials, and an introductory quiz for the totally clueless.

Cornell University Library's Seven Steps of the Research Process. This site provides a straightforward set of guidelines for developing a topic and initiating research through a variety of media, from books to the Internet.

The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University (Purdue Owl) may be one of the best resources available to students anywhere, and at any level. The link is to the general resource page for non-Purdue students and teachers, and lists a plethora of sources on process, critical thinking, and style and language, in addition to its excellent citation resources. Bookmark this one.

Important note: Please remember that the World Wide Web is not the only source of information available to you; our librarian, Lisa Casto, and her team in the Kelley Library (with some help from your instructors) have been working diligently to build a substantial collection of print and electronic sources to help you conduct research. The catalogue and the databases your tuition help to pay for are linked to the Library tab in the Student Portal.

I thoroughly recommend that you start in the library first, unless you simply want a quick introduction to an unfamiliar topic. Once you get serious, however, begin with the library and augment what you find there with information from the Internet. When you do search the web, be sure to evaluate your sources using the techniques and criteria recommended in these links. Note, however, that most of your research for this class will not require peer-reviewed articles, and that popular periodicals can be frequently be used successfully. As a general rule, however, complete an Information Evaluation Worksheet for each source you plan to use.

Evaluating Web Sources

Just as you can't always believe what you see on TV (especially on TLC, The History Channel, and/or The Discovery Channel!), or what you read in print, be wary of what you see on the net, a good percentage of which is absolute crap (pardon the lingo). These sites can help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

Our Librarian, Lisa Casto, recently sent me this very useful tool for evaluating web pages you might want to use: Research Ready Website Evaluator. Simply paste a prospective source's URL into the window and proceed through the steps.

My own evaluation sheet is available here: Information Evaluation Worksheet. Use this to determine the quality of sources, and be prepared to submit it with designated assignments.

Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools. This site is maintained by Cornell University's library and contains a very thorough list of criteria for evaluating material from the web.

Evaluating Information Found on the Internet. From the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins, this useful site that provides an introduction to the problems presented by web-based information, guidelines for evaluating Internet material, some interesting links, and information on citing web sources. There's also advice on distinguishing information from propaganda, as well as on evaluating social media.

Evaluating Quality on the Net. This article, by Hope Tillman, the former Director of Libraries at Babson College (Maryland), not only offers ideas about how to assess information, but essays into the whole idea of internet-based information and associated problems. The essay is rather long, for those with short attention spans, but well worth reading. Even skimming through it for particular kinds of information can be helpful, because she establishes criteria for good web design, discusses search engines, and assesses the current state of web-evaluation tools--among many other topics. Some of the information may be out of date (the final version was published in 2003), but the general advice holds.

The best way to determine if you're on the right track is to use the basic Information Evaluation Worksheet I've concocted to provide a shortcut through the process. But in order to deepen your understanding of the need for information fluency in your professional life, consult at least some of these sites.

Feel free to consult me for advice and information. As you all know by now, I'm full of it . . .