During graduate school, and especially while you’re working on your dissertation, you’ll probably hear the terms “annotated bibliography” and “literature review” tossed around a lot. You might know that Chapter 2 of the dissertation is traditionally the Review of the Literature, but it’s not necessarily a straight lit review, either; rather, it’s a bit more developed, with an introduction, information on search descriptors, and a brief outline of your conceptual/theoretical framework. Where does an annotated bibliography fit in, if at all, and how does it differ? Read on to find out!

While both an annotated bibliography and a literature review are a comprehensive collection of sources and research, the two are vastly different.

Elements of an annotated bibliography:

  • Ordered list (usually alphabetical) of sources for additional reading, often explaining each source’s relevance to the topic, as well as a brief summary

  • Each source is listed separate from each other, for easy identification and location

  • Each source stands alone and is not integrated with other sources

  • Typically points the reader to sources for their own further reading/research

Elements of a literature review:

  • Overview of a specific topic with summaries and explanations of the most pertinent and important sources and findings on the subject

  • Synthesized, in-depth explanations of the research, integrated into developed paragraphs

  • More exploratory than an annotated bibliography, with the aim of presenting a cohesive picture of the existing research

  • Sources are discussed together, often compared and contrasted, and discussed in terms of the larger field

  • Helps the reader understand the research in a specific way

Simply put, a literature review is more developed than an annotated bibliography, and has a thesis at its core. When we're talking about the literature review chapter in a dissertation, it should always refer back to your larger project as its focus, not the literature being reviewed. It should highlight why the reader should care about your larger argument and research, and why your thesis statement is so important. By situating your research within a body of literature and identifying the various other studies that your research builds upon, confirms, contradicts, or emulates, you are able to give your project credibility and otherwise justify to your reader that this is project is well thought out and trustworthy.

An annotated bibliography is merely an expanded list, and can be a tool for research and writing of a larger paper. Some schools require an annotated bibliography to be added on to a larger paper, because they do provide assessments of available research, but are never part of the actual body of the paper. They are typically an appendix, because again, they are a tool to propel you forward to the larger literature review -- a building block, if you will.  A good annotated bibliography can be helpful for the later development and structure of a literature review. Think of it this way: the annotated bibliography is the scaffolding upon which to build the house of the literature review. By itself, it's just bare bones and you can't tell what it's largely about; it needs connective structures and embellishment and a good, sturdy foundation.

Did you know that Thesis Editor offers research services? Our expert team of doctoral-level editors and researchers can help you with the construction and development of an annotated bibliography. This can be a valuable tool to help point you in the right direction regarding sources and further research, as well as help you in structuring your literature review. Contact us today to learn more about our research services!

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