If you’re undertaking a research project or writing a thesis in the US, be it at undergraduate, postgraduate, or PhD level, you may be wondering what the difference between an annotated bibliography and a literature review is.
Both are important sections of a research paper and aim to give context to the sources cited around a particular research problem. A literature review places a stronger emphasis on the importance of the findings of a paper, whilst an annotated bibliography focuses on the quality, validity, and relevance of the source of information itself.
What is a Literature Review?
A literature review summarises the research findings of others in a specific topic (this can be from a range of publications including scholarly journal articles, textbooks, interviews, and magazines), critically appraises their work, and uses this information to develop the research project at hand. The purpose of this section is also to identify any gaps in knowledge that exist in the research topic and how your research project can help address them. The literature review also allows you to question the research carried out, for example: does one author’s argument conflict with another’s?, or are a particular author’s conclusions valid?
What is an Annotated Bibliography?
Firstly, a bibliography is the list of sources referred to in a body of work. You should be familiar with this for any essay you have written – think of the APA style references you normally include. This includes important information about the source such as the author name, document title, date of publication, and page number (if applicable). The exact information differs depending on the source type – for example, a scholarly journal article may require a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) to be included in the citation, whilst a website will require a URL. The bibliography has several uses, primarily it serves as a reference point for readers who wish to read further into the statements made in a body of work. It also allows readers to question statements and verify the information provided in the body of work.
An annotated bibliography is a list of sources used in your body of work, which includes a brief summary for each source. These summary annotations evaluate the sources of information with regards to their accuracy and quality and identify any potential reasons for bias. As with a standard bibliography, an annotated bibliography should present sources alphabetically in a list-style format. The source summaries are typically around 150 words, though this can vary depending on the nature of the source.
Annotated Bibliography vs Literature Review – What are the differences?
The literature review is presented in a more conversational tone (essay format), as it looks to relate the findings of the source to the research question under review. In comparison, the annotated bibliography is much more structured and factual. It may evaluate sources that only have an indirect relevance to the current project.
Another difference is the length. As mentioned earlier, the annotation summaries are around 150 words per source. The literature review, on the other hand, is typically somewhere between 6,000 – 12,000 words. This reinforces the fact that the annotated bibliography is a concise assessment of the source, whilst the literature review is a comprehensive appraisal of the current knowledge and contributions around a particular topic. For example, the annotated bibliography may comment on a research paper which conducted a similar study and note information such as the scale of the experiments, how they were conducted, and which parameters were controlled. In the literature review this same source of information may be discussed further: what were the limitations of this type of experiment, how does the methodology compare to other studies, do the findings support your argument, and was the scale big enough to draw valid conclusions.
Students preparing a dissertation or thesis should use their annotation summaries to help develop their literary review. This can be done by using the information provided in the bibliography as a reference point to help paint the bigger picture in the literature review.