Research Methods in
Technical and Professional Writing



Annotated Bibliography

Using the research topic I previously approved, find a collection of sources about that topic.  Write an annotation on each of the sources.  An annotated bibliography is a summary of the article that discusses out the strong and weak points.   After reading it, I should know if the article would be useful to me if I were researching a similar topic to yours.

Turn in


At least half a page annotation per source, single spaced (this means some will run 3/4 to a full page). Think in terms of 300+ words per annotation.

Each annotation goes on its own page. (half a grade off if you fail to format in a manner that shows you understand how to control Word's formatting features)


The summary page sets a context for the annotated bibliography. Discuss your overall topic and why is it relevant to information design. What limitations did you impose of the topic? Write this as you would write an introduction to a literature review, do not write a summary of how you did your research.

In each annotated bibliography, you start with an APA or MLA-format citation and then discuss the contents of the source. You are providing both the main points discussed in the source and evaluating its effectiveness and usefulness. You can also do some comparisons to other sources within the annotated bibliography.

Picking your sources

No more than 2 sources per single journal issue or web site. No more than 3 sources from any one journal.

No books as a single source (without my approval), although you can use chapters from anthologies.

No more that half can be web sources. Web sources must be academic.

I'm defining web sources as non-peer reviewed online sources, blogs and such.

A peer reviewed online journal would be ok.    BubbaDesignSite.com  isn't.  The various blogs or opinion sites (such as alertbox.com) are also not peer reviewed, but may fit into a academic definition depending on the author.

If you download a copy of an article that was published in a print journal, that would count as a print source, not an online source.

Potential problems

Writing a three sentence summary that simply repeats the title or article abstract. This assignment calls for at least 1/2 page single spaced. Most of the examples you find on the web are shorter than that.

Paraphrasing the abstract. The abstract of an article is shorter than these annotations and it's very clear if you are just paraphrasing without understanding what the article is talking about.

Saying "X discusses ways to do Y" and then stopping. Expand and summarize the main points of how to do Y and why it's important.

Having too broad a topic. For example, there are zillions of articles on how to design a website. You must have a common theme for the annotated bib, and design for the web is too broad to have a common theme.

Writing too much on the data collection, rather than results of a research article. Do not give lots of details about a research study methods. The reader does not care that there were 32 subjects who were asked to read 500 words each while jumping up and down. Discuss the research's main findings and how they are relevant to your topic.

Finding a blog-type site that has several entries and using each entry as a separate source. (Note that blogs are not academic and, even it was academic, you can only use 2 sources for any one website.)

The annotated bib is to provide a research reference for other people.  It is not a summary of how the article is useful to you.  In other words, do not include lines like this:

This article will be useful in my research because I'm writing about Madonna as musical graffiti, arguing that she uses verbal and physical language that break down boundaries between different cultural forms.

Evaluation criteria


Proper number of sources
Each annotation is at least 1/2 page, single spaced
All sources are related to the main theme
Each annotation is on its own page

Annotation text

Summarizes the source content
Evaluates the source
Some sources are referenced to other sources with in the annot bib
Free of grammar and punctuation errors

Summary page

Close to one page long
Sets context for the annotated bibliography
Clearly states the research question


Formatted in APA format


Good sample

Meyer, Joan. "Madonna: Like a [Perpetual] Virgin." Madonna Studies 31 January 1993: 11-13.

Meyer's article argues that Madonna is a perpetually renewing fountain of commercial possibility. Her cds,
videos, and books both perpetuate the culture to which she objects, and maintains her positions as an
important part of it.

The first section of the article is a close textual analysis of videos from the early part of Madonna's career.
There, Meyer argues, Madonna was involved in the process of inventing herself as a counter-cultural,
post-feminist musician who challenged and rejected conventions in areas ranging from gender roles to
religion. The second section of the article takes up mid-career videos and Madonna's book, Sex, to argue
that as the popularity of this "first" person faded, she created a new one who embraced the same norms that
rejected initially. The final section of the article deals with Madonna's newest work and argues that she is
returning to her "phase one" rejection of convention.

Ultimately, Meyer argues that Madonna is not only a consummate show woman, but a consummate
marketer. Her endurance and popularity attests to her clever and, perhaps, cynical readings of American
popular culture and taste.

Good sample

Conklin, James. "The Next Step: An Integrated Approach to Computer Documentation." Communicator 3.9 (1994): 5-9.

Conklin discusses benefits derived from the recent trend in having technical communicators on the software design team from the start. The goal is both better documentation and systems with interfaces that require little documentation.

An advantage of having the technical communicator on the team is the quality of the document improves. By insisting on development of the functional design documents using plain English, problems in the basis design are exposed. The technical communicator "acts as a conduit for information" (6), bridging the gap between subject matter experts, design experts, and users. He mentions the old adage that when the writer can't write a clear, simple description of the program and its use, it's a clear single the program has design flaws.

Conklin spends about half the article reviewing the phases of software design: proposal, requirements definition, design, detailed specifications, build, test, deliver. Traditionally, technical communicators didn't enter the project until design or detailed specifications. Conklin makes a strong case for needing technical communicators during requirements definition.

Users and system analysts talk different languages and have different concerns. Much of the problem with existing systems have occurred because of communication failures. The technical communicator's job and value to the project is to:

Conklin gives four benefits of having technical communicators on the development team early:

Creating effective software means the design must consider the user's viewpoint from the start and must be designed around the real tasks the user will be doing. Since the technical communicator is often the only person trained to think like a user, incorporating them on the design team at the beginning should be standard. Conklin provides solid justification for why this should be happening.

Good sample

De Beaugrande, Robert. “Information and Grammar in Technical Writing.” College Composition and Communication 28.4 (1977): 325-332.

Robert De Beaugrande suggests that writing is useless if the audience is missed. He explains the difference between speaking and writing. While speaking, the author has the view of the audience and can see facial expression or and answer questions during the conversation. Writers do not have that luxury. They must be able to ascertain the needs and wants of the readers by learning their backgrounds and knowledge level. The writer should also be aware of the readers’ interest.

Knowledge level is very important. If the writer uses too simple a style, the knowledgeable readers will dismiss the text, but if the writer uses a too technical style, the less knowledgeable readers will dismiss it as being too hard to understand. The writer needs to decide how much knowledge the audience has and how well the audience will learn new information. The written text should be self-contained.

Grammar can be a tool which the writer can use to guide the reader through information. The focus of sentences is usually the predicate of the sentence, so the writer should place important information within the predicate of the sentence. Parts of words like plurals and -ly endings to make words adjectives can be signals for the reader. Passive voice is often used in technical writing to avoid awkward use of active voice, i.e. sometimes the work has been performed by some random technician.

Most fields have specific terminology which can be used without explanation. Most fields will have handbook and these should be used by tech writers for consistency. However, when in doubt, the tech writer should explain possibly unclear words. Technical writers can use analogies to help readers understand. Again, he emphasizes how useless it is to write to only those who already understand the technical concepts. When using abbreviations, technical writers should either spell out or explain their meaning.

He explains: “The readers should never be forced to put down the report and run to the library.”

Poor sample

This is too short and reads almost like the author paraphrased the articles abstract.

Shelting, Bonita R. Conversations with Technical Writing Teachers: Defining a Problem. Technical Communication Quarterly Vol. 11 No. 3 Summer 2002 p. 245-250

Teachers of technical writing are realizing the limitations related to instruction of t.w. and finding difficulty teaching t.w. without integrating some form of software applications. The merging of technical writing in a rhetorical format with technology is raising the anxiety levels of some teachers who find the teaching of technology along with the t. w. course problematic. However, teachers realize the importance of computers for the writer as well as the literacy indexes appropriate for the classroom. Teachers are concerned that the course will turn into a software course and the writing component will get lost in the shuffle.

Poor sample

Too short. It's written as a single paragraph when it contains multiple topics. Toward the end it says "detail how innovative instructional practices will have difficulty surviving" but never explains why/how this will happen.

Bizar, Marilyn. “Standardized Testing Is Undermining the Goals of Reform.” Online Posting. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. http://www.ncrel.org/mands/docs/4-2.htm.

Researchers at the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory are exposing how the tools used to rate the quality of education in classrooms around the Chicago area affect teaching practices. Schools that use integrated learning and teach by exploring subjects in a meaningful way are hurt by the standardized testing business. Standardized tests dwell on information that is isolated and not cohesive with complex cognitive learning. Bizar states in her article that teachers in Chicago must abandon problem solving skills and “Best Practice” education in order to drill for standardized tests. “Best Practice” education involves student centered learning where kids pick the books they read and students help each other out. Standardized tests are not capable of measuring constructs of knowledge, but rather, isolated facts that are designed to be forgotten. The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory found that teaching behaviors that are effective in raising scores on tests of lower level cognitive skills are nearly opposite of those behaviors that develop problem solving skills and creativity. This article explains in detail how innovative instructional practices will have difficulty surviving in modern education as long as standardized testing is the measure of success. Bizar’s piece is quality in that it makes the reader realize what a critical junction education has reached.

Poor sample

Both are too short and lack detail

Walker, Kristin. Theoretical Foundations for Website Design Courses. Technical Communication Quarterly 11.1 p. 61 - 83

The importance of a connection between the author and the audience cannot be overstated. Thus websites should deliberately be "identity laden" in order to appeal to the audience. The article also emphasizes the need for discipline specific discourse and the establishment of a connection from the writer to the audience/user. Discusses genre theory and the ability of the writer to understand and interpret information that the user will actually find useful.

Barab, Sasha Alexander & April Lynn Luehmann. Building Sustainable Science Curriculum: Acknowledging and Accommodating Local Adaptation. Science Education Vol. 87 Issue 4 July 2003 p. 454-467

The scientific classrooms in the United States must remain constant with the global movement of information. A paradigm shift from memorization to inquiry is occurring. Formerly the scientific classroom was structured for aspiring scientist and as a preparation for standardized exams. Currently there is a movement toward the pursuit of science as a humanity in the purest sense to revive a desire in students to become knowledgeable of the world from the organic level to the concrete substances of life. Technology is the medium to facilitate the process.





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