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Annotated Bibliography: Evaluate

This guide will help you craft an annotated bibliography, either as part of an assignment or as an exercise to improve your thinking or clarify your research strategy.

Why should I evaluate?


An evaluation takes your annotation one step further. Rather than simply reporting on what you read, you offer a judgment as to how effectively the author has argued his or her thesis. It therefore demonstrates a level of engagement and critical thought that goes beyond what a mere summary can provide; it asks you to think about what kinds of evidence work, or don't work, in making an argument. It also asks you to discern where the author could have provided more, or stronger, evidence. And so an evaluation offers the reader a much more detailed and rigorous viewpoint on the article, and provides a more useful guide as to how the resource might be utilized in further work — how, and to what extent, it might be offered as evidence in a paper, article or book.

How do I do an evaluation?


Again, let's take a look at the evaluation section of our sample annotation:

The article is quite compelling both as a theoretical/methodological innovation and as a specific study of the power relations, and changes thereof, in a "traditional" Bedouin community. Its persuasiveness is a result of the detailed ways in which Abu-Lughod uses examples of Bedouin life, which reveal specifics not merely about power relations within these communities but also chart the complex ways in which the “outside world” affects them. Further, because her examples are so rich and well-drawn, Abu-Lughod is able to write with greater authority on one of the principal problems she seeks to address: that of scholarship that uncritically celebrates an abstract “resistance,” particularly in the arena of gender. While perhaps it would have been useful to discuss some examples of this scholarly problem in greater detail, Abu-Lughod's argument that such scholarship inhibits researchers from querying specific forms of power and resistance more rigorously is greatly buttressed by her own rigor. In demonstrating how attention to specific forms of resistance reveals much more about how forms of power operate — and their consequent effects on human social life — Abu-Lughod illustrates the clear advantages of the method she proposes. Given these advantages, I plan to cite "The Romance of Resistance" in my own research project as an exemplar of the kind of argument I am trying to make; as I seek to unearth similar insights about my topic, I will acknowledge Abu-Lughod's efforts as a blueprint for my own work.

Notice how in the evaluation, the annotation not only offers an opinion (i.e., that the journal article is compelling). It also provides reasons for why this is so — namely, it argues that the richness of the author's examples are themselves evidence that her method is effective in drawing out more sophisticated studies of pwower and resistance. The point is, when you create your annotation and seek to evaluate, take care to provide more than just an opinion ("it was good," "I liked it," etc.); you also need to provide some sort of evidence as to how you formed that opinion, and/or why that opinion is a valid one to have.

Second, this evaluation highlights one of the weaknesses of the article (at least, as perceived by the person writing the annotation): Abu-Lughod's lack of evidence pointing to the problem that she claims is so widespread (i.e., scholars who celebrate an abstract form of "resistance"). 

Third, the evaluation discusses how and why this particular work fits into the researcher's own scholarly project. This discussion may become easier once you have already summarized and evaluated a resource. Having done this work, the possible usages should become much clearer.

While a critical evaluation of the evidence presented, along with any particular strengths or weaknesses of the piece, are the main building blocks, there are other things that may go into an evaluation, and they're also good to know about. They include:

  • A discussion of how this particular work may fit into a context of some broader scholarly patterns. This one may be for more advanced scholars, once you develop more knowledge or expertise in a given area. Is this particular work breaking entirely new ground, merely following or rehashing the work of others, or taking other arguments and exploring them in a particularly new or notable way? 
  • Currency: Is this information up to date? This is often more important in the sciences and possibly less important in the humanities. But it's often a good thing to consider.
  • Authority: Who wrote this article? What credentials does he or she have to be an authority? The sample mentions that Abu-Lughod is an anthropologist (in fact, she is a highly distinguished one), but there may be reasons — particularly if you think there might be some reason to question the authority of the person(s) behind the resource — to expand this into a fuller discussion.