Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
UMW Libraries
Simpson Library | Special Collections

FSEM 100M9: Down the Rabbit Hole: Home

Meet your librarian

Your assignment

You're writing an annotated bibliography. What does that mean?

  • "Annotated" means "with notes."
  • A bibliography is a list of sources.

Therefore, an annotated bibliography is a list of sources with notes on each source.

Examples of annotated bibliographies can be found on this page from Columbia College in Canada:

What you're looking for: Scholarly sources

The sources in your bibliography should all be scholarly sources, not popular sources.

  • Scholarly sources are written for a narrow audience of scholars (experts who specialize in a certain field).
  • Popular sources are written for a broad, general audience.

This video explains the differences:


Video credit: Carnegie Vincent Library at Lincoln Memorial University.


Use Quest to search the library's physical collection and the contents of most of the library's electronic databases.

Quest Logo
Search articles, books, and more...

Other tools you can use

The Wikipedia logo

Background information
"Background information" means short overviews or summaries of a topic. The top Google results for any given topic are usually background information, including sites such as Wikipedia. You can also find background information in print encyclopedias. Simpson Library has a large collection of print encyclopedias in the Reference section on the first floor.

Background information is really useful. It's meant to be used when you're first starting your research. It helps you familiarize yourself with a new topic. However, do not cite background information. The reason why you shouldn't cite it is that it is not original. It merely repeats and summarizes what other people have said. It's better to get the information straight from the original source.



You can use Quest to search all subjects, or use individual databases to search specific subjects (such as English literature). Out of the 200+ databases that UMW subscribes to, these are the most useful databases for English literature topics:

Depending on your topic, you might also look in databases that cover other subjects. For example, if you're researching Victorian photography or cartooning, you might look in our art databases. The list of pre-approved topics also includes topics in history, medicine, ethics, physics, and politics.


Cartoon art of a bookBooks in the library

Use Quest to discover books in the library, and then use call numbers to find those books on the shelves. Here's an explanation of how our call numbers work.

Books about Lewis Carroll and the Alice books are shelved on the second floor of Simpson Library, between the call numbers PR 4611 and PR 4612.

Copies of the Alice books are shelved in the Juvenile & Young Adults section of the library, at the call number PZ8 .D666. The Juvenile & Young Adult section is on the first floor of the library, behind the central stairwell. We also have electronic copies of the Alice books, which you can find by searching in Quest and limiting your search to "Full Text Online."

The process

In Dr. Scanlon's description of the assignment, she recommends that you follow these steps:

  1. Choose and narrow a topic.
    • You can choose from the list of pre-approved topics, or you can find your own topic and ask Dr. Scanlon to approve it.. 
    • Choosing a topic requires preliminary research. Do a few Quest searches to see how many sources exist for each topic.  Eventually, you'll need to read dozens of sources on your topic, so before you settle on a topic, make sure that enough sources exist.
    • Some of the topics on the list of pre-approved topics are very broad. If you start with a broad topic, it's up to you to narrow it down. This requires reading. "Narrow it down" means this: read lots of sources, discover what aspects of the topic scholars are writing about, and then focus on one of those aspects.
  2. Find four excellent sources.
    • In this context, "excellent" means scholarly and relevant.
    • You'll need to read dozens of sources in order to pick out the four best sources for your topic
    • Use Quest and/or the library databases.
    • Use citations! Whenever you see a list of citations, think of it as a list of suggested sources for further reading. If a cited source looks interesting, go find that source and read it.
    • Try to get a sense of what the most recent scholarly work is saying about your topic. This means that at least some of your sources will need to be recent -- no more than 20 years old, and the newer the better.

Please see the official assignment description for more advice and instructions.

My presentation to your class

Here are the PowerPoint slides for my presentation to your class. Click in the lower right corner to expand the slides to full screen.



Reference Librarian

Profile Photo
Peter Catlin

Other guides

Advice and recommendations for FSEMs in general, and for English literature research.

The Citing Resources guide gives you examples of perfectly-formatted citations. Zotero is a free app that keeps track of the sources you've found, and generates citations without any typing.