Final Version of the Annotated Zotero Group Bibliography

I just wanted to post a quick note in a follow-up to last week’s post about my Annotated Zotero Group Bibliography assignment. I’ve finished the assignment, which you can see below. I appreciated all of the comments that I received on the blog and on Twitter about the initial draft. I especially drew ideas from Mark Sample‘s annotated bibliography assignment for his Fall 2009 course. (I’m still working to figure out how to best acknowledge Creative Commons credit on assignments that create for my classes.)

As you’ll see, I decided against having my students read a full book for the assignment, opting instead for articles and book chapters. The last time I taught this class, 95% of the class read the same monograph–primarily due to its length. Since I’m hoping to let the students use this assignment to pursue an idea that they find interesting in class, it seemed important to not focus as much on the length of the sources (although they will certainly be conscious of length).

I also decided to allow only two students to write about each source. This seemed important so that we could honor the concept of what an annotated bibliography is. No one needs duplicate entries on multiple sources. Still, getting a little bit of perspective seemed worthwhile. I quite like Bill Wolff‘s suggestion to have students comment on each other’s entries, but I decided I didn’t have the time to implement that twist this semester.

Finally, I decided to have 3 due dates for the assignment. Doing so will allow me to trouble shoot any problems the students are having with the assignment before the crush at the semester’s end. Moreover, I hope it will disincentivize the tendency for rushed students to glom onto each others’ sources. My one misgiving is that I hate to have students read articles about House of Leaves before we have finished reading the text. But so it goes.

Annotated Zotero Group Bibliography

This assignment asks you to summarize and critically assess 6 sources and contribute them to a shared, collaborative, online bibliography using the Zotero 2.0 beta plug-in ( for Firefox.

Why an Annotated Bibliography?

Annotated bibliographies get students experience with some of the important steps of literary scholarship: finding secondary criticism and digesting it. While I could (and might!) just assign the standard end-of-term research paper, the unintended consequence of doing so often results in students looking around for any quotations they can throw in to meet the arbitrary requirement of sources. I hope that annotated bibliographies provoke students to read the other sources more carefully: reading for the source’s own argument rather than how it can fit into one’s paper that is due in 12 hours. An annotated bibliography requires you to take more time, giving you a chance to see what kinds of conversations go on amongst scholars of contemporary literature.

Part 1: Find
For each of the 3 units of the course, you will find 2 articles or book chapters that comment or expand on the texts and/or subjects we have been considering. An online source must come from a peer-reviewed journal. To find such articles, use the Clemson library databases, such as Arts and Humanities Citation Index, the MLA International Bibliography, JSTOR, Project Muse, and others.

Once you have found your sources, use Zotero to create the bibliographic entry for the text. For most databases as well as books in the Clemson library, it is very simple to have Zotero “grab” this information. Store your sources in a new Zotero collection (so that they will easily stand out from any existing citations you have gathered in the past).

Part 2: Annotate and Tag
For each of source, you will write an annotation that is a minimum of 2 paragraphs. The annotation should provide a summary of the major concerns of the text, perhaps with a representative quote or two, and should indicate how the piece contributes to your body of knowledge about its subject.  For example, you might write about how Hamlet on the Holodeck imagines the changes that will be made to fiction through the ever-increasing use of the computer and also discuss how Murray’s work amplified your conception of the reader’s active role in making meaning from any text.

Once you’ve written your annotation, you will add it to your Zotero entry as a Note. You should also tag your entry with 5-10 relevant keywords or “tags.” These tags can be based on the subject of the source but can also be for other relevant metadata, such as author, title, etc. Finally, add two more tags: (1) your full name and (2) the unit this source is for. Please format the latter as “Unit 1,” “Unit 2,” and “Unit 3.” (N.B. Please notice that you can tag both the entry and your Notes. Your 5-10 tags should be added to the entry. Your name and the unit should be added to both the entry and the Note.)

Part 3: Share
After you have completed your entry, you will drag your source into our class’s group library, Reading Technology (English 465). Once the entry is there, everyone else in the class will be able to see it, and we will have begun to build a shared resource.

If you want to make a change to an entry after you have added it to the group library, you will have to edit it in the library. Changes made to your library will not sync with the group’s library. If you’ve made changes, then, perhaps the simplest thing to do is to delete the copy from the group library and then drag your new copy over. Just make sure you don’t delete others’ work.

Important points

  • At least two of your sources must be on something other/broader than one of the literary works that we’ll read.
  • Only two people may write about each source. If someone has already added the source to the library, add a new Note to the source in the group library that contains your annotation. Be sure to add a tag to the source and to your note note with your full name. See if the original contributor missed some of the tags that you had added to the source, and add those as well.
    • If two people have already written about a source, you’re out of luck. There is no need to wait until the due dates to get started on this assignment. You can also add a source and tag it with your name before you’ve completed the rest of the assignment as a way of staking your claim. Remember, however, that changes you make to your own collection after staking a claim will not automatically sync to the group library.
  • To make sure you don’t lose any of your work, please keep a regular document file somewhere with all of your abstracts. This is a new assignment for me, and I’m sure we’ll run into snags.

Due Dates

The following dates are when your two sources for each unit must be posted to the group bibliography. They must be posted by 2pm, when class starts.

Unit 1: Tuesday, February 9
Unit 2: Tuesday, March 23
Unit 3: Tuesday, April 20

Beginning Steps for Zotero

  1. Download and install Firefox (, if you don’t already have it
  2. Download and install the Zotero 2.0 beta plug-in for Firefox ( N.B. You must use the 2.0 beta plug-in. I have been using this plug-in for months and have had no stability issues whatsoever.
  3. Watch the video explaining Zotero at
  4. Register for a Zotero account at
  5. Join our class group at
  6. Connect your browser’s installation of Zotero to your account, as directed at
  7. If you’d like to know more about Zotero, watch a few more screencasts at

5 thoughts on “Final Version of the Annotated Zotero Group Bibliography

  1. @Amanda This is the first time that I’ve used Zotero for this assignment. So I’ll be sure to report back on the difficulty of adoption.

    @Mark I’m preparing myself for my regular obsessive descent into HoL fascination.

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