Bibliography Assignment for Freshman Composition

[I like to give freshman this bibliography assignment at the start of the semester for several reasons. It signals to them that they are going to have to go beyond the ‘5 paragraph essay’ model, and it reminds them of the importance of formatting rules, teaches paraphrasing and summary, and allows us to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of memory and memoir. Please feel free to use this in any way that you like. I would love to hear about it, too, so if you do find this page useful drop me a line [jamesraywatkins at] or leave a comment below.]

Paper 1: Encounters with Books

Introduction: What is literacy and why is it important?

Professors, grandparents and parents all seem to agree that reading and writing are one key to success, however defined. Simple literacy is a skill acquired early on in our lives, but we go to college to become literate in a more complex way. Your task in college, then, is to begin to figure out not how to read, but what to read. This is less a matter of quantity — the number of books or newspapers or articles — than quality and purpose.

One part of any college education, then, is figuring out why you need to read, what good reading is, and then coming to some conclusions about what you should work towards in further developing your literate tastes. Since all of you have spent many years in schools already, this task is well under way. Arguably, as an educated professional, this process will continue the rest of your life. Our goal here is to try to become a little more aware of our literacy and so perhaps gain a better understanding of our tasks in this class and in college. To do so, you will compile an annotated bibliography of the texts that are most important to you; it should be around 1000 words, or approximately 2 pages long.

Your Task:

In this assignment, I want you to begin to articulate your own literate tastes by compiling an annotated bibliography of the eight most important books in your life to date. Using standard MLA bibliographic style (works cited format, alphabetical order, etc.), I want you to explore what each book has meant to your life as a literate, educated person. Remember to consider your audience carefully: since they don’t know much about you, and may not have read the book, you will have to give us some context for each book and your life when you read it as well provide a very brief summary. We will go over the format in more detail in class. Here is what the MLA style looks like.

Questions to Consider:

Among the many things we might need to know about each book: How old were you when you read it? What was going on in your life, in your family, or in the world that made this book so crucial to you? Why this book was so important to you: did you read it for (aesthetic) pleasure? If so, what sort of pleasure? Did you read it for some particular, perhaps functional reason? Maybe it was a schoolbook that explained why the sky is blue, for example, in a way that made sense. Or maybe it was a book that you felt helped you better understand your parents or yourselves. Did someone give it to you, or did it play a role in a friendship? Every sort of book counts, serious or otherwise, from childhood to high-school textbooks to novels to collections of poetry.

Books have many and varied purposes, of course, so there is no right answer. The point here is to try to articulate these purposes to an audience of readers who may have very different ideas about the role of literacy in life and who know little about you as a person. (Books, of course, are not the only texts we may need or want to read as literate members of the middle class, but because they require a more or less substantial time commitment I believe they can be used to illustrate the most significant sorts of literate encounters in our lives.) Just collect a list of books, put them into the MLA format, and then try to explain to us why you chose these particular texts. This assignment cannot be longer than 1000 words, so being concise and specific is paramount.

Further information on Annotated Bibliographies from the Purdue OWL:

And the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison:

“Top 32 Effective Tips for Writing an Annotated Bibliography”:

3 Thoughts on “Bibliography Assignment for Freshman Composition

  1. Thanks for sharing this useful information! Hope that you will continue with the kind of stuff you are doing.

  2. Thanks for the share!

  3. Sarah Prielipp on August 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm said:

    Great assignment. I will definitely be using this and I am going to have students upload their bookprint to: — a blog post about the bookprints at:

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