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Music Research Tutorial

Research Tutorial for Music Papers

Joining the Conversation

For your second tutorial module, please work through the five sections below, watching videos and taking a few minutes to try the activity in the gray boxes. A final, optional, box is included to show some of the implications of these ideas beyond your project.By the end of this module, you'll be able to:

  • Identify some of the major threads of conversation in scholarly literature in your topic.
  • Use an annotated bibliography as a step in the research process. 
  • Understand why and how to cite your sources to engage in scholarly conversations in an ethical way.

Once you've started finding useful sources, it's important to keep track of what you've read, and where you found it. This helps you keep track of the information and conversations you encounter, so that you can remember to include it in your paper, and so you can cite it correctly. It also helps you to identify patterns and conversations happening in the fields you're studying. There are lots of ways to keep track of your research: you can use a citation or notes app for big projects, use a spreadsheet research log, or just keep a running text document. An annotated bibliography distills some of this information into a format that makes sense to another reader, like your instructor or a classmate.

1. What is an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations for various books, articles, and other sources on a topic. The annotated bibliography looks like a Reference List but includes an annotation after each source cited. An annotation is a short summary and/or evaluation of a source. Annotated bibliographies can be part of a larger research project, or can be a stand-alone report in itself. For example:


Tallotte, William. 2018. "Improvisation as Devotion: Nāgasvaram Music and Ritual Communication in Hindu Temple Festival Processions. Ethnomusicology Forum 27:1 (2018): 88-108. doi:10.1080/17411912.2018.1471357

The ālāpana is an unmetered and improvisational genre of music often performed by nāgasvaram ensembles in South Indian Hindu temple festivals. The flexible and improvisational character of the music is important to its use in temple processions because it is seen as providing communication between the musicians and the gods. It also encourages worshipers to be attentive and to have emotional responses. 

Try writing out summaries of 2 or 3 sources from your bibliography that seem similar. What are the most important parts of the source for your research?

2. Why make an annotated bibliography?

As a step in a research project, annotated bibliographies allow you to pull together what you've found so far and communicate that with your instructors. They also give you a chance to look at the "big picture" and see the sources you've read in relation to each other. Are there groups of sources that emerge that seem to talk about the same aspect of the topic, or to answer the same research questions? Are there sources that cite each other, build on each other, or even disagree? Taking a step back to look at summaries of many sources alongside each other will help you identify scholarly conversations that are happening around your topic, and to find opportunities to join them.

Look at the list of sources you've collected so far. Do the titles or shared authors suggest that any common concerns or questions? Look back at the summaries you've written so far. How do the basic claims or "points" of those sources relate to each other?

3. Putting Sources in Conversation

Once you've identified some common questions within the sources you've summarized, you'll want to dive in to one of those conversations in more depth.

Note that this video includes both scholarly sources and popular journalism. The appropriateness of these sources to your topic will depend on the topic and assignment and the details of the source. If you're looking at a content in a magazine or website, find out more about the person who created the content. For example, the video cited in this overview is published by Buzzfeed, but features content by a historian and it's cited in conversation with scholarly sources. The authority of sources is complex: check with your instructor and look at the details of your assignment, to make sure you meet the instructors expectations.

Bibliographies are usually arranged according to alphabetical order, and that's how you'll want to submit your annotated bibliography. But for this exercise, try rearranging it in chronological order. Do you notice any trends over time in what topics were being talked about, or who was participating in conversations? 

4. When should I cite a source in my paper?

Citing your sources is crucial to demonstrating the research you've done, showing your understanding of your sources, and giving credit to others. As you move from your annotated bibliography to the process of writing your paper, you'll need to make sure to cite the sources you use within the paper. Luckily, you'll have your annotated bibliography on hand to help you remember which sources contained which information, and all the citation information.

Citations usually follow one of several "styles," which give you guidance on when and how, exactly, to insert in-text citations, and how to format them. Some of the details might seem a little much, but following the guidelines closely is important to helping your reader understand and use your citations efficiently. Make sure you know which style your instructor prefers, and use our Citation Styles Guide to find information and examples.

Look back at your assignment and check what formatting your instructor has asked for. Find that style on the Citation Styles page, and check the formatting of your bibliography. 


MUS 310 students: Please head back to the Discussion Paper #3 assignment page on the Music 310 Canvas website and answer the writing prompt, which is based on your use of this tutorial and current progress on your Initial Bibliography.

Optional: Plagiarism as oppression

Plagiarism occurs when a person uses someone else's words or ideas without giving them proper credit. Reusing work you did for a previous assignment-- even though it is your own-- is also considered plagiarism. As a college student, there are consequences for academic misconduct like plagiarism described in the UWM Student Handbook, but there are serious repercussions for plagiarism in the professional realm as well.  At best, failing to distinguish your ideas from the work of others can ruin your credibility, at worst plagiarism can perpetuate systems of oppression like racism and gender-based bias (Chakravartty, Kuo, Grubbs, and McIlwain, 2018; Maliniak, Powers, and Walter 2013; King, Berstrom, Correll, Jacquet, and West, 2020).

1. Follow the Thread

Read the Twitter thread embedded as a PDF. In this series of related posts, Dr. Samantha Ege a professional Musicologist and pianist, shares her experience with having her work plagiarized by a powerful colleague. A text-only transcript of the Twitter thread is located below the embedded tweet.

2. Discuss

  • How is what Rodreguez King-Dorset did different from summarizing or paraphrasing Samantha Ege's work?
  • What are some strategies you could use to avoid plagiarism in your writing and research?