When we do research, we are trying to understand what other people have said about a complex question in order to inform our own understanding of the question and to help us generate our own ideas about the question. We engage in research when there is a question that intrigues us, something that inspires our curiosity. Hopefully what we find in the research process will also inspire our creativity and our own thoughts about the topic.
When we engage in research what we're really doing is entering into a conversation. There are a lot of people in the world who are also interested in the same topic you are. They may have different questions, or have come to different conclusions, but they are talking about the same things. When we read articles and books, we are listening to what they had to say, and when we write, we are saying something back. Sometimes we're taking the conversation in a new direction. Sometimes we're introducing new evidence or a new perspective on an old question.
When you are presenting on your topic for your class, you want to introduce them to the conversation that is taking place on your topic. You want to summarize what other people have said on the topic so that they could also jump into the conversation. For this assignment, it's less important that you come up with your own idea and more important that you understand the conversation that is already taking place and can describe it to someone else.
A bibliography is a list of all the sources you've used in your research that have informed your knowledge and ideas.
If we continue to think about the conversation metaphor, your bibliography is where you tell your audience and your professor who you've been talking to. You need to give them enough information in your bibliography that they can also go and find the article and book and read the person's ideas for themselves.
Your citations help your reader do several things: It tells them when the ideas in the paper or presentation are yours and when they come from someone else. It allows them to determine for themselves whether the material you're citing really supports your argument, and it allows them to decide for themselves if the original argument was a good one.
You may wonder why there are so many different citation styles. Each discipline has their own preferred citation style, because in each discipline, there is certain information about the conversation that is considered the most important. Different disciplines use different types of sources most frequently, and consider different information about a citation to be most important.
Although many tools currently exist to help you cite sources automatically, it's good to become familiar with the citation style you'll be using most frequently in your major, by creating your bibliography by hand.
Source notes are helpful not only for your professor, but for you as well! Taking notes while you're reading is proven to help you absorb and process information better.
While you're reading, keep a notebook next to you and write down what you think is the question the author is trying to answer in the article. Make note of that answers she seems to be proposing, as well as what you think the main idea or thesis of the article is. Write down whatever questions the article raises for you as you read, including terms and ideas you're not familiar with.
The source notes you turn in should tell your reader what the main idea of the source is, and provide a summary of the evidence the author has used to prove her main idea.