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Complete Guide on How to Write An Annotated Bibliography

    Table of Contents (Click to Navigate to any section)

Definition of Bibliography Structure of Annotated Bibliography
Definition of Annotation How to Write an Annotated Bibliography
Definition of Annotated Bibliography Why Write an Annotated Bibliography
Components of Annotated Bibliography Annotated Bibliography vs Abstract
Purpose of Annotated Bibliography Citation Styles for Annotated Bibliographies
DONTS when writing Annotated Bibliography Examples of Annotated Bibliographies
Types of Annotated Bibliographies Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
References and Further Reading

What is a bibliography?

Before you understand what an annotated bibliography is, you should know what “bibliography” means.

A Bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, Web sites, periodicals, articles, newspapers, sections of books, etc.) that one has employed in their research.

Bibliographies are sometimes called “References” or “Works Cited” depending on the citation, referencing style or format you are using.

A bibliography usually just includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher, etc.).

What is an annotation?

An annotation is a summary and/or descriptive and analytical evaluation of the source.

An annotation briefly reiterates the main argument of a source.

An annotation of an academic source, for example, typically identifies its thesis (or research question, or hypothesis), its primary methods of investigation, and its key findings.

Keep in mind that identifying the argument of a source is a different task than describing or listing its contents.

Rather than listing contents, an annotation further accounts for the inclusion of the materials that are in the source.

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

The synonym word for annotated is “explained, interpreted, marked up, noted, marked or glossed”.

This implies that an annotated bibliography is a described regular bibliography that is written at the end of a written document.

The explanation and interpretation form the comments which are also referred to as annotations.

The standard definition of an annotated bibliography “is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents which contain a brief descriptive or evaluative paragraph of the work included in the sources.”

In other words, an annotated bibliography or annotated bib is a bibliography (a list of books or other works) that includes descriptive and evaluative comments on the sources cited in your paper.

An annotated bibliography provides a brief account of the available research on a given topic.

It is a list of research sources that includes succinct descriptions and evaluations of each source.

The annotation also contains a brief summary of content and a short analysis or evaluation.

Depending on your assignment you may be asked to reflect, summarise, critique, evaluate or analyse the source.

What are the differences between annotated bibliographies and normal bibliographies

The main difference between annotated bibliographies and the standard straightforward bibliographies is that each reference in the annotated bibliography is followed by a paragraph length annotation, usually 100–200 words in length, unlike in ordinary lists at the end of written documents.

Like any bibliography, the entries or research sources in an annotated bibliography are alphabetically listed.

In addition to bibliographic data; an annotated bibliography provides a concise summary of each source and some assessment of its value or relevance.

Depending on your assignment, an annotated bibliography may be one stage of a larger research project, or it may be an independent project standing on its own.

An annotated bibliography may be a component of a larger project, or it may be a stand-alone assignment.

While an annotation can be as brief as one sentence, the standard annotated bibliography consists of a citation followed by a short paragraph of approximately 150 to 300 words depending on the instructions and the content being interpreted.

Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and some appraisal of each of the sources.

This guide just provides a general guideline using standard procedures; you may seek further clarification from your faculty members for specific instructions.

The Main components (Checklist) of an annotated bibliography

  • Full bibliographic citation

    An annotated bibliography must contain the necessary and complete bibliographical information i.e.(author, title, publisher and date, etc.),

  • Author’s Background

    You should provide the name, authority, experience, or qualifications of the author.

  • Purpose of the work

    You should provide the reasons why the author wrote the work

  • The Scope of the work

    You should state the breadth or depth of coverage and topics or sub-topics covered.

  • Main argument

    State the main informative points of the paper

  • Audience

    For whom was it written (general public, subject specialists, students…)?

  • Methodology

    What methodology and research methods did the work employ?

  • Viewpoint

    What is the author’s perspective or approach (school of thought, etc.)? Do you detect an unacknowledged bias, or find any undefended assumptions?

  • Sources

    Does the author cite other sources, and if so, what types? Is it based on the author’s own research? Is it personal opinion? …

  • Reliability of the source

    How reliable is the work?

  • Conclusion

  • What does the author conclude about the work? Is the conclusion justified by the work?
  • Features

    Any significant extras, e.g. visual aids (charts, maps, etc.), reprints of source documents, an annotated bibliography?

  • Strengths and Weaknesses

    What are the strengths and weaknesses of the work?

  • Comparison

    How does the source relate to other works done by other writers on the topic: does it agree or disagree with another author or a particular school of thought; are there other works which would support or dispute it?

  • Your Voice / Personal Conclusion

    Provide your point of view of the work or your reaction to the source based on other available works, prior knowledge of the subject matter or knowledge pools done by other researchers.

What is the Purpose of an Annotated Bibliography?

This answers the question “Why are annotated bibliographies so important for the students or researchers?”

The annotated bibliography serves many purposes including the following; informing the reader of the summary, relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

The DON’TS when writing your annotated bibliography

In-text Citations: Since annotations are written below the bibliography referenced, it is not necessary to write in-text citations. The in-text citations are only used in the main document.

Writing Too Much: Annotations should be concise and to the point. Save your many words for the thesis, book, dissertation or research paper.

Writing a summary: Annotations are not mere summaries. Unless stated otherwise, you must have assessments and evaluations of the most important points after which you weigh the strengths and weaknesses and then present your perspective. You shall find more on this as you read this document.

Types of annotated bibliographies

It is impossible to describe a standard procedure for all kinds of annotations because one annotation does not fit all purposes.

There are diverse types of annotations, depending on what might be most important for your reader or according to your professor’s instructions.

To know the best type of annotated bibliography, it is prudent to consult your instructor or follow the instructions.

For example, if the assignment states that your annotative bibliography should give evidence proving an analytical understanding of the sources you have used, then you are supposed to write an analytical annotated bibliography which includes evaluation of the sources you are using.

There are three types of annotated bibliographies; summary annotations, critical annotations and a combination of both.

Summary annotations

Summary annotations are further classified into informative and indicative annotations.

The following are the main features of summary annotations:

  • They show an account of the source content
  • They highlight the arguments and proofs/evidence mentioned in the work
  • They sometimes describe the author’s methodology and any theories used
  • They offer the conclusion of the source
  • They do not evaluate the work they are discussing

Informative annotated bibliographies

Informative annotations provide a straight summary of the origin material.

They summarise all relevant information about the author and the main points of the work.

To write it, begin by writing the thesis; then develop it with the argument or hypothesis, list the proofs, and state the conclusion.

Indicative annotated bibliographies

Indicative annotations do not provide actual information from the source.

They provide overall information about what kinds of questions or issues are addressed by the work, for example, through chapter titles.

In the indicative entry, there is no attempt to give actual data such as hypotheses, proofs, etc.

Critical/evaluative annotations

This is the second classification of annotated bibliographies.

Evaluative annotated bibliographies do more than just summarising; they provide critical appraisals.

It evaluates the source or author critically to find any biases, lack of evidence, objectives, etc.

It shows how the work may or may not be useful for a particular field of study or audience.

It explains how researching this material assisted your own project.

Combination annotations

This type of annotated bibliography combines elements of all the types listed above.

Many annotations fall into this category: They are made from a little summarising and describing, a little evaluation of the sources.


Structure of an annotated bibliography

Length: Annotations should be one paragraph long. Many annotations are written in approximately 100 to 200 words with a goal of brief and explicative annotations

Person: The third person is the regular person of expression though the first person may be appropriate for certain types of annotated bibliographies and for presenting your personal opinions.

Language and Vocabulary: Annotations use official language. It is important to use the author’s vocabulary correctly to convey the ideas and conclusions of the author without losing meaning. In all cases, avoid vague statements.

Sentence Format: Always use whole sentences. Single and straightforward descriptive words and phrases or lists may also be used.


How to write an annotated bibliography

The process of writing annotated bibliographies is easy.

In this section, you shall learn how to make your annotated bibliography step by step.

Writing an annotated bibliography depends on the type of work for which you are writing, the writing style used and university regulations.

In all cases, please follow the instructions given by your instructors if in doubt of anything.

It is important to adhere to the professor’s directions because word length, citation styles and some formatting styles vary from one learning institution to another.

Creating an annotated bibliography calls for the application of a variety of intellectual skills: concise exposition, succinct analysis, and informed library research.

First, locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic. Briefly, examine and review the actual items.

Then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.

The specified length of your explanations will determine how detailed your summary is.


Questions that should guide you when setting out to write an annotated bibliography

  1. What topic/ problem are you investigating?
  2. What question(s) are you exploring?
  3. What is the aim of your literature research?
  4. What kinds of material are you looking at and why?
  5. Are you looking for journal articles, reports, policies or primary historical data?
  6. Are you judicious in your selection of texts?
  7. Does each text relate to your research topic and assignment requirements?
  8. What are the essential or critical texts on your topic?
  9. Are you finding the important points relevant to the current study?
  10. Are the sources valuable or often referred to in other texts?


Summarising the source material

The annotated bibliography should provide a brief summary of the source.

An annotated bibliography gives an account of the research that has been done on a given topic.

To write the best summary, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who is the author of the source material?
  2. What are the author’s main arguments in the source?
  3. What is the point of this book or article?
  4. What topics are covered?
  5. If you are asked for the general information in the source, what would you say?


Assessing the source material

After creating a summary of the source, it is prudent and helpful to evaluate it.

Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  1. Was the source useful?
  2. Does this article fill a gap in literature?
  3. How would you be able to apply this method/study to your particular study?
  4. Is the article universal?
  5. Did it provide the necessary information about the topic you were researching?
  6. What information is missing according to other authors?
  7. How does the information in the source compare with other sources in your bibliography?
  8. Can you rely on the information provided by the source?
  9. Does the author of the source have any biasedness or objective?
  10. What is the goal of the source?
  11. What is the tone of the author?


Reflecting on the source material

After summarising and assessing the annotated bibliography, it is important to ask how it fits into your research.

Some of the questions answered in this section of the annotated bibliography include the following:

  1. Was the source helpful to you?
  2. How does the source help in shaping your argument?
  3. How can the source assist you in carrying out your research project successfully?
  4. Has the source changed how you think about your topic?


Why should you write an annotated bibliography?

Writing an annotated bibliography is the best preparation for writing a research project.

In as much as collecting sources for a bibliography is useful; writing annotations for all sources enhances better understanding of the sources.

Writing an annotated bibliography enables you to read more critically instead of just collecting information.

Professional authors and researchers use annotated bibliographies at professional levels to determine the research topics which have already been done in their areas of study. Therefore, the annotated bibliography helps in identifying research gaps which should be bridged.

The annotated bibliographies help researchers and writers to formulate a good thesis through the arguments generated and support it through the evidence gathered. Since the development of a debatable, interesting, and current thesis is a crucial stage in writing dissertations, theses and research papers, annotations are necessary.

Annotations help you in finding what other researchers have said about the research topic and the most current information about a particular subject.

By reading and reacting to a variety of sources on a particular topic, you will start seeing what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and you will then be able to develop your point of view.

Annotations help you in presenting your own point of view on a given topic. It allows you to agree, disagree or critique the source.

Your extensive and scholarly annotated bibliography may help other researchers in your field especially if it is published.

By writing the annotated bibliography, you will learn more about your topic, become an expert and understand the topic better

It helps in reviewing works of other people and enhances your research and writing skills.

The annotated bibliography helps to display the depth and quality of the reading that you have done. When set as an assignment, an annotated bibliography allows you to get acquainted with the material available on a particular topic.

The annotations provide insights on the available sources such as books, journals, articles, magazines and websites that contain useful information that may be of interest to other readers and researchers


 What are the differences between an annotated bibliography and an abstract?

Annotated bibliographies are descriptive and critical; they explain more about the author’s point of view, clarity and appropriateness of expression, and authority in addition to giving a brief summary.

Annotated bibliographies are standalone in that; no full document comes after the annotations.

Annotations are typically written by a different person other than the author of the work.

Abstracts are the purely descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes.

Abstracts do not have any critical appraisal or the author’s perspective of the work.

Abstracts are written to capture the summary of a written work, usually at the beginning of the work, to give a general overview. Abstracts are written by the author of the work.


How to do Critical Appraisal of Books, Articles, Or Documents

If you want to do the key assessment of any written document, you should click this link on guidance in critically appraising and analysing the sources for your bibliography, How to Critically Analyse Information Sources.

Choosing the best formatting style

How to choose the appropriate style / format for the citations of your annotated bibliography

Annotated bibliographies are written according to standard citation styles.

The most common citation/ referencing styles include Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) styles, Harvard, Chicago, Turabian, ISO 690, GHOST, IEEE, Oxford, AMA, ASA, Vancouver and many others.

Before you can use any style, please consult your instructor to find out which style is preferred for your class.

You may also check the assignment specifications or in your university or college website.

Formats of writing annotated bibliographies

Annotated bibliographies contain two main sections; the bibliographic information section and the annotations section.

Since the formats may slightly vary from one institution to another depending on the regulations, courses and materials being annotated, it is imperative to ask for specific guidelines.

The bibliographic information

The bibliographic information is written before the annotation using the suitable referencing style. The information is typically indented using a hanging indent.

Though, the bibliographic information of the source (the title, author, publisher, date, etc.) is written in either MLA or APA format. For more help with formatting, you can learn more here MLA handout for MLA or visit APA handout for APA.

The annotations

The annotations for each source are written in paragraph form.

The lengths of the annotations can vary significantly from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages.

The length will depend on the purpose.

If you’re just writing summaries of your sources, the annotations may not be very long.

However, if you are writing an extensive analysis of each source, you’ll need more space.

You can focus your annotations for your needs.

A few sentences of general summary followed by several sentences of how you can fit the work into your larger paper or project can serve you well when you go to the draft.


Examples of Annotated Bibliography Entry for A Journal Article

APA format annotated bibliography:

Waite, L. J., Goldschneider, F. K., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review, 51 (4), 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

MLA format annotated bibliography

Note that the MLA style employs double spacing within citations.

Waite, Linda J., Frances Kobrin Goldscheider, and Christina Witsberger. “Nonfamily Living and the Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults.” American Sociological Review 51.4 (1986): 541-554. Print.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

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References and Further Reading

For further studies on annotated bibliographies, please refer to the following references:

Annotated Bibliography.” The Writing Center. 2003. University of Wisconsin, Madison.
5 March 2004 <http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/AnnotatedBibliography.html>.

Concordia University Library Annotated Bibliography Guide

The University of California, Santa Cruz Annotated Bibliography Guide

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