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Writing an annotated bibliography.
An annotated bibliography is a list of information sources (e.g. journal articles or book chapters) on a particular topic with a reference accompanied by a brief commentary on each source, known as an annotation . There are two main ways to organise your information sources:
- alphabetically like a reference list; or
- in order of most importance in terms of ‘key texts’ or dominant perspectives in the chosen research field.
The specific elements that you need to incorporate, as well as the structures required, vary between units. This includes the number and type of sources, the referencing styles, as well as what you need to discuss in the annotation. In addition to a descriptive summary, the annotation requires critical reading, which means you analyse and evaluate the text:
- to make an informed judgement about the usefulness of the source content to your topic,
- to identify the contribution it makes and
- to describe its strengths and limitations.
It is important that you carefully check the specific requirements of your task so that you understand exactly what is required.
This resource will outline some of the basic elements of an annotated bibliography, including the purpose of an annotated bibliography and how to structure one.
The purpose of an annotated bibliography
The purpose is to:
- learn about a particular topic through critically reviewing the literature
- provide an overview of the main issues, arguments and research within a particular area
- identify potential variations in interpretations and theoretical perspectives on that topic and/or critiques of dominant perspectives
- identify connections between the information sources
- encourage deeper engagement with individual sources in order to develop your analytical and critical reading skills
An annotated bibliography is sometimes given as an assessment task at the beginning of a research project, or, as an assessment task in the lead up to an essay, to encourage you to survey and reflect on what has already been discovered about your topic. However, it might also be given as a stand-alone assignment to develop your research and critical thinking skills .
Structuring an annotated bibliography
An annotated bibliography is made up of two parts: a reference (in some faculties this is referred to as a citation), and an annotation.
It is important to note that what is included in the reference and annotation will vary between disciplines, so it is essential to check with your assignment instructions or lecturer as to what is expected.
Using and Incorporating Sources
The purpose of an annotated bibliography, why should i write an annotated bibliography.
To learn about your topic:
- Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project.
- Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when you have to write annotations for each source, you’re forced to read each source more carefully. You begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information.
- At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow you to see what has been done or explored by other scholars and where your own research or scholarship can fit into the field.
- Writing an annotated bibliography can help you gain a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, you’ll start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and where/how you can develop your own point of view.
- Formulating a thesis helps you to base your research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to state and support a thesis. So a very important part of research is developing a thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current.
To help other researchers:
- Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published.
- Annotated bibliographies provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic.
- Annotating Sources. Authored by : Claire Mischker and Rachel Johnson. Provided by : University of Mississippi. Project : WRIT 250 Committee OER Project. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
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Q. What is an annotated bibliography and what does it do?
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What is an annotated bibliography and what does it do? Answered By: Stormye Hendrix Last Updated: Aug 16, 2021
What is an annotated bibliography.
An annotated bibliography is an well-organized list of sources (can include a variety of materials, books, documents, articles, web sites, DVDs, etc.) with a paragraph or two that describes, explains, and/or evaluates each entry in terms of quality, authority, and relevance.
What Is the Purpose of an Annotated Bibliography?
- An annotated bibliography may serve a number of purposes, including:
- Provide a review of the literature on a particular subject
- Provide examples of the types of sources available
- Describe other items on a topic that may be of interest to the researcher/reader
- Identify areas for further research
An annotated bibliography may be selective or comprehensive in its coverage. A selective annotated bibliography includes just those items that are best for the topic while a comprehensive (or exhaustive) annotated bibliography attempts to identify everything available on a subject or topic.
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What is an annotated bibliography.
An annotated bibliography provides an overview or a brief account of the available research on a given topic. It is a list of research sources that takes the form of a citation for each source, followed by an annotation - a short paragraph sumarising and evaluating the source. An annotated bibliography may be a stand-alone assignment or a component of a larger assignment.
Purpose of an annotated bibliography
When set as an assignment, an annotated bibliography allows you to get acquainted with the material available on a particular topic.
Depending on your specific assignment, an annotated bibliography might:
- review the literature of a particular subject;
- demonstrate the quality and depth of reading that you have done;
- exemplify the scope of sources available—such as journals, books, web sites and magazine articles;
- highlight sources that may be of interest to other readers and researchers;
- explore and organise sources for further research.
What does an annotated bibliography look like?
Each entry in an annotated biliography has two components:
- a bibliographic citation followed by
- a short paragraph (an annotation) that includes concise descriptions and evaluations of each source.
The annotation usually contains a brief summary of content and a short analysis or evaluation. Depending on your assignment you may be asked to summarise, reflect on, critique, evaluate or analyse each source. While an annotation can be as brief as one sentence, a paragraph is more usual. An example is provided below.
As with a normal reference list or bibliography, an annotated bibliography is usually arranged alphabetically according to the author’s last name.
An annotated bibliography summary should be about 100 - 200 words per citation—check with your lecturer/tutor as this may vary between faculties and assessments. Please also check with your lecturer about the elements each annotation should include.
Steps to writing an annotated bibliography
- Choose your sources - locate and record citations to sources of research that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic.
- Review the items that you’ve collected in your search.
- Write the citation using the correct style.
- Write the annotation.
Questions to consider when selecting sources
The sources for your annotated bibliography should be carefully selected. Start by reading abstracts or skimming to help you identify and select relevant sources. Also keep in mind that, while annotated bibliographies are often ‘stand alone’ assignments, they can also be preliminary research about a particular topic or issue, and further research or a longer literature review may follow. Try to choose sources which together will present a comprehensive review of the topic.
Keep the following questions in mind to help clarify your choices
- What topic/ problem am I investigating?
- What question(s) am I exploring? (Identify the aim of your literature research).
- What kind of material am I looking at and why? Am I looking for journal articles, reports, policies or primary data?
- Am I being judicious in my selection of sources? Does each one relate to my research topic and assignment requirements?
- Have I selected a range of sources? Choose those sources that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic
- What are the essential or key works about my topic? Am I finding them? Are the sources valuable or often referred to in other sources?
Surveying the sources
Take notes on your selected texts as you read. Pay attention to:
- the author’s theoretical approach.
- which parts of the topic are covered.
- main points or findings on the topic.
- the author’s position or argument.
Evaluate and ask questions as you read
Record evaluations in your notes and consider:
- How, and how effectively, does this source address the topic?
- Does it cover the topic thoroughly or only one aspect of it?
- Do the research methods seem appropriate?
- Does the argument seem reasonable?
- Where does it stand in relation to other studies? Agree with or contradict?
How should I write the annotations?
- Each annotation should be concise. Do not write too much—annotations should not extend beyond one paragraph (unless assignment guidelines say otherwise).
- The summary should be a brief outline of argument(s) and main ideas. Only mention details that are significant or relevant, and only when necessary.
- Any information apparent in the title of thesourcel can be omitted from the annotation.
- Background materials and references to previous work by the same author usually are not included. As you are addressing one text at a time, there is no need to cross reference or use in-text citations to support your annotation.
- Find out what referencing style you need to use for the bibliographic citations, and use it consistently.
- In-text citations would usually only be necessary for quotations or to draw attention to information from specific pages.
- Unless otherwise stipulated, you should write in full sentences using academic vocabulary.
Contents of an annotated bibliography
An annotation may contain all or part of the following elements depending on the word limit and the content of the sources you are examining.
- Provide the full bibliographic citation.
- Indicate the background of the author(s).
- Indicate the content or scope of the text.
- Outline the main argument.
- Indicate the intended audience.
- Identify the research methods if applicable.
- Identify any conclusions made by the author/s.
- Discuss the reliability of the text.
- Highlight any special features of the text that were unique or helpful e.g. charts, graphs etc.
- Discuss the relevance or usefulness of the text for your research.
- Point out in what way the text relates to themes or concepts in your course.
- State the strengths and limitations of the text.
- Present your view or reaction to the text.
The citation goes first and is followed by the annotation. Make sure that you follow your faculty’s preferred citation style. The summary needs to be concise. Please note the following example is entirely fictitious.
In the sample annotation below, each element is numbered (see Key).
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This handout provides information about annotated bibliographies in MLA, APA, and CMS.
A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, Web sites, periodicals, etc.) one has used for researching a topic. Bibliographies are sometimes called "References" or "Works Cited" depending on the style format you are using. A bibliography usually just includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher, etc.).
An annotation is a summary and/or evaluation. Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of each of the sources. Depending on your project or the assignment, your annotations may do one or more of the following.
For more help, see our handout on paraphrasing sources.
For more help, see our handouts on evaluating resources .
- Reflect : Once you've summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How does it help you shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?
Your annotated bibliography may include some of these, all of these, or even others. If you're doing this for a class, you should get specific guidelines from your instructor.
Why should I write an annotated bibliography?
To learn about your topic : Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project. Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when you have to write annotations for each source, you're forced to read each source more carefully. You begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information. At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow you to see what has been done in the literature and where your own research or scholarship can fit. To help you formulate a thesis: Every good research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to state and support a thesis. So, a very important part of research is developing a thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current. Writing an annotated bibliography can help you gain a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, you'll start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and you'll then be able to develop your own point of view.
To help other researchers : Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published. They provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic. You may not ever get your annotated bibliography published, but as a researcher, you might want to look for one that has been published about your topic.
The format of an annotated bibliography can vary, so if you're doing one for a class, it's important to ask for specific guidelines.
The bibliographic information : Generally, 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, see our MLA handout . For APA, go here: APA handout .
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 own 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 draft.
What this handout is about.
This handout will explain why annotated bibliographies are useful for researchers, provide an explanation of what constitutes an annotation, describe various types of annotations and styles for writing them, and offer multiple examples of annotated bibliographies in the MLA, APA, and CBE/CSE styles of citation.
Welcome to the wonderful world of annotated bibliographies! You’re probably already familiar with the need to provide bibliographies, reference pages, and works cited lists to credit your sources when you do a research paper. An annotated bibliography includes descriptions and explanations of your listed sources beyond the basic citation information you usually provide.
Why do an annotated bibliography?
One of the reasons behind citing sources and compiling a general bibliography is so that you can prove you have done some valid research to back up your argument and claims. Readers can refer to a citation in your bibliography and then go look up the material themselves. When inspired by your text or your argument, interested researchers can access your resources. They may wish to double check a claim or interpretation you’ve made, or they may simply wish to continue researching according to their interests. But think about it: even though a bibliography provides a list of research sources of all types that includes publishing information, how much does that really tell a researcher or reader about the sources themselves?
An annotated bibliography provides specific information about each source you have used. As a researcher, you have become an expert on your topic: you have the ability to explain the content of your sources, assess their usefulness, and share this information with others who may be less familiar with them. Think of your paper as part of a conversation with people interested in the same things you are; the annotated bibliography allows you to tell readers what to check out, what might be worth checking out in some situations, and what might not be worth spending the time on. It’s kind of like providing a list of good movies for your classmates to watch and then going over the list with them, telling them why this movie is better than that one or why one student in your class might like a particular movie better than another student would. You want to give your audience enough information to understand basically what the movies are about and to make an informed decision about where to spend their money based on their interests.
What does an annotated bibliography do?
A good annotated bibliography:
- encourages you to think critically about the content of the works you are using, their place within a field of study, and their relation to your own research and ideas.
- proves you have read and understand your sources.
- establishes your work as a valid source and you as a competent researcher.
- situates your study and topic in a continuing professional conversation.
- provides a way for others to decide whether a source will be helpful to their research if they read it.
- could help interested researchers determine whether they are interested in a topic by providing background information and an idea of the kind of work going on in a field.
What elements might an annotation include?
- Bibliography according to the appropriate citation style (MLA, APA, CBE/CSE, etc.).
- Explanation of main points and/or purpose of the work—basically, its thesis—which shows among other things that you have read and thoroughly understand the source.
- Verification or critique of the authority or qualifications of the author.
- Comments on the worth, effectiveness, and usefulness of the work in terms of both the topic being researched and/or your own research project.
- The point of view or perspective from which the work was written. For instance, you may note whether the author seemed to have particular biases or was trying to reach a particular audience.
- Relevant links to other work done in the area, like related sources, possibly including a comparison with some of those already on your list. You may want to establish connections to other aspects of the same argument or opposing views.
The first four elements above are usually a necessary part of the annotated bibliography. Points 5 and 6 may involve a little more analysis of the source, but you may include them in other kinds of annotations besides evaluative ones. Depending on the type of annotation you use, which this handout will address in the next section, there may be additional kinds of information that you will need to include.
For more extensive research papers (probably ten pages or more), you often see resource materials grouped into sub-headed sections based on content, but this probably will not be necessary for the kinds of assignments you’ll be working on. For longer papers, ask your instructor about her preferences concerning annotated bibliographies.
Did you know that annotations have categories and styles?
As you go through this handout, you’ll see that, before you start, you’ll need to make several decisions about your annotations: citation format, type of annotation, and writing style for the annotation.
First of all, you’ll need to decide which kind of citation format is appropriate to the paper and its sources, for instance, MLA or APA. This may influence the format of the annotations and bibliography. Typically, bibliographies should be double-spaced and use normal margins (you may want to check with your instructor, since he may have a different style he wants you to follow).
MLA (Modern Language Association)
See the UNC Libraries citation tutorial for basic MLA bibliography formatting and rules.
- MLA documentation is generally used for disciplines in the humanities, such as English, languages, film, and cultural studies or other theoretical studies. These annotations are often summary or analytical annotations.
- Title your annotated bibliography “Annotated Bibliography” or “Annotated List of Works Cited.”
- Following MLA format, use a hanging indent for your bibliographic information. This means the first line is not indented and all the other lines are indented four spaces (you may ask your instructor if it’s okay to tab over instead of using four spaces).
- Begin your annotation immediately after the bibliographic information of the source ends; don’t skip a line down unless you have been told to do so by your instructor.
APA (American Psychological Association)
See the UNC Libraries citation tutorial for basic APA bibliography formatting and rules.
- Natural and social sciences, such as psychology, nursing, sociology, and social work, use APA documentation. It is also used in economics, business, and criminology. These annotations are often succinct summaries.
- Annotated bibliographies for APA format do not require a special title. Use the usual “References” designation.
- Like MLA, APA uses a hanging indent: the first line is set flush with the left margin, and all other lines are indented four spaces (you may ask your instructor if it’s okay to tab over instead of using four spaces).
- After the bibliographic citation, drop down to the next line to begin the annotation, but don’t skip an extra line.
- The entire annotation is indented an additional two spaces, so that means each of its lines will be six spaces from the margin (if your instructor has said that it’s okay to tab over instead of using the four spaces rule, indent the annotation two more spaces in from that point).
CBE (Council of Biology Editors)/CSE (Council of Science Editors)
See the UNC Libraries citation tutorial for basic CBE/CSE bibliography formatting and rules.
- CBE/CSE documentation is used by the plant sciences, zoology, microbiology, and many of the medical sciences.
- Annotated bibliographies for CBE/CSE format do not require a special title. Use the usual “References,” “Cited References,” or “Literature Cited,” and set it flush with the left margin.
- Bibliographies for CSE in general are in a slightly smaller font than the rest of the paper.
- When using the name-year system, as in MLA and APA, the first line of each entry is set flush with the left margin, and all subsequent lines, including the annotation, are indented three or four spaces.
- When using the citation-sequence method, each entry begins two spaces after the number, and every line, including the annotation, will be indented to match the beginning of the entry, or may be slightly further indented, as in the case of journals.
- After the bibliographic citation, drop down to the next line to begin the annotation, but don’t skip an extra line. The entire annotation follows the indentation of the bibliographic entry, whether it’s N-Y or C-S format.
- Annotations in CBE/CSE are generally a smaller font size than the rest of the bibliographic information.
After choosing a documentation format, you’ll choose from a variety of annotation categories presented in the following section. Each type of annotation highlights a particular approach to presenting a source to a reader. For instance, an annotation could provide a summary of the source only, or it could also provide some additional evaluation of that material.
In addition to making choices related to the content of the annotation, you’ll also need to choose a style of writing—for instance, telescopic versus paragraph form. Your writing style isn’t dictated by the content of your annotation. Writing style simply refers to the way you’ve chosen to convey written information. A discussion of writing style follows the section on annotation types.
Types of annotations
As you now know, one annotation does not fit all purposes! There are different kinds of annotations, depending on what might be most important for your reader to learn about a source. Your assignments will usually make it clear which citation format you need to use, but they may not always specify which type of annotation to employ. In that case, you’ll either need to pick your instructor’s brain a little to see what she wants or use clue words from the assignment itself to make a decision. For instance, the assignment may tell you that your annotative bibliography should give evidence proving an analytical understanding of the sources you’ve used. The word analytical clues you in to the idea that you must evaluate the sources you’re working with and provide some kind of critique.
There are two kinds of summarizing annotations, informative and indicative.
Summarizing annotations in general have a couple of defining features:
- They sum up the content of the source, as a book report might.
- They give an overview of the arguments and proofs/evidence addressed in the work and note the resulting conclusion.
- They do not judge the work they are discussing. Leave that to the critical/evaluative annotations.
- When appropriate, they describe the author’s methodology or approach to material. For instance, you might mention if the source is an ethnography or if the author employs a particular kind of theory.
Informative annotations sometimes read like straight summaries of the source material, but they often spend a little more time summarizing relevant information about the author or the work itself.
Indicative annotation is the second type of summary annotation, but it does not attempt to include actual information from the argument itself. Instead, it gives general information about what kinds of questions or issues are addressed by the work. This sometimes includes the use of chapter titles.
Evaluative annotations don’t just summarize. In addition to tackling the points addressed in summary annotations, evaluative annotations:
- evaluate the source or author critically (biases, lack of evidence, objective, etc.).
- show how the work may or may not be useful for a particular field of study or audience.
- explain how researching this material assisted your own project.
An annotated bibliography may combine elements of all the types. In fact, most of them fall into this category: a little summarizing and describing, a little evaluation.
Ok, next! So what does it mean to use different writing styles as opposed to different kinds of content? Content is what belongs in the annotation, and style is the way you write it up. First, choose which content type you need to compose, and then choose the style you’re going to use to write it
This kind of annotated bibliography is a study in succinctness. It uses a minimalist treatment of both information and sentence structure, without sacrificing clarity. Warning: this kind of writing can be harder than you might think.
Don’t skimp on this kind of annotated bibliography. If your instructor has asked for paragraph form, it likely means that you’ll need to include several elements in the annotation, or that she expects a more in-depth description or evaluation, for instance. Make sure to provide a full paragraph of discussion for each work.
As you can see now, bibliographies and annotations are really a series of organized steps. They require meticulous attention, but in the end, you’ve got an entire testimony to all the research and work you’ve done. At the end of this handout you’ll find examples of informative, indicative, evaluative, combination, telescopic, and paragraph annotated bibliography entries in MLA, APA, and CBE formats. Use these examples as your guide to creating an annotated bibliography that makes you look like the expert you are!
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
American Psychological Association. 2010. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association . 6th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Bell, I. F., and J. Gallup. 1971. A Reference Guide to English, American, and Canadian Literature . Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzburg. 1991. Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Writing , 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford Books.
Center for Information on Language Teaching, and The English Teaching Information Center of the British Council. 1968. Language-Teaching Bibliography . Cambridge: Cambridge University.
Engle, Michael, Amy Blumenthal, and Tony Cosgrave. 2012. “How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography.” Olin & Uris Libraries. Cornell University. Last updated September 25, 2012. https://olinuris.library.cornell.edu/content/how-prepare-annotated-bibliography.
Gibaldi, Joseph. 2009. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers , 7th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America.
Grasso, Michael. 2004. “Speech Recognition Annotated Bibliography” (Website). University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Department of Computer Science. https://www.csee.umbc.edu/~mgrass2/dissert/annbib.html .
Huth, Edward. 1994. Scientific Style and Format: The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers . New York: University of Cambridge.
Kilborn, Judith. 2004. “MLA Documentation.” LEO: Literacy Education Online. Last updated March 16, 2004. https://leo.stcloudstate.edu/research/mla.html.
Spatt, Brenda. 1991. Writing from Sources , 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s.
Memorial University. n.d. “How to Write Annotated Bibliographies.” Memorial University Libraries. Accessed June 14, 2019. https://www.library.mun.ca/researchtools/guides/writing/annotated_bibl/ .
University of Kansas. 2018. “Bibliographies.” KU Writing Center. Last updated April 2018. http://writing.ku.edu/bibliographies .
University of Wisconsin-Madison. 2019. “Annotated Bibliography.” The Writing Center. Accessed June 14, 2019. https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/assignments/annotatedbibliography/ .
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