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Writing Annotated Bibliographies: Getting Started

This guide will provide information on how to write an annotated bibliography.

What is an Annotated Bibliography

What is an annotated bibliography?

The annotated bibliography adds descriptive and evaluative comments (i.e., an annotation), assessing the nature and value of the cited works. The addition of commentary provides the future reader or researcher essential critical information and a foundation for further research.

Composition

While an annotation can be as short as one sentence, the average entry in an annotated bibliography consists of a work's citation information followed by a short paragraph of three to six sentences, roughly 150 words in length. Similar to the literature review except for the shorter length of its entries, the annotated bibliography is compiled by:

  • Considering scope: what types of sources (books, articles, primary documents, Web sites, non-print materials) will be included? how many (a sampling or a comprehensive list)? (Your instructor may set these guidelines)
  • Conducting a search for the sources and retrieving them
  • Evaluating retrieved sources by reading them and noting your findings and impressions
  • Once a final group of sources has been selected, giving full citation data (according to the bibliographic style [e.g., APA, Chicago, MLA] prescribed by your instructor) and writing an annotation for each source; do not list a source more than once

Annotations begin on the line following the citation data and may be composed with complete sentences or as verb phrases (the cited work being understood as the subject)—again at the discretion of the instructor. The annotation should include most, if not all, of the following:

  • Explanation of the main purpose and scope of the cited work
  • Brief description of the work's format and content
  • Theoretical basis and currency of the author's argument
  • Author's intellectual/academic credentials
  • Work's intended audience
  • Value and significance of the work as a contribution to the subject under consideration
  • Possible shortcomings or bias in the work
  • Any significant special features of the work (e.g., glossary, appendices, particularly good index)
  • Your own brief impression of the work

Although these are many of the same features included in a literature review, the emphasis of bibliographic annotation should be on brevity.

Purpose

Not to be confused with the abstract—which merely gives a summary of the main points of a work—the annotated bibliography always describes and often evaluates those points. Whether an annotated bibliography concludes an article or book—or is even itself a comprehensive, book-length listing of sources—its purposes are the same:

  • To illustrate the scope and quality of one's own research
  • To review the literature published on a particular topic
  • To provide the reader/researcher with supplementary, illustrative or alternative sources
  • To allow the reader to see if a particular source was consulted
  • To provide examples of the type of resources available on a given topic
  • To place original research in a historical context

Format for an annotated bibliography

Elements of an Annotated Bibliography

QuickLINKS on Annotated Bibliographies

Additional Library Guides for Writing Annotated Bibliographies