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Writing an Annotated Bibliography

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

A bibliography is a list of sources such as journal articles, books, or websites used in research. An annotated bibliography is also a list of citations to research sources, with the difference that a brief critical or descriptive note called an annotation follows each citation.

Why Write an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography can fulfill many purposes. The following are common reasons for compiling an annotated bibliography:

  • record the results of initial research prior to writing an essay (i.e. "Here is what I have learned so far from these particular sources.")
  • demonstrate that you have found relevant sources and that you understand how they relate to your essay’s thesis or general purpose
  • list and describe sources which provide useful background to your topic (E.g. different critical perspectives or historical coverage of your topic)

Before you begin, be sure you understand the requirements and purpose of your annotated bibliography.

Format for Bibliographic Citations
An annotated bibliography entry has two parts: the bibliographic citation and the annotation. The bibliographic citation contains author, title and publication information.  Use the same bibliographic citation format as you would for any bibliography, works cited or reference list. It will follow a standard documentation style such as MLA or APA.

This is an example of a bibliographic citation for a journal article in MLA documentation style.

Platt, Kevin M. F. "History and Despotism, or: Hayden White vs. Ivan the Terrible and

Peter the Great." Rethinking History 3:3 (1999) : 247-269.

Be sure to ask your instructor which documentation style to use before you begin.

Types of Annotations

Simply put, an annotation is a critical or explanatory note. Just as there are different reasons for writing an annotated bibliography, there are different types of annotations.  Annotations do one of more of the following:

  • describe the content and focus of the book or article (Summary)
  • evaluate its method, conclusions, or reliability (Evaluation)
  • record your reactions to the source. (Evaluation)
  • suggest the source’s usefulness to your research (Context)

A summary briefly describes the contents of a source without adding any evaluative comments. In your own words, highlight the central argument and the main topics discussed by the author(s). Remember that a summary does not include any judgement or assessment of the source, it merely describes the contents.

An annotation that evaluates a source will offer judgment and your opinions. You may evaluate different aspects of the source such as

  • reliability (can the information be trusted?)
  • currency (is the information up to date?)
  • authority (are the authors experts in their field?)
  • accuracy (is the information correct?)
  • scope (does the author offer a broad overview or an in-depth examination of a topic?)
  • Ask yourself what the author’s purpose was and whether you think he or she accomplishes it. You can also comment on the author’s bias or use of particular theories.

Place in Context of Your Research
An annotation that considers a source in the context of your research will comment on the source’s usefulness to you and on how it compares to your other sources. You may want to point out similarities and differences amongst your sources (e.g. same theoretical point of view, different examples, same main argument, different methodology, etc.) You may also comment on how a source relates to your own thesis. (Does a source support your argument or oppose it?)

Keep in mind that a single annotation may offer summary and evaluation of a source and then discuss it in relation to your research.

Helpful Books & Library Research Guides at the Connecticut College Libraries
Harner, James L.  On compiling an annotated bibliography. 2nd ed. – New York: Modern Language Association, 2000.  Reference Desk Z2001 H33 2000

Citation Guides for Print and Electronic Resources” Connecticut College Libraries.

The Roth Writing Center, Connecticut College.

Online Guides to Writing An Annotated Bibliography
OWL Writing Lab, "Annotated Bibliographies"

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center, "Academic Writing: Annotated Bibliography"

Modified by permission from:                                                         

University of Toronto at Mississauga Library.  “How to Write an Annotated Bibliography” Developed and Updated by UTM Librarians, maintained by Susan Kernohan.

Beth Hansen   3/4/2004. Updated 1/23/09

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