How to write an annotated bibliography
An annotated bibliography is a list of source references that includes a short descriptive text (an annotation) for each source. It may be assigned as part of the research process for a paper, or as an individual assignment to gather and read relevant sources on a topic.
An annotated bibliography can fulfill various purposes, from simply describing the sources to evaluating them and describing their importance for your own research.
An example of an evaluative annotation in APA Style is shown below:
Step 1: Finding and selecting sources
The first step is to find appropriate sources. If the annotated bibliography is part of the research process for a paper, your sources will be those you consult and cite as you prepare the paper. Otherwise, the scope of your assignment and your choice of topic will guide you in what kind of sources to look for.
Make sure that you’ve clearly defined your topic, and then consider what keywords are relevant to it. List different variants of the relevant terms so that you don’t miss anything.
Sources can include journal articles, books, and other source types, depending on the scope of the assignment. Read the abstracts or blurbs of the sources you find to see whether they’re relevant to your topic, and try exploring the bibliographies of relevant sources to discover more. If a particular source keeps being cited, it’s likely to be important.
Step 2: Reading and evaluating
Once you’ve selected an appropriate range of sources, read through them, taking notes on each source that you can use to build up your annotations later. You may even prefer to write your annotations as you go, while each source is fresh in your mind.
What you’re looking for in the sources will depend on the kind of annotations you have to write. Consider the instructions you’ve been given or consult your instructor to determine what kind of annotations they’re looking for: descriptive, evaluative, or reflective.
- Descriptive annotations: When the assignment is just about gathering and summarizing information, focus on the key arguments and methods of each source.
- Evaluative annotations: When the assignment is about your evaluation of the sources, you should also assess the validity and effectiveness of these arguments and methods.
- Reflective annotations: When the assignment is part of a larger research process, you need to consider the relevance and usefulness of the sources to your own research.
These specific terms won’t necessarily be used; the important thing is to understand the purpose of your assignment and pick the approach that matches it best.
Step 3: Writing up your annotations
For each source, start by writing a full reference that gives the author, title, date, and other information. The exact format depends on the type of source (e.g., a book or journal article) and the citation style you’re using. The most common styles are APA, MLA, and Chicago.
The annotations themselves are usually between 50 and 200 words in length. This can vary depending on the word count of the assignment, the relative length and importance of different sources, and the number of sources you include, but try to aim for this as a guideline.
APA Style examples are shown below for the different types of annotation: descriptive, evaluative, and reflective.
A descriptive annotation summarizes the approach and arguments of a source in an objective way, without attempting to assess their validity.
In this way, it resembles an abstract, but it differs in that you’re describing the source’s approach explicitly rather than just summarizing the ideas it expresses. You should never just replicate text from a source’s abstract, even though you’ll naturally cover similar ground.
The annotation example shown below describes an article about the relationship between business regulations and CO2 emissions.
For example, the following annotation describes, and evaluates the effectiveness of, a book about the history of philosophy.
A reflective annotation is similar to an evaluative one, but it focuses on evaluating the source’s usefulness or relevance to your own research.
Reflective annotations are often required when the point is to gather sources for a future research project, or to assess how they were used in an already-completed project.
The annotation below assesses the usefulness of a particular article for the author’s own research in the field of media studies.
Step 4: Getting the format right
Once you’ve written your annotations, it’s important to make sure they’re formatted according to the guidelines of whatever style guide you’re working with. Three common styles are covered below: APA, MLA, and Chicago.
The reference entry itself should have a hanging indent. The annotation follows on the next line, and the whole annotation should be indented to match the hanging indent.
The first line of any additional paragraphs should be indented an additional time.
The Works Cited entry has a hanging indent. The first line of the annotation and those of any subsequent paragraphs are indented.
The annotation should be indented, double-spaced, and left-aligned. The first line of any additional paragraphs should be indented an additional time.
Frequently asked questions about annotated bibliographies
- What is an annotated bibliography?
- What types of sources should I use in an annotated bibliography?
- How do I write an annotation for a source?
The content of the annotation varies according to your assignment. An annotation can be descriptive, meaning it just describes the source objectively; evaluative, meaning it assesses its usefulness; or reflective, meaning it explains how the source will be used in your own research.