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Annotated Bibliographies 101

What is a bibliography?

A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, etc.) you used for researching your topic. Bibliographies are sometimes called "References" or "Works Cited." A bibliography includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher, etc.).


What is an annotation?

An annotation is a summary and/or evaluation.


What is an annoted bibliography?

An annotated bibliography includes a summary and evaluation of each of the sources you used for researching your topic. Your annotations should do the following.

  • Summarize: What are the main arguments? What is the point of this book or article? What topics are covered? If someone asked what this article/book is about, what would you say?

             For more help, see the Purdue OWL's page on paraphrasing sources.

  • Evaluate: Is it a useful source? How does it compare with other sources in your bibliography? Is the information reliable? Is this source biased or objective? What is the goal of this source?

             For more help, see the Evaluating tab in this guide.

  • Reflect: Once you've summarized and evaluated 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?


How long should the annotations be?

Generally, annotations are one paragraph, with a goal of concise and explicative annotations. Usually one or two sentences summarizing or describing content, one or two sentences providing an evaluation, and a final sentence or two on your reflection.


What is the format?

For the bibliographic information, cite your souces according to the format required. Whichever format you use, be consistent! See the Citing tab in this guide for information.

The annotations for each source are written in paragraph form. The paragraph should contain a statement of the work's major thesis, from which the rest of the sentences can develop.


How should it be organized?

Usually annotated bibliographies are arranged alphabetically although sometimes they are organized chronologically, by format (books, journals, etc...), or by topic.


Why write an annotated bibliography?

To learn about your topic: Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project. 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.

To help you formulate a thesis: 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.

Adapted from the Purdue OWL's "Annotated Bibliographies" page and the Lucy Scribner Library, "Writing an Annotated Bibliography."

Writing an Annotated Bibliography


Remember, an annotated bibliography is more than just a list of citations.  An organized citation list in the proper format is important, but, there needs to be more content.  Each annotation needs to include two important points:

1.  An analysis of the overall quality of the resource

2.  An analysis of how useful/applicable the resource is to the given project or thesis

Determinig the Quality of a Resource – CASA

·        Currency – give the publication date.  How does this affect the value of the resource in the context of your project?

·        Authority – is the author reputable; do they have a credible institutional affiliation; a background or expertise in the area under discussion? Is there something about the publisher that adds to the value of the resource?

·        Scope – does this contain marginal or extensive coverage of your subject; is it a primary, secondary or tertiary source? For whom does this seem intended and/or whom would it serve best?

·        Accuracy – is the information correct, verifiable and consistent? Is the source fact, opinion, propaganda, biased in any way?


Also keep in mind:


·        Include your overall assessment for each resource – what distinguishes the source from others like it? How would you characterize its quality?

·        A good annotated bibliography needs to begin with an introduction explaining your thesis and the point of the research.

·        Keep in mind that your annotations should be stylistically correct and well written. 

·        Use the writing center!!  Writing annotated bibliographies is still writing and the writing center can help.


 This is adapted from the methods of M. S. Lowe and K. Wallace, Drake Law Librarians.

Scripps Writing 50 Worksheet

Worksheet for use in all fall 2013 Scripps Writing 50 classes