What is an Annotated Bibliography?
An annotated bibliography is a list of sources (books, articles, other publications) that provides an overview of the available research on a topic by summarizing, interpreting, or evaluating each entry. It usually consists of citations followed by short paragraphs of 150–250 words.
Purpose of an Annotated Bibliography
The purpose of such annotation lists is not only to show your professor that you have done your job (although it can sometimes feel like that)—it is to describe and categorize the literature on the topic you are researching, and to critically analyze how relevant or meaningful each source is for your current work, how accurate the findings are, and whether the conclusions drawn by the authors are justified. Creating an annotated bibliography is also a great way for you to familiarize yourself with and review the material available on a particular topic, and to take systematic notes that help you organize your thoughts and identify gaps in the existing literature or issues that might be worth exploring further.
Each entry in an annotated bibliography consists of a citation and the “annotation“, a short paragraph that summarizes or evaluates the source. Whether you need to simply describe or critically evaluate or analyze each source depends on your assignment and/or the purpose of your bibliography.
Annotation summary or evaluation paragraphs should usually be arranged alphabetically, according to the author’s last name, and need to be in line with the required citation style (more on that below).
How to Write an Annotated Bibliography
To create an annotated bibliography, you first need to do a careful library search: find articles, books, and other sources that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic. Then examine every item in your preliminary list and choose the works that provide the necessary information.
Next, create a citation for each book, article, or document following the required style guide.
Finally, add an annotation that summarizes/evaluates the central theme and scope of the work.
1) Analyze Your Study’s Sources
Not every work that has ever been published on your topic needs to be included in your bibliography—choosing the most relevant ones is a very important part of creating an annotation list. You also need to consider whether your annotated bibliography is a stand-alone assignment that simply provides an overview of a certain field or issue or whether it represents preliminary research into a specific research topic.
How to choose sources for your annotations
Start by reading abstracts to identify and select relevant sources, and keep the following points in mind:
– your research topic and important keywords
– your research question
– specific methods or the range of methods that have been/are being used
– whether you are creating an overview or identifying a gap in the literature
– the kind of data (experiments, meta-analyses,…) you are interested in
– the quality of each source (e.g., often cited versus famously criticized works)
Taking notes will help you organize your sources from the start and will make writing annotation paragraphs much easier. Your notes could contain the following details:
– the study’s theoretical approach
– the methods used and if they seem appropriate
– the main points or findings
– how the main findings relate to other research
– how the main findings relate to your topic
– the author’s interpretation or conclusion (and whether you agree)
While your annotation should mainly focus on the source, not the authors or their work in general, it can help your selection of valuable sources to check credentials as well as the publisher or journal where you found an article. You don’t want to put too much emphasis on dubious and obscure publications—unless, of course, a “bad” study received particular attention for being biased, containing errors, or not being in line with the required standards in the field and thereby sparked controversy or inspired debates. Such cases might need to be included in an overview of a topic, alongside seminal papers and works that are cited by every new publication in the field. Pay attention to when studies were published as well, since your analysis should represent the timeline of developments appropriately while being up to date with the current literature.
2) Create Annotations: Annotation Types
You can create annotations in different ways, depending on the purpose of your literature analysis. You can simply describe and summarize a source, evaluate it, or combine both approaches.
Descriptive or informative annotations, as their name says, provide a full citation for a source followed by a simple description. They can list the main arguments and even the names of parts or chapters within a book, but do not assess its value or reflect on how useful it might be for your specific purpose.
Have a look at the example below that is taken from the Online Writing Lab of Purdue University. As you can see, this annotation paragraph only contains descriptive expressions and does not offer any judgments or opinions.
Descriptive annotated bibliography example
Davidson, Hilda Ellis. Roles of the Northern Goddess. London: Routledge, 1998.
Davidson’s book provides a thorough examination of the major roles filled by the numerous pagan goddesses of Northern Europe in everyday life, including their roles in hunting, agriculture, domestic arts like weaving, the household, and death. The author discusses relevant archaeological evidence, patterns of symbol and ritual, and previous research. The book includes a number of black and white photographs of relevant artifacts.
Evaluative annotations assess and critically analyze the work a source presents, by comparing it to other publications, evaluating how trustworthy or questionable its findings are, whether it addresses an issue from various angles or has a limited scope, and whether it used the appropriate methods and made a significant contribution to the literature. By doing this, you demonstrate why each source in your list is essential and relevant.
In the example below (again taken from the Purdue Writing Lab), you see that the descriptive summary of the book is followed by a paragraph that assesses the author, how she did her research, and how valuable her findings therefore are.
Evaluative annotated bibliography example
Ehrenreich, B. (2001). Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. Henry Holt and Company.
In this book of nonfiction based on the journalist’s experiential research, Ehrenreich attempts to ascertain whether it is currently possible for an individual to live on a minimum-wage in America. Taking jobs as a waitress, a maid in a cleaning service, and a Walmart sales employee, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow workers, and her financial struggles in each situation.
An experienced journalist, Ehrenreich is aware of the limitations of her experiment and the ethical implications of her experiential research tactics and reflects on these issues in the text. The author is forthcoming about her methods and supplements her experiences with scholarly research on her places of employment, the economy, and the rising cost of living in America. Ehrenreich’s project is timely, descriptive, and well-researched.
As you have seen in the last example, annotations come in different formats and can be adapted to your purpose. If the “summary + evaluation” format in the last example is not sufficient for your bibliography, you can add a comparison of the source with another one you have cited or an explanation of how this work is relevant for your topic to your annotation.
Annotation writing style
Annotations should usually consist of full sentences, but whether you split them up into different paragraphs depends on whether you restrict yourself to a summary or whether you also provide a critical evaluation of the source and maybe discuss its relevance for your own work. Sources can also be annotated using short phrases, but this format is more appropriate for personal bibliographies for the purpose of collecting and organizing literature, rather than for stand-alone assignments or research papers.
3) Annotated Bibliography Format and Examples
When you have collected all the information you think is relevant and written your annotation paragraphs, it is important that you format your list according to your faculty’s or journal’s preferred citation style. In the following, we will show you how the three main bibliography styles (MLA, APA, and Chicago) differ when it comes to annotation lists.
APA annotated bibliography example
Your annotated bibliography very likely has to follow American Psychological Association (APA) style if you write a scientific or technical article. This means that each list entry includes a full APA citation and that APA formatting is used for headers and title.
MLA annotated bibliography example
Modern Language Association (MLA) annotation style is usually required in the arts and humanities. A difference to APA style is for example the surname in the header.
Chicago annotated bibliography example
There are two different versions of Chicago Style source citations: (1) notes and bibliography (preferred in the humanities, sources are cited in numbered footnotes or endnotes) and (2) author-date (more common in the sciences and social sciences, sources are cited in parentheses in the text).
Literature Review vs Annotated Bibliography
A literature review is a collection of sources that provides an overview of existing research on a specific topic. It is usually part of dissertations, theses, and research papers, but can also be a stand-alone publication. The purpose of such a comprehensive review is to identify gaps in existing and opportunities for further research, evaluate existing methods and approaches, and introduce a study’s research question or hypothesis to the reader.
An annotated bibliography, on the other hand, is a list of source references with short descriptions and (optionally) critical evaluations, usually presented as a stand-alone paper. An annotated bibliography is often part of the research process itself rather than part of a manuscript/article that describes the study once it is finished.
|Literature review||Annotated bibliography|
|Purpose||Overview of a topic or problem; summarizes, evaluates, and compares themost relevant sources in thefield||List of sources for additional reading and research, withbrief evaluations of credibility and relevance|
|Text structure||Sources are integrated into continuous text that develops a timeline or topical overview; a source can be mentioned more than once, as needed||Sources are separate and ordered alphabetically|
|Logical structure||Introduces the topic, evaluates and synthesizes sources, and draws conclusions||Each list entry starts with a full citation, followed by a summary and (optional) evaluation paragraphs|
Frequently Asked Questions about Annotated Bibliographies
What are the parts of an annotated bibliography?
An annotated bibliography has a title and consists of a list of citations that are each followed by an annotation. The annotation itself can just be a summary or also provide an evaluation or critical analysis.
What are the different types of annotations?
Annotations can be descriptive/informative (i.e., simply summarize the source), or they can be evaluative (i.e., provide a critical assessment). Most annotated bibliographies contain combinations of summaries, evaluations, and critical analyses, depending on the specific purpose of the work.
How long is an annotated bibliography?
As a general rule, annotations should be about 4 to 6 sentences long (150–250 words).
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