Annotated Bibliography

Organize your research efforts and extend your thinking on a research topic by creating an annotated bibliography.

An annotated bibliography is a list of reference sources and critical summaries/evaluations of the citations. Typically, researchers will:

  1. Provide the citation information for each source following the rules of a particular bibliography style (e.g., MLA Style, APA Style, Chicago Style). Logically, you want to use the citation style in your bibliography that you will use in your research report. Examples of citation sources include books, articles, Internet sites, newspapers, and audiovisual materials.
  2. List each reference source in alphabetical order. Occasionally researchers will introduce themes to their annotated bibliographies, essentially introducing headings for each theme and then organizing citations and summaries according to the themes that are emerging.
  3. Provide a brief (100- to 200-word) descriptive and evaluative summary of each source. Researchers may address the relevance of the reference source, summarize the unique findings or arguments, include judgments regarding the quality of the source, and critique the methods employed by the source to generate knowledge.

Sample Annotated Bibliography Format

Begin the Annotated Bibliography after the body of the paper and at the top of a new page. The title should be centered and presented in plain type.

1. Bibliographic Reference:

[Author: Last Name, First Name.] [Name of book, article, document] [Publisher Information]
[Date of Publication] [Page Numbers, if appropriate]

2. 100- to 200-Word Summary:

  1. Audience, purpose, voice, tone, persona, media. Conduct a rhetorical analysis, evaluating the source’s intended audience, purpose, scope, and so on.
  2. Relevance? Importance? Is the source timely, controversial, and/or focused on matters related to your research project? Are the results significant? Is the argument persuasive?
  3. Authority of the researchers. What universities or corporations support the research? Is the researcher or research team frequently cited by others? Is the source published by a credible publishing company? Is it peer-reviewed?
  4. Significant findings and arguments.
  5. Research methods: Are the researchers employing appropriate research methodologies? Are the methodologies fairly standard, i.e., have the researcher’s methods been used by past researchers?
  6. Quality of the research or article. Is it thorough?

Who Reads Annotated Bibliographies?

There tend to be three major audiences for annotated bibliographies: the authors of the annotations, instructors, and other researchers.

Self as Audience

Many people find it useful to craft an annotated bibliography while researching topics. Writing brief summaries of the research you consult, whether you’re researching newspapers, journals, books, or videos, helps you to remember these sources over time. More than that, by writing critical evaluations of the research you consult, you will identify common themes and methods. You will find what research is commonly cited on a topic, what methods are employed, and what a community of scholars believes needs additional inquiry.

Instructors as Audience

In college and university contexts, instructors often require students to craft annotated bibliographies as a preliminary step to writing a formal research paper. Asking students to construct an annotated bibliography enables instructors to ensure that students understand the bibliography style for citing references. It helps ensure the student has consulted a variety of timely and reputable sources.

Other Researchers

Occasionally, professionals will actually publish their annotated bibliographies. This happens in research fields where a lot of information is being published. Professional researchers often begin their survey of research by finding annotated bibliographies on a topic that interests them.

Tips for Constructing Annotated Bibliographies

Compiling an annotated bibliography enables you to carefully keep track of the sources you use while conducting research. It can be quite annoying and frustrating to be forced, after completing your research and writing, to return to the library or Internet to retrieve the information you need to properly cite these works. In the case of books, this frustration intensifies when you discover that other people have subsequently checked out your materials. Regarding Internet research, there isn’t necessarily any guarantee that the site you consulted for your research/writing will still be accessible (or even exist at all) when  you need to consult it for bibliographic information for your in-text citations/Works Cited page, etc.

When asked to write an annotated bibliography, check to ensure that you understand the form of documentation that you will need to follow. Then, be sure that you record on the copy of the photocopied material all of the bibliographical facts that you will need to cite in the bibliography—such as the author’s name, the journal name and volume number, or the book title and publisher; the city and date of publication (if available) and the page numbers. Fortunately, in most scholarly journals and some commercial magazines, this information is already printed on the title page of each essay. If it isn’t, you had better record it now; otherwise, you may need to retrace your steps and, as explained above, it would be unfortunate if you were unable to locate your source/s, especially if a deadline is imminent.
(Consider using software to construct your annotated bibliography. Experienced researchers sometimes use bibliography software to compile their annotated bibliography.)

Sample Annotated Bibliographies