How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

What are Annotated Bibliographies?

Annotated bibliographies bear a close resemblance to lists of sources concerning a given topic and they additionally provide a short evaluation or description of each particular source.

An annotated bibliography is made up of two specific elements, which are

  1. detailed information about the source e.g. name of author, title of work, publication date, and so on,
  2. a short paragraph with a summary or description of the source itself.

Students are often instructed to create an annotated bibliography as a stand-alone document before they commence work on larger projects such as a research paper. This allows professors to see if a student read all the material related to their assignment. An annotation discusses different aspects of the source it refers to.

In any case, students are advised to adhere to the instructions their professor(s) provide since some types of annotation expect the writer to sum-up a book’s content while others only expect an evaluation of the author’s main point(s), idea(s), and so on.

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Writers Should Do the Following When Creating an Annotated Bibliography:

  • Research their chosen topic and review any literature that currently exists on this topic. Note that you should only consider recent sources.
  • Understand the difference between high quality and relevant academic sources and those that are not reliable and/or relevant.
  • Focus on finding a number of different sources e.g. from articles, books, journals, websites, interviews with experts, and so on.
  • Gather sufficient sources in accordance with the instructions given e.g. peer review sources, print sources, online sources, and so on.
  • Conduct a thorough analysis of all research data and organize this in a systematic manner.

It is not unusual for an annotated bibliography to be compiled before work on a large writing project is complete. This exercise allows students to familiarize themselves with a given topic and the various sources that are available to support it. 

Use a Checklist – Questions to Ask

When compiling this type of bibliography, there are a few questions you should bear in mind as you write. These will help steer you along the right path and help you achieve the best possible grade for your work.

Issue 1 What exactly is the topic you are researching?

Issue 2 What is the research question you are investigating? When reviewing existing literature, do you know what the aim is?

Issue 3 What types of source material match the requirements of your assignment? Should you focus on peer reviewed, print, online, or some other source types?

Issue 4 Do the sources you have chosen match your topic? Have you managed to adhere to the instructions your professor provided?

Issue 5 Have the sources you have chosen been published in recent times?

Issue 6 Do the sources you have chosen add value to your research project?

Tips on Writing Annotations

  • Do not forget that each annotation should meet a specific word count, which is usually specified in the task’s instructions. Each annotation should be short and concise e.g. they should be a summing-up rather than an essay. Focus solely on relevant information.
  • An annotation should not include background information, references, or cross-referencing.
  • An annotation should be made up of complete sentences i.e. not shortened phrases or bullet/numbered points.

The Appearance of an Annotated Bibliography

The full source name should be included in an annotated bibliography i.e. the bibliographic information. The remainder should comprise a short annotation.

Annotated bibliography entries should be arranged in alphabetic order. Students are sometimes required to order their sources in other ways e.g. by theme, etc. Typically, an annotation comprises of 100 words to 200 words. However, you should clarify the actual word count requirement with your course instructor.   Moreover, you should carefully check what elements your annotation should include.

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What an Annotated Bibliography Contains

The following points may be included in an annotated bibliography. It is worth noting that these are just suggestions and some of these elements may not be needed in your particular assignment. Furthermore, you should check the word count you are allowed per annotation since this will indicate whether you can address all the following points or omit some of them:  

  • Full name and bibliographic details about the source;
  • Indicate the name of the topic and the scope of your research;
  • Make reference to the main argument(s);
  • Indicate the research methods used – the empirical variety and non-empirical variety;
  • Indicate the targeted audience;
  • Pinpoint potential problems and possible solutions to these;
  • Say how valid and reliable you think the information is;
  • Say what conclusion(s) you have drawn;
  • Indicate how the particular source is useful;
  • Mention any limitations to your research;
  • Offer your opinion on the texts you have read.
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