How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

What are Annotated Bibliographies?

Usually, annotated bibliographies provide a short explanation of any existing research sources on a particular topic. Essentially, they are lists of sources with a brief evaluation and description of each one.

An annotation is actually a brief description that summarises a source’s content and provides a short evaluation or analysis of that source. A writer can be asked to analyse, summarise, evaluate, or reflect on a particular source.    

Often, annotated bibliographies are part of a bigger project although they can be stand-alone lists. While annotations may be as brief as a single sentence, it is usual for these to be made up of a particular citation or reference along with a concise descriptive paragraph.

NB: The guidance provided in this article is quite general. It is highly recommended you adhere to the instructions provided with each individual assignment and, if required, ask your tutor or lecturer for clarification.

What Purpose Does an Annotated Bibliography Serve?

While much depends on a particular assignment, the following are some of the purposes that annotated bibliographies serve. Essentially, they:

  • Review any available literature on a specific subject;
  • Show how much a writer has read and the quality of that material;
  • Demonstrate the extent and/or amount of available sources, e.g., articles, books, journals, websites, etc.
  • Draw attention to any sources that might be interesting or useful to other students and/or researchers;
  • Examine, organise and highlight various areas for further or future research.

When given as assignments, annotated bibliographies enable the writer to get to know what material is available on a given topic.

Key Considerations

In What Formatting Style Should Your Annotations be Written?

  • It is important that every annotation is concise and not too wordy. Keep in mind that you are summarising sources and not writing an essay. Stick to one paragraph at most unless you have been instructed otherwise. Confine yourself to those details that are relevant and important.
  • You do not need to include any information that is already mentioned or obvious in a source’s title.
  • There is no need to include any background information or any references to other work by a particular author. Cross-referencing and/or in-text citations explaining an annotation are not necessary since one text is being addressed at a time.
  • Use full sentences and scholarly vocabulary unless you have been instructed to do otherwise.

What is an Annotated Bibliography Like in Appearance?

An entry in an annotated bibliography begins with information about a citation or source. After this, you should write a short annotation.

As is the case with any bibliography or list of references, annotated bibliographies should be presented in alphabetic order under author surname. Each entry should be around 100 words to 200 words in length, but double-check with your tutor since length can vary from one assignment and/or institution to another. Your tutor will also clarify what should be included in your annotations. 

What Should an Annotated Bibliography Contain

Say how a source relates to any concepts or themes of the course the assignment is being written for.

Tips for Writing an Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is often included as a part of an academic paper (an essay, a research paper, a term paper or a dissertation) and it comprises of a detailed description of sources used in the paper. To put it simple, an annotated bibliography reminds a simple reference list with the only difference that each bibliographical entry is briefly summarized. One of the basic annotated bibliography tips is that each source entry should consist of a concise discussion including a summary, analysis, and evaluation part.

A common misconception is that an annotated bibliography is easy to write in comparison with the main body of the paper. However, it often comes as a surprise that the annotated bibliography may sometimes require even more time, especially if there is a long list of sources. Therefore, do not underestimate the task and be diligent and attentive when searching for the sources and choosing the right ones.

First of all, spend sufficient amount of time to choose credible and updated sources (preferable taken from scholarly resources). Second, make sure that the sources are relevant to the topic and that they contain valuable ideas for topic analysis and discussion. All in all, to choose proper sources, you need to skim read all of them and decide which of them are the best for your work. After you have decided on the sources and their number, it is significant to come up with proper bibliography formatting (MLA, APA, Chicago or Harvard among others). It is crucial to clarify with your professor or academic supervisor which style should be used.

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