What is an annotated bibliography
- A bibliography, sometimes referred to as References or Works Cited, is an organized list of sources (e.g., books, journal/magazine articles, Web sites, etc.) consulted in the research process.
- Each source in the bibliography is represented by a citation that includes the author (if given), title, and publication details of the source.
- An annotated bibliography is a bibliography with an additional description or evaluation (i.e., annotation) of each source.
- The purpose of the annotation is to help the reader evaluate whether the work cited is relevant to a specific research topic or line of inquiry.
Annotations versus abstracts
- Abstracts are brief statements that present the main points of the original work. They normally do not include an evaluation of the work itself.
- Annotations could be descriptive or evaluative, or a combination of both. A descriptive annotation summarizes the scope and content of a work whereas an evaluative annotation provides critical comment.
What the annotation includes
Generally, annotations should be no more than 150 words (or 4-6 sentences long). They should be concise and well-written. Depending on your assignment, annotations may include some or all of the following information:
- Main focus or purpose of the work
- Intended audience for the work
- Usefulness or relevance to your research topic (or why it did not meet your expectations)
- Special features of the work that were unique or helpful
- Background and credibility of the author
- Conclusions or observations reached by the author
- Conclusions or observations reached by you
Which citation style to use
There are many style manuals with specific instructions on how to format your annotated bibliography. The style you use may depend on your subject discipline or the preference of your instructor. Whatever the format, be consistent with the same style throughout the bibliography.
Consult our guide on how to cite correctly for examples of how to format citations in different styles such as the MLA, APA, Chicago.
Sample citations and annotations
Below are 2 sample annotations (The citations are in APA Style and are based on the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 5th edition.)
Book citation example with brief descriptive annotation (APA)
Liroff, R. A., & G. G. Davis. (1981). Protecting open space: Land use control in the Adirondack Park. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.
This book describes the implementation of regional planning and land use regulation in the Adirondack Park in upstate New York. The authors provide program evaluations of the Adirondack Park Agencys regulatory and local planning assistance programs.
Journal article citation example with evaluative annotation (APA)
Gottlieb, P. D. (1995). The “golden egg” as a natural resource: Toward a normative theory of growth management. Society and Natural Resources, 8, (5): 49-56.
This article explains the dilemma faced by North American suburbs, which demand both preservation of local amenities (to protect quality of life) and physical development (to expand the tax base). Growth management has been proposed as a policy solution to this dilemma. An analogy is made between this approach and resource economics. The author concludes that the growth management debate raises legitimate issues of sustainability and efficiency.
Just getting started? Know your terminology?
A bibliography is a list of resources in an appropriate citation format – MLA, APA, Chicago, etc. An annotated bibliography is different from a standard bibliography in that each citation also contains a concise, paragraph-long summary of the resource’s purpose and content, plus an evaluation of how each source (book, database article, web site, etc.) applies to your chosen topic.
An annotated bibliography is often assigned as a preliminary bibliography to help you plan your paper. A preliminary annotated bibliography is a list of resources that you could possibly use to write your paper. It is not necessarily the same as the list you will turn in with your final paper.
An annotated bibliography may also be the final bibliography for your paper. This means that you must include every source you actually used in writing the paper.
Process for Writing an Annotated Bibliography
- List the completed bibliographical citation.
- Explain the main purpose of the work.
- Briefly describe the content.
- Indicate the possible audience for the work.
- Evaluate the relevance of the information.
- Note any special features.
- Warn readers of any weakness, defect, or bias.*
Annotated Bibliography MLA Citation Examples
College Databases, Scholarly Article:Also notice that the following example shows how to cite two authors, and notice that the citations are double-spaced. Also note that the annotation (summary) starts immediately after the citation. It is not put into a separate paragraph.
Tabor, Monica C., and Robert L. Lancaster. “Ethics and Education in Sixteenth Century England.” New Journal of British History 24:4 (2011): 12-22. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. This article discusses the major moral issues of sixteenth-century college education in England. Topics include the closing of schools and the forfeiture of college properties to the crown during the reign of King Henry VIII. Described are strategies used by schools attempting to avoid such forfeiture, and the role of monks and college professors as martyrs for their faiths. The authors are clear that they favor the separation of church and state. They are less clear on how sixteenth–century colleges in England could have avoided their fate at the hands of Henry VIII.
Print Format: Example for Book in Print:This example shows a book with three authors.
Jones, Tamara, George Smith, and Angela Jones. A Study on Essential Racial Issues in Canada. New York: Scribner, 2010. Print. The authors attempt to support their claims that racial issues in Canada have never been as wide-spread or as inflammatory as race problems in the United States. Based on a review of the literature of hundreds of articles and books about race relations in both countries, this work also gives historical data and statistics that students may find useful, including twenty-three comparative charts. However, the writing suffers from a wordy style which slows reading almost to a standstill. In general, this book attempts to provide a thorough, academic-level discussion of an issue that may not have needed proving in the first place.
Magazine Article from a Print Source:
Williams, Lee. "Fears on DNA Studies Still Abound." Newsweek 14 Mar. 2012: 22-24. Print. Williams, a journalist not a scientist, claims that fears of "Andromeda Strain" types of genetic disease are unfounded. Dr. James D. Watson, co-discoverer of DNA, is quoted saying that no one since the discovery of DNA has suffered such a disease. Also mentioned is biologist Robert Schinsheimer who admits that fears are less justified than originally thought but who also fears that genetic engineering could result in a new route for the transmission of cancer. This short article attempts to provide the general public with a balanced and up-to-date overview of the issue.
The spacing in annotations found on this handout is based on Annotated Bibliography Format, page 130, MLA Handbook (7th ed.).
*Process for Writing an Annotated Bibliography.” LEO: Literacy Education Online. St. Cloud University. 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 2012.