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What is an Annotated Bibliography

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Sometimes researchers want to know more about the context of a source, and why the writer has chosen to focus on it in their work. That’s where annotated bibliographies come in.

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, documents, etc. Normally, a works-cited page or reference list simply displays each source in a citation. However, in an annotated bibliography, each citation is followed by a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph. This paragraph is known as the “annotation,” and is usually only about 100-150 words long.

The purpose of an annotated bibliography is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, location, and quality of the sources cited in the paper or work. Always check with your instructor first to see if an annotated bibliography/works-cited page is appropriate for your paper.

The following example uses APA format (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition, 2010) for a journal citation. While the format for the citation itself would change if you used a different style, such as MLA format, the format of the annotation itself would remain the same:

Annotated Bibliography example


What Is An Annotated Bibliography?

If you generally enjoy searching for information and finding interesting sources, then you’ll probably appreciate assembling an annotated bibliography. Annotated bibliographies require students and researchers to seek out and analyze sources that relate to a research topic.

The guide on this page will help answer the question, “What is an annotated bibliography?” and provide guidance on how to write an annotated bibliography.

Assembling Your Annotated Bibliography

Perhaps your teacher assigns you a topic such as “study habits of high school students” or “vaccinations in the 21st century.” To create your bibliography, scour the Internet, databases, and other trustworthy sources to find materials that discuss the topic at hand. After finding high-quality sources that directly correlate with the topic, simply add them to your bibliography.

An annotated bibliography includes three items: an introduction, a citation for each source, and a brief write-up of each source. These write-ups are the actual annotations.

In the introduction to your bibliography, include the topic, the array of sources included in the assignment, and the search methods used to find the sources. Were any databases extremely helpful? Did you use resources from your library? Are any journal articles or research studies included? Use the introduction to provide the reader with enough information to understand the scope of the assignment.

After writing the introduction, the next portion is the listing of citations and annotations.

Find out from your instructor if they’d prefer the citations to be placed in a specific citation style. Follow the guidelines below to properly organize your bibliography. Your librarian is another helpful resource when learning how to write an annotated bibliography.

Creating an Annotated Bibliography in MLA Format

If you’re creating your citations in this specific citation style, BibMe’s citation generator can save you time by helping you instantly produce your citations. BibMe creates citations for books, journal articles, court cases, and many other types of sources. If you’d also like detailed instructions, or you’re looking for further clarification, click here to access BibMe’s MLA format citation guide.

Directly below each citation is the annotation. Annotations range in length from a few sentences to a short paragraph, and they provide the reader with an understanding of what the source is OR an evaluation of the source as it relates to the topic. Choose one of the two types of annotations: an overview of the source or a critical analysis. Do not combine them both in your annotations.

If providing a summary of each source, make sure to share the main points and key details. It may help to begin with a short description of each part of the source: the beginning, middle, and end. Keep it brief and concise: the annotation should only be a few sentences to a short paragraph. Make sure that the annotations are easy to read and flow well.

If providing an evaluation of the source, share your personal evaluation as it relates to the topic. How does the source help you understand the topic? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the source? Analyze the source and determine its effectiveness in relation to the topic.

When it comes to organizing your citations and annotations, there are options. You can choose to place the citations in alphabetical order by the first word of the citation, in chronological order by date published, or in order of subtopic. For instance, if your topic is vaccinations in the 21st century, you may want to arrange your bibliography into logical subgroups: Hepatitis B sources, Measles sources, Tetanus sources, etc.

Creating an Annotated Bibliography in APA Format

The American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual, in its 6th edition, does not provide any guidelines or standards for creating an annotated bibliography in this specific citation style. Therefore, BibMe cannot provide you with official guidelines for developing the layout or the annotations. What BibMe can help you with is creating your APA citations. BibMe’s automatic citation generator helps you format your citations for books, newspaper articles, dissertations, and many other source types.

We can provide you with suggestions to help you develop your annotations in this citation format. Since this citation style is the official style used in many scientific fields, it would be beneficial to include a brief overview of the scientific research study, the methodology, and the outcome in a few, brief sentences.

Still asking yourself, “What is an annotated bibliography?” Have more questions on how to write an annotated bibliography? Many colleges and universities have guidelines posted on their library or program’s website. Ask your librarian or teacher for help with determining the acceptable or required format for your assignment.

Annotated Bibliography Example

Below are two annotated bibliography examples to provide you with an idea of how an entry in a bibliography could look.

Research Topic: Perseverance

The annotated bibliography example below is written in MLA and provides an overview of the source.

Weir, Andy. The Martian. Broadway Books, 2014.

During a NASA mission on Mars, astronaut Mark Watney and his crewmates encounter a deadly dust storm. Mark is blown away and the other astronauts aboard Ares 3 presume him to be dead and head back to Earth. Mark awakens to find himself alone and without the resources he needs to survive. Using his intelligence, skills, and innovative methods, Mark is able to restore communication, recycle breathable air, and create a farming area in one of the most unlivable places in the universe.

The annotated bibliography example below is written in APA and provides a critical analysis of the source:

Weir, A. (2014) The martian. Broadway Books.

This easy-to-read novel provides a riveting look into the mind’s ability to overcome all odds. Mark Watney is destined for failure and doom numerous times, yet he never quits. Other themes include loneliness, fear, and sacrifice. These challenges make it hard to persevere, yet Mark finds a way.

If you need more examples of annotated bibliography, click here.

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