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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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Why write an annotated bibliography? Why is it important?

Writing an annotated bibliography is important for the following reasons:

  • to evaluate the authority and credibility of one’s sources
  • to have credible facts and analysis on a topic and be fully informed
  • to assess whether one’s research is sufficient or more research is required

To evaluate the authority and credibility of one’s sources

While researching for a paper, the authority and credibility of the sources used are very important. Sources lacking credibility and authority can lead to a flawed paper that has a high probability of being rejected. A credible source is a verifiable authority with subject matter expertise and relevance to one’s topic. Academic sources, such as journal articles, document their sources to support the information provided, but it is helpful when non-academic sources, such as magazine articles, provide references to sources also. Having this clarity determines whether a source may be usable or not.

To have credible facts and analysis on a topic and be fully informed

Getting facts and analysis helps a researcher to understand the issues associated with the topic and be more fully informed on the subject matter. Creating annotations for sources benefits the researcher by clarifying what each source has to offer on a subject matter. Thus, the researcher is better prepared to write an accurate and informed research paper. While reviewing research sources, one has to put aside personal opinions and biases.

To assess whether one’s research is sufficient or more research is required

While preparing an annotated bibliography, one can evaluate the relevance of sources with regard to the overall purpose of one’s paper. One may find that a source is irrelevant or provides insufficient support for a particular subject or aspect of one’s paper, and thus, further research is needed.

From the above points, it is evident that writing an annotated bibliography helps the researcher to more fully understand the subject matter and better prepares the researcher to write knowledgeably about it.

Are citations for an annotated bibliography different from those of a standard bibliography?

A standard bibliography provides information associated with the sources you are citing in your paper. Typical information may include details like the authors’ names, titles of the sources, publisher names, publication years, and/or URLs. The exact formatting for your citations depends on the style guide you are following.

In addition to the above details, an annotated bibliography also provides an annotation for each source. An annotation is an evaluation or a summary of the source. Each annotation can be up to 150 words and should explain the purpose or goal of citing the source in your paper. The annotation goes on a new line immediately following the citation and should be indented.

What is included in an annotated bibliography annotation in Chicago style?

An annotated bibliography has two parts: a citation part and your annotation which either summarizes or evaluates the source. While Chicago style can be daunting at first due to the twin styles involved, the good news is that for writing an annotated bibliography, both parts are exactly the same. Aren’t you relieved? Annotations need to be within 100 to 150 words. Ensure that you are clear and crisp in your explanation or evaluation.


Last Name, First Name, Initial. Year. Title: subtitle (if any).Place. Publisher

[Annotation follows…]


Nelson, Jack, O. 1990. Fight like a Grasshopper: The Untold Story. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press

The book contains 10 chapters and each one is a first-hand account of life in the trenches by Australian soldiers during their time in the army. Each chapter is written in such a way that it has a connect with the other chapters and can also stand alone on its own. Many people think that life in the army is real tough or it’s “cool.” These chapters provide a balanced view of what happens behind the scenes and who makes the real decisions, both during peace times and during war times.

How do you format an annotated bibliography entry in Chicago style?

An entry in an annotated bibliography begins with a reference and is followed by a short summary or commentary regarding the source listed. An entry may summarize a source or evaluate it, depending on the instructions you are given. When writing a brief summary, set the summary or commentary in parentheses. When writing a longer summary or commentary, set it in a new line — often as an indented paragraph.


Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. London: Thomas Egerton, 1811.

This novel tells the story of the Dashwood family, focusing on the sisters Elinor and Marianne. The sisters are personifications of good sense (common sense) and sensibility (emotionality). Sense and Sensibility was a success upon publication and centered on the topics of love, marriage, and class.