How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Research and term papers are so hard to write. This is mainly because they consist of many different parts, and each of them is individually hard to write. In this article, we will give a short review on the major questions and problems connected to writing an annotated bibliography.

In an annotated bibliography, you need to list all the sources you have used in your research, and not only books and articles, as many students mistakenly do, but also video, audio and other primary sources of any kind. Moreover, you need to give a short summary of the content of each source, which is where “annotated” comes from. To make the whole process easier, imagine that you are writing an annotation to a fancy fiction book and use these tricks on how to write an annotated bibliography.

Tips for Annotated Bibliography Writing

Before you start writing, consider these points to make your bibliography correctly formatted and composed from the very beginning.

1) Consider the purpose. When writing an annotation for your sources, typically you need to do the following things in various combinations: give a summary, evaluate the source or describe its relations with other sources in your research. The volume of annotation for each source is highly dependent on the purpose, so don’t feel like you are obliged to write three paragraphs for each source. If there’s nothing to asses, you can easily give a short description.

2) Use author’s vocabulary. For some students this sounds quite weird, especially considering the fact that you need to do everything and more to avoid plagiarism in your works. However, this is actually the best way to convey author’s ideas, especially if he or she is describing some unique concept or finding. Just remember to use quotation marks if you use a direct quote.

3) Know your format. Before you start writing the annotated bibliography, make sure that you know how to format it and that you have the list of demands in front of your eyes. Your annotated bibliography should definitely follow the same format as the rest of your paper, which may be APA, MLA, Chicago, ASA or something else. Many educational institutions even provide booklets with formatting rules, and also you can easily access them on the Internet.

Steps in Annotated Bibliography Writing

So, you have made the initial preparations, and now it’s time to start writing annotated bibliography.

1) Make a list of the sources you have used while writing your research paper. At this stage, you still don’t need to format the text and write annotations.

2) Start formatting the sources according to one of the accepted styles or make annotations. Since the formatting itself takes time, make sure you have enough of it to finish your bibliography. Though the annotation part seems to be the most time consuming, checking all those rules and searching for names, cities, and publish dates is also very tricky. How do you form the list of your sources? Actually, it’s up to you unless it’s specified at your educational institution. You can arrange the list using one of these methods:

  • alphabetical
  • language
  • format
  • chronological

The most common is alphabetic and language arrangement, which is when you group the sources written in one language, and list them alphabetically within the group.

3) Review your text. Now it’s time to check that you have all the references in the right places, and to put page numbers where necessary. Another thing you need to be careful about regarding references is that when you rearrange the sources in the bibliography, you also need to pay attention to them within the text.

4) Write annotations. What is an annotation? When it comes to the bibliography, it can be a short summary or an assessment of the source used for your research. All you need is to give your readers a general idea of what each work is about. Though this sounds rather easy, many scholars and students find it hard to describe a general impression of the book or article, without being too long and detailed, but sufficient enough for readers to guess the book’s name when they are given only the description.

5) Arrange your bibliography section with annotations, and don’t forget to format everything accordingly, and you’re almost done. Now just check whether you’ve made any of the mistakes listed below and delete them from your annotated bibliography to make it pure, scientific perfection.

Mistakes to Avoid While Annotated Bibliography Writing

1) Annotations are not abstractions. Since you are doing research, your main purpose is to evaluate and assess, not simply describe. Abstractions perform a mainly descriptive function, while in your annotations you have to catch the essentials of each work. After looking at your annotation, a reader will understand the main concepts used in the source and whether he or she needs to see the full text.

2) Give a summary, not a retelling. Don’t be too detailed. Remember that your annotation has to be 100-150 words, and no more. You don’t need to render the whole text you’ve read, however fascinating and scientifically significant it is. Your reader can find it on his or her own—this is actually why you are writing an annotated bibliography.

3) Try to avoid writing fillers. Don’t start your sentences with “the article deals with” or “the purpose of this research report is.” Also try to avoid “it was found that” and “it is suggested that.” They don’t perform any significant function, but make your text longer and harder to read. It may seem that such expressions make your research paper or report sound more scientific, which is partly true. On the other hand, they make the text more complicated and diluted.

Some people also think that deleting such phrases will make their research paper appear rough and hard to read, since they performed the connection function. Well, remember the first rule of the good writing? If your sentence sounds the same without an expression, and the expression doesn’t perform any particular function (like adding style, flavor etc.), delete it.

How to Choose Topics

What kind of topic do you need when collecting your sources and describing them? Well, it’s better to call them aspects, but you definitely need them, because sometimes you need to describe, and sometimes—to evaluate. Here are three main points of view on the books and articles you are going to review:

1) Evaluate. What is evaluation? Here you need to find out some background information about the source, its author, the epoch it was created in and so on before you start to writing an evaluative description. You are supposed to comment on the accuracy and reliability of the source, and give reasons for your opinion.

For example, if you are reviewing a historical chronicle written by the court historiographer, the text will likely be pompously praising the ruler of that time and mentioning only his good deeds. Even if there weren’t any, they will be invented. But if you manage to find some opinions of ordinary people, they will reveal more down-to-earth perspectives and tell about sufferings and hardships that people had to go through. So, when describing each of these two sources, you have to mention that the first one is biased towards describing only good, while the second one is likely to describe only bad things. In this way you will achieve an objective evaluation of a research source.

2) Connect to your research. It’s also a good idea to evaluate your materials not only in terms of general knowledge and historical process, but of your research. For example, all your sources and research data provides some evidence that cats enjoy being scratched on the back, but one source provides some evidence that they actually do not. So, while describing your source, you can write that it contradicts traditional perception of scratching cats mentioned in many other sources used in your research. You can also give reasons why the author of this article drives such a conclusion (if you know them for sure, for example, if they are clearly stated in the paper).

3) Don’t hesitate. Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether you need a short summary or an evaluation of this particular book. Entrust this to your inner scientific intuition. If you feel that the book is significant, and you relied on theories from it heavily in your research, then you need an evaluation for sure. However, if you mentioned it only once and just an example, a brief description will be more than enough.

If you have some better advice on how to do an annotated bibliography, feel free to share your secret weapon with us in the comment section below—the best tips will be added to the article.

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