How to Write an Annotated Bibliography: Step-by-Step Guide

Annotated Bibliography Definition

An annotated bibliography is a list of brief summaries of articles, books, and other publications dedicated to one particular topic. This type of paper may be assigned as homework within a course, as a research article, or become a part of more profound work like a thesis or dissertation. An annotated bibliography serves the following purpose: it teaches you to critically analyze and summarize information from sources. This little tool may become a great tool in writing academic papers of any kind. A qualitative work with existing knowledge helps your development as a researcher.

how to make an annotated bibliography

What is an annotation? It is a short description of an article or another source which considers purpose, content, and features. The aim of the annotation is to give concise content of the source of information and help the reader decide whether it is worth reading this particular source. Annotation indicates what new findings the article has in comparison with others related to other similar sources.

How to Do an Annotated Bibliography: What’s So Special

Students frequently confuse annotated bibliographies and references (or works cited lists). Simply saying, an annotated bibliography is an extended version of a reference list. Each source is formatted in the required format (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) and supported with a summary. An annotated bibliography has two elements:

  • a citation in required citation format;
  • the text of the annotation.

Let’s see how it looks on the example and you will quickly feel the difference.

Reference list (APA format):

Mishra, A., Chaturvedi, P., Datta, S., Sinukumar, S., Joshi, P., & Garg, A. (2015). Harmful    effects of nicotine. Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology: Official Journal of Indian Society of Medical & Paediatric Oncology, 36(1), 24–31.

Annotated bibliography (APA format):

Mishra, A., Chaturvedi, P., Datta, S., Sinukumar, S., Joshi, P., & Garg, A. (2015). Harmful effects of nicotine. Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology: Official Journal of Indian Society of Medical & Paediatric Oncology, 36(1), 24–31.

In the following text the author has evaluated the effects of nicotine on various organs of the human organism. The article contains the analysis of studies related to the influence of nicotine on animals and humans. Authors highlight the chemical properties and metabolism, mechanism of action, immediate effects, toxicity, and the most common diseases connected with nicotine consumption.

An annotated bibliography is a great tool to learn how to summarize, assess a great volume of information, and reflect on what you have read. With the help of an annotated bibliography you will know more about the topic, as you will be forced to read the sources with high attention. It is a great practice when writing a thesis or dissertation. In this case, an annotated bibliography helps you understand the gaps in the existing knowledge and come up with the topic for your own research.

Sometimes, annotated bibliographies are published as articles or independent publications. Such works give an extensive overview of sources dedicated to a particular topic. This publication frequently helps other researchers.

how to write an annotated bibliography apa

Steps on How to Make an Annotated Bibliography

1. Examine the assignment. Make sure that you have understood the requirements in your assignment. Ask your teacher to clarify points that you can’t understand or to answer some questions. Each annotated bibliography has unique requirements, so be sure that you know what formatting style you need to follow.

2. Pick a topic. Depending on the assignment, your topic may be related to your course or planned research. Consider the right scope to be able to cover the specific issue to the fullest. Define the limitation of the topic to make your paper comprehensive and concise. If you were assigned a specific topic, make sure that you have understood it properly.

Concentrate on problems and questions that should be resolved. It is essential, if you are writing an annotated bibliography for a research paper, to consider research questions or the thesis statement that you have already formed. For this case, when you were given a specific topic (for example, government response to terrorism), try to develop the core questions that you want to explore, and this will help you get more concentrated on the angle of research. (For example: How does the UN, EU, and US react to terrorism? What legislative base regulates it? What is the effect of such reactions? How do terrorist organizations respond?)

Think about what kind of material you should look for. You may need governmental reports or documents that need special access, so be sure that the material you will need is accessible. Before making the final choice, make a brief search of available sources to know whether the topic is sufficiently explored. Don’t read full articles; skimming through the annotation or footnotes will be enough.

3. Outline the list of sources. Start browsing the internet, databases, library, and other available sources to find articles that match your topic. Make a list of links and save documents in one single place. Use your critical thinking skills to pick the sources that will cover your topic from various angles.

You will choose the type of sources depending on the topic and requirements. Start your search from reference lists in textbooks and recommended literature. Then move to the library and internet.

Your aim is to find answers to the stated problem and issue in available and reliable sources of information that address your topic the most. The quality of chosen sources greatly influences the level of your annotated bibliography. Make sure that the article covers the topic from different perspectives.

How to work with sources? Make a hard copy of articles or save materials on your computer. Use a pencil or editor to highlight the main points and citations, and add comments about its meaning in footnotes or fields.

4. Organize citations. Start an annotated bibliography with listing citations of chosen sources. Apply the required format to each point of the list. Some students prefer to put one citation and immediately write an annotation, while others prefer to organize the list of citations and only then proceed to annotations. The way you organize your writing process is totally up to you.

5. Write annotations. Add one space after a citation and write the annotation. The length of the annotation will depend on the requirements and purpose of the annotated bibliography. In an annotated bibliography that gives a concise overview of the topic, the annotation may take several sentences. At the same time, an extensive analysis of the issue may take a one-page annotation. If your annotation will be long, divide it into several sections if it’s logically appropriate.

When you start reading the sources, you may find that it takes large amounts of time. How to analyze the source more effectively? Don’t read the whole article at once. Creating an annotation involves active reading that needs concentration and knowing what to look for. Look for the following points while reading an article or another source:

  • Determine the central question/claim/thesis.
  • Pay attention to the theoretical approach the author uses.
  • Identify the scope of this work within the researched question or topic.
  • Notice the main findings or points of each section of text.
  • Determine what stance the author takes.
  • Pay attention to methods the author used in his or her research.
  • Consider the data and evidence used in the article.
  • Think what questions the text will create.

If your annotated bibliography is a part of your research paper, you need to determine how you plan to use this article and why. Also, state the limitations of the study and the effectiveness of the investigation. If the annotated bibliography is a separate assignment, try to evaluate the contribution of a particular source in the investigation of the problem.

For analyzing the first source you will spend more time, as you will learn how to orient yourself with the source on what to look for. You will speed up when processing other sources.

A finished annotated bibliography should have the following features:

  • it fully explores the existing sources about the stated issue;
  • it corresponds with the chosen topic of research.

6. Write the introduction. Some annotated bibliographies need an introduction. For example, if you need to write an annotated bibliography as an article for a scientific journal, you will probably need to introduce basic information on the topic. Include a short introductory paragraph at the beginning of your text, if required. Here you can explain why you have chosen the topic, describe the research question, and what method you have used to choose sources. Also, mention why certain sources were excluded from the list.

7. Proofread the text. Every text needs to be checked for content and mistakes. As you finish the first draft, read the text once more and make sure that everything sounds logical and is in its place. Look through requirements and check whether your text fits them. When you will be pleased with the content, move to correcting all mistakes that you find in the text.

Sample Annotated Bibliography MLA

To have a better understanding of what a finished annotated bibliography looks like, we will share with you this sample annotated bibliography (MLA style). The author has picked up the topic about startup companies and created several annotations for the chosen sources. Also, the sample contains comments that highlight the essential points to consider while writing. Please, notice that our example gives only a basic understanding of the annotated bibliography, so make sure that you have taken into account college requirements.

Click the images to see their full size.

how to write an annotated bibliography

how to do an annotated bibliography

how to write an annotated bibliography step by step

Tips to Help You Create an Annotated Bibliography

  1. Make sure that you have narrowed the focus enough to add value to your work.
  2. Concentrate on the topic and always bear it in mind while working with sources.
  3. Keep in mind that your annotated bibliography should make sense. Fill your paper with important and essential information.
  4. Look through the available finished annotated bibliographies in your library or over the internet to see a complete picture.
  5. Write down your thoughts and questions that arise while reading. This will help you get closer to the context.
  6. Write down unknown terms or phrases you don’t understand and clarify them. Such actions will help you understand the issue deeper.
  7. Read several finished annotated bibliographies and write down phrases that you can use in your paper.

Mistakes to Avoid in an Annotated Bibliography

  • Don’t think that an annotation is the same as an abstract. An abstract is a part of a journal article or dissertation that summarizes the content of the work. The annotation describes and evaluates the particular source.
  • Don’t include articles that don’t relate to the chosen topic.
  • Format an annotated bibliography according to the requirements. Don’t skip this step. The quality of your finished paper depends on formatting and content.
  • Don’t mention the title of the source in the text of your annotation, as you have already mentioned it in the citation.

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 format an annotated bibliography

Useful Phrases for an Annotated Bibliography

Sometimes it may become a challenge to find the right words and phrases to analyze and evaluate the text. Here is a list of phrases that you may find helpful while writing your annotated bibliography:

– The main idea is …
– The article touches/clarifies/discusses/examines/reveals the aspects/issues/problems/characteristic features/processes/views of researchers …
– The article is the continuation of article X …
– The article sums up the results of the study …
– The article is devoted to the study/detailed analysis …
– The purpose of the article is to analyze …
– The article reveals/analyzes the problems …
– Particular attention is paid to …
– The author comes to the conclusion that …
– The author focuses on/gives a generalized characteristic …
– The author seeks to follow the process …
– As a research task, the authors attempted to evaluate …
– As a key evidence the author uses …
– Based on the study/analysis …
– The article is devoted to the current problem/thorough analysis …
– This problem/issue/research is insufficiently studied and requires further research.
– The author suggested the following solutions …
– Such point of view may interest specialists/researchers …
– Particular attention is paid to …
– In conclusion, the …

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.

It may be hard to create an annotated bibliography for the first time. Hopefully, our guide has shed light on how to write a great annotated bibliography. Follow the steps, and consider our tips, advice, and phrases to create an outstanding annotated bibliography. Don’t wait – start writing right away!


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