Writing an Annotated Bibliography

What is an annotated bibliography?

A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, websites, periodicals, etc.) one has used for researching a topic. Bibliographies are sometimes called "references" or "works cited" depending on the style format you are using. A bibliography usually just includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher, etc.). An annotation is a summary and/or evaluation. Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of each of the sources ("Writing").

Why should I write an annotated bibliography?

To learn about your topic: Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project. Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when you have to write annotations for each source, you're forced to read each source more carefully. You begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information.

To help other researchers: Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published. They provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic. As a researcher, you might want to look for one that has been published about your topic ("Writing").

What does an annotated bibliography do?

A good annotated bibliography:

  • encourages you to think critically about the content of the works you are using, their place within a field of study, and their relation to your own research and ideas.
  • proves you have read and understand your sources.
  • establishes your work as a valid source and you as a competent researcher.
  • situates your study and topic in a continuing professional conversation.
  • provides a way for others to decide whether a source will be helpful to their research if they read it.
  • could help interested researchers determine whether they are interested in a topic by providing background information and an idea of the kind of work going on in a field ("Annotated Bibliographies").

What elements might an annotation include?

  • Bibliography according to the appropriate citation style (MLA, APA, etc.).
  • Explanation of main points and/or purpose of the work—basically, its thesis—which shows among other things that you have read and thoroughly understand the source.
  • Verification or critique of the authority or qualifications of the author.
  • Comments on the worth, effectiveness, and usefulness of the work in terms of both the topic being researched and/or your own research project.
  • The point of view or perspective from which the work was written. For instance, you may note whether the author seemed to have particular biases or was trying to reach a particular audience.
  • Relevant links to other work done in the area, like related sources, possibly including a comparison with some of those already on your list. You may want to establish connections to other aspects of the same argument or opposing views ("Annotated Bibliographies").

MLA and APA Annotated Bibliographies

MLA (Modern Language Association)

  • MLA documentation is generally used for disciplines in the humanities, such as English, languages, film, and cultural studies or other theoretical studies.
  • Title your annotated bibliography "Annotated Bibliography" or "Annotated List of Works Cited."
  • Following MLA format, use a hanging indent for your bibliographic information. This means the first line is not indented and all the other lines are indented four spaces (you may ask your instructor if it's okay to tab over instead of using four spaces).
  • Begin your annotation immediately after the bibliographic information of the source ends; don't skip a line down unless you have been told to do so by your instructor ("Writing").

MLA Sample Annotated Bibliography

APA (American Psychological Association)

  • Natural and social sciences, such as psychology, nursing, sociology, and social work, use APA documentation. It is also used in economics, business, and criminology. Annotated bibliographies for APA format do not require a special title. Use the usual "References" designation.
  • Like MLA, APA uses a hanging indent: the first line is set flush with the left margin, and all other lines are indented four spaces (you may ask your instructor if it's okay to tab over instead of using four spaces).
  • After the bibliographic citation, drop down to the next line to begin the annotation, but don't skip an extra line.
  • The entire annotation is indented an additional two spaces, so that means each of its lines will be six spaces from the margin (if your instructor has said that it's okay to tab over instead of using the four spaces rule, indent the annotation two more spaces in from that point) ("Writing").

APA Sample Annotated Bibliography

The information on this page was originally found on the following websites:

“Annotated Bibliographies.”  The Writing Center.  University of North Carolina School of Arts and Sciences, 2011. Web. 29 November 2011. < http://writingcenter.unc.edu/resources/handouts-demos/specific-writing-assignments/annotated-bibliographies>

Blumenthal, Amy, Tony Cosgrave, and Michael Engle.  “How to Prepare an Annotated   Bibliography.  Olin and Uris Libraries.  Cornell University, 2011.  Web.  29 November 2011.  <http://olinuris.library.cornell.edu/ref/research/skill28.htm>.

“Writing an Annotated Bibliography.”  Robert E. Kennedy Library.  California Polytechnic State University, 2010.  Web. 29 November 2011. < http://lib.calpoly.edu/research/guides/

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