How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

last modified 2016-08-09T13:37:19-04:00

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This guide answers some common questions about annotated bibliographies and provides both general guidelines on what to include in an annotation, as well as examples. You should always refer to your specific assignment, or ask your professor, for guidance on the overall length, organization, and other specific requirements they will be grading you on.

Suggested additional resource: On Compiling an Annotated Bibliography by James Harner

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

A relatively short list of articles, books and other works on a topic. This list includes both citation information and a paragraph (the annotation) describing and evaluating the source. Annotations are typically 100 to 200 words in length, depending on the intended purpose of the bibliography. The bibliography itself may be in alphabetical order (as in a regular bibliography or list of works cited) or may organize items into categories such as subject, type of resource (i.e. books, articles), or time period.

What are Annotated Bibliographies used for?

They are created for several reasons. Some researchers create them to help keep track of sources of interest and collect their thoughts about the item, often as a precursor to writing an article or book. Annotated bibliographies are often shared or published as a way of gathering the most relevant sources about an issue in one place and sharing the information with others. Readers use the annotations to help them decide whether or not a source is worth pursuing; so it is important that the annotation be accurate and informative.

What’s the Difference between an Annotation and an Abstract?

An abstract is provided for you with an article and is intended to provide readers with a short summary of the purpose of an article. Abstracts are often written by the author.

Annotations not only summarize the main points of a work but also evaluate it and indicate how that work fits into the scholarly conversation on a topic. Annotations are never written by the author and should be unbiased.

How do I Write an Annotation?

Keep in mind that annotations are supposed to highlight the most important points of a resource. If you’re struggling to keep your annotations short, make sure you’re not getting too specific - if people reading your bibliography want to know more, they can find the work and read it directly. Also, always remember that annotations should be as unbiased as possible – keep your personal opinions out!

Although they are short, annotations should be extremely informative and include most, if not all, of the following categories:

  1. Author Information and Purpose
    Include a brief mention of the author’s expertise in the area or their credentials. Also consider why the author conducted the research or wrote the article and make note of any particular message or intent of the author.
  2. Methods Used or Source of the Information
    Mention in broad terms the methods the author used to obtain the information in the article. This is particularly important with scientific sources but also applies to works in the humanities and arts. (For example, the information may be based on personal opinion, experience, interviews, library or archival research, questionnaires, laboratory experiments, empirical observation, or standardized personality tests.)
  3. Author’s Conclusion
    State the main conclusion drawn by the author and make special note of conclusions that are implied rather than specifically stated.
  4. Justification for the Conclusion
    Address whether or not the author’s conclusion is supported by his or her data and make special note of shaky reasoning or biases present in the conclusion drawn.
  5. Relationship to Other Works
    Briefly state how this work relates to other works in the bibliography or the field as a whole. Does the author and/or the information coincide with the other sources? Does it conflict with the standard views? Does the author specifically address other studies or works?

In addition to these 5 main points, annotations may also include the following components, as needed:

  1. Author Bias
    If you discern any biases of the author, mention these in the annotation and explain how they impact the information in the article (for example, the methods used or conclusion drawn) and how it relates to other sources in the bibliography.
  2. Time Frame
    You may want to address the publication date and how this impacts the information in the source if you’re citing an older work or a particularly recent work. Consider how the time it was written impacts the value of the information.
  3. Audience Information
    If the author is addressing an unusual audience or the intended audience impacted the nature of the information used in the article, you should mention the intended audience in your annotation. You may also want to include this if the author’s style makes the work easier or harder for potential readers to understand. (For example, if you’re writing an annotated bibliography evaluating sources for high school students, you should make note of works that are particularly dense reads.)
  4. Potential Use
    Particularly when writing an annotated bibliography for an assignment, you may wish to include a brief statement of how you intend to use the information in this source in your final paper or project.
Example Annotations

The following examples use a variety of citation styles. If you need help formatting your citations, check out this guide. Regardless of style, annotations are generally the same.

Helfand, J. (2001). Screen: Essays on graphic design, new media, and visual culture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Helfand’s collection of essays (previously published in Eye magazine) focuses on how technological sophistication and the power of online communications have changed the manner in which computer users perceive, critique, and embrace visual and auditory design on the World Wide Web. Her subtle thesis suggests, however, that most web “denizens” ignore the impact of design during online expeditions---unless the design imposes itself between the users and their goal. The author’s experience as a visual/virtual designer leads her to offer a critical review of how the ease of electronic design (due to prefabricated software templates) may not necessarily result in the most efficient design for web audiences, and that while contemporary web designers may possess a functional design literacy, they are not equipped with the kind of critical literacy that will lead to aesthetic and performative innovations. Helfand argues that web designers should pay greater attention to the development and influence of aural design as well as the visual if they are to remain in step with their online audiences, although the years following the publication of the text suggest that the influence of aural design may still remain ahead. Helfand's arguments have merit and her concepts inspire the reader to continue thinking on the topic. However, the lack of a bibliography or research beyond her own analysis make the text only moderately appropriate in relation to a scholarly project.

Goldschneider, F.K., Waite, L.J., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review , 51 (4), 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the national Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams, cited below, shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

Ehrenreich, B. (2001). Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

In this book of nonfiction based on the journalist's experiential research, Ehrenreich attempts to ascertain whether it is currently possible for an individual to live on a minimum-wage in America. Taking jobs as a waitress, a maid in a cleaning service, and a Wal-Mart sales employee, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow workers, and her financial struggles in each situation.

An experienced journalist, Ehrenreich is aware of the limitations of her experiment and the ethical implications of her experiential research tactics and reflects on these issues in the text. The author is forthcoming about her methods and supplements her experiences with scholarly research on her places of employment, the economy, and the rising cost of living in America. Ehrenreich’s project is timely, descriptive, and well-researched.

Davidson, Hilda Ellis. Roles of the Northern Goddess. London: Routledge, 1998.

Davidson's book provides a thorough examination of the major roles filled by the numerous pagan goddesses of Northern Europe in everyday life, including their roles in hunting, agriculture, domestic arts like weaving, the household, and death. The author discusses relevant archaeological evidence, patterns of symbol and ritual, and previous research. The book includes a number of black and white photographs of relevant artifacts.

Information for this guide, and the example annotations, were drawn from annotated bibliography guides at Carleton College, University of Central Florida Libraries, Cornell University Library, and the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

Please e-mail us if you have any questions - or ask a librarian now!