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Brief Video Overview of Annotated Bibliographies

Creating Annotated Bibliographies

An annotated bibliography is a list of works you have read on a specific topic, to which you have added brief descriptions or summaries. It's not only a record of your research into a particular topic, it is also a tool that will help other researchers and students in the future. Think of an annotated bibliography as a more deliberate, in-depth review of the literature than what is normally conducted for a research paper.

In lieu of writing a formal research paper, your professor may ask you to develop an annotated bibliography. You may be assigned this for a number of reasons, including to show that you understand the literature underpinning the research problem, to demonstrate that you can conduct an effective review of pertinent literature, or to share sources among your classmates so that, collectively, everyone in the class obtains a comprehensive understanding of key research on the subject. 

A good annotated bibliography...

  • Encourages the reader to think critically about the content of the works you are using
  • Provides evidence that you have read and understood your sources
  • Establishes validity for the research you have done

Skim each article or the introduction to each book before you decide to use it. You may decide that it wasn't as appropriate for your topic as you had originally thought. If you do decide to use it in your bibliography, take notes as you read to help you when you go back to summarize it. You may want to keep track of the following details:

Thesis: What is the author's thesis or main point? You may find a one or two sentence thesis near the beginning of the piece, or a section labeled "Conclusions" near the end. 

Methodology: How does the author support his or her work? Is the evidence weak or strong?

Special features: What makes this piece particularly interesting or useful? Are there charts, pictures, or tables that are helpful? Is the list of references comprehensive and up-to-date?

Audience: For whom was the piece written? Also consider the tone and language used to decide if the piece was written for a popular or a scholarly audience.

Create a complete citation for each work you have read. Some writers like to use note cards to keep track of their reading, while others prefer to use citation management software like Zotero or EasyBib. For information about how to cite your sources and some of the products you can use to help you manage your research, see the Citations tab on this guide.

Write your annotations. An annotation should be relatively short, generally less than 150 words, and should not repeat any information found in the citation itself.

Depending on your assignment and the focus of your bibliography, your annotation could be descriptive or evaluative. A descriptive annotation describes the item and sometimes summarizes its main points. An evaluative annotation compares the item to other items on the same topic and tells other researchers whether or not it is useful or important.

Finally, assemble your annotated bibliography. Depending on the number of citations you wish to include, you may want to divide your bibliography into more specific subtopics to make it easier to read. As you decide which works to include, remember the overall focus of your bibliography and try to include only works that will help your readers to understand the subject.

For more information about writing annotated bibliographies, you may wish to look at the following sources:

Engle, Michael, Blumenthal, Amy, & Cosgrave, Tony. How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Olin & Uris Libraries.

Stacks, G. and Karper, E. (2001). Annotated Bibliographies. West Lafayette, Indiana: Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University.