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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Do you have an assignment to write an annotated bibliography? This guide will help you get started.

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

This guide will help you create an Annotated Bibliographies. It will take you step by step through the process. Please contact me if you have any questions.

Good luck! ~Denise

An annotated bibliography is a bibliography that also include a paragraph following each citation that summarizes or evaluates the source being cited. "Each annotation is generally three to seven sentences long. In some bibliographies, the annotation merely describes the content and scope of the source; in others, the annotation also evaluates the source’s reliability, currency, and relevance to a researcher’s purpose" (Glossary of Research Terms, n.d.). 


The primary purpose of bibliographic citations is to assist the reader in finding the sources used in the writing of a work. Depending on the assignment, an annotated bibligraphy might have different purposes:

  • provide a literature review on a particular subject
  • help formulate a thesis on a subject
  • demonstrate the quality of research that you have done
  • show that you understand each source cited
  • provide examples of the types of sources available
  • describe other items on a topic that may be of interest to the reader
  • explore the subject for further research

Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Video was created by Carleton University Library

Types of Annotated Bibliographies

There are 2 common types of annotations - descriptive and critical.

"Descriptive annotation may summarize:

  • The main purpose or idea of the work
  • The contents of the work
  • The author’s conclusions
  • The intended audience
  • The author’s research methods
  • Special features of the work such as illustrations, maps, tables, etc." (University of Wisconsin, 2010)

"Critical annotation includes the same information as a descriptive annotation, but will also include value judgments or comments on the effectiveness of the work. [In this context, critical means evaluative and may include both positive and negative comments.] When writing a critical annotation, include some of the these features:

  • The importance of the work’s contribution to the literature of the subject
  • The author’s bias or tone
  • The author’s qualifications for writing the work
  • The accuracy of the information in the source
  • Limitations or significant omissions
  • The work’s contribution to the literature of the subject
  • Comparison with other works on the topic" (University of Wisconsin, 2010)


Formatting the Annotated Bibliography

The citations (bibliographic information - title, date, author, publisher, etc.) in the annotated bibliography are formatted using the particular style manual (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) that your discipline requires.

Annotations are written in paragraph form, usually 3-7 sentences (or 80-200 words). Depending on your assignment your annotations will generally include the following:

  1. Summary: Summarize the information given in the source. Note the intended audience. What are the main arguments? What is the point of this book or article? What topics are covered? If someone asked what this article/book is about, what would you say?
  2. Evaluate/Assess: Is this source credible? Who wrote it? What are their credentials? Who is the publisher? Is it a useful source? How does it compare with other sources in your bibliography? Is the information reliable? Is this source biased or objective? What is the goal of this source?
  3. Reflect/React: Once you've summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. State your reaction and any additional questions you have about the information in your source.  Was this source helpful to you? How does it help you shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic. Compare each source to other sources in your AB in terms of its usefulness and thoroughness in helping answer your research question.

The Process

When creating an annotated bibliography you will need to know how to summarize and analyze, and know how to do library research.

  1. Develop a research question and thesis, and come up with search terms (keywords).
  2. Locate citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic.
  3. Briefly examine and review the actual items (learn about how to critically analyze information). Then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.
  4. Read the items that are most appropriate.
  5. Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style.
  6. Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. (See Formatting your Annotated Bibliography to see what to included in your annotation).
  7. Write an introduction to your annotated bibliography: Define the topic, and the scope of your bibliography, whether it is meant to cover the whole range of opinion or just one viewpoint or aspect. Describe the scope of your bibliography, include whether it covers what you judge to be the best, or the most recent, or a broad sample of the available material on your topic.
  8. Review your AB and introduction, be sure that your introduction is based on on the citations you have selected.