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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

June 6, 2017
HandMadeWritings Staff

If you ever have to complete a research project, you’ll probably be required to create an annotated bibliography. Instead of simply gathering and listing sources on a regular bibliography or works cited page, writing an annotated bibliography requires that you actually read each source carefully. This is a wonderful way to understand your source content and to develop your own opinion and thesis before tackling the daunting research project.

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography
So… what exactly is an annotated bibliography? Let’s break it down.

What is an annotation?

An annotation is a brief, one paragraph summary and/or evaluation. You create an annotation is to inform your reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of each specific source. It should be no more than 100-150 words in length. An annotation includes:
  • A bibliographic citation.
  • The qualifications of the author(s).
  • An overview of the thesis, principle theories, and major ideas.
  • The identity of the intended audience.
  • The author’s point of view or bias.
  • Reports on the findings, results, and conclusions.
  • An explanation of the relationship to other current and relevant sources.
  • Notes about any special features such as charts, illustrations, or maps.

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is an organized (usually alphabetized) list of citations for resources such as books, journal articles, and documents. In this form of bibliography, each citation is followed by a brief annotation. So why is an annotated bibliography necessary? Basically, it demonstrates that you have read and understood your sources. Its purpose is to inform your reader of the quality, accuracy, and relevance of each source cited. An annotated bibliography is more complex than a summary or abstract in that it reveals the author’s point of view, the clarity and appropriateness of the resource, the relevance to the topic being studied, and its authority in its field of study.

Types of annotated bibliographies:

Types of annotative bibliographies There are two major types of annotated bibliographies:
  1. Descriptive (or informative)
  2. Analytical (or critical)


A descriptive or informative annotated bibliography provides a synopsis of the source’s content. It is similar to an abstract in that it highlights the most important components of the resource that are significant to the research project. Key features: – Summarizes the relevant information about the author and content. – Provides an overview of the arguments, evidence, and resulting conclusion. – Describes the author’s methodology or approach. Example: Raising illiterate student: why all educators should say no to social promotion. (2015, August 6). Education, 376(8438), 9. Retrieved from http://www.education.com Austin Crosby’s journal article examines the challenging task of literacy instruction in grades nine through twelve. He offers an honest look at the daunting process of teaching primary reading and writing strategies to struggling secondary students, including his own insecurities and failures. Taking a humorous approach on the realities of being a teacher, the chapters in Crosby’s book are offer advice on a wide range of topics, from basic comprehension strategies to composing complex essays. In the process, Crosby includes reading and writing exercises that are both designed to effectively grown struggling students and that are easy to incorporate into a high school setting.


An analytical or critical annotated bibliography provides an evaluation of the source’s content. It not only summarizes the material, but it also analyzes the information that is being presented. Most annotated bibliographies consist of analytical writing. Key features: – Critiques the author and the source’s biases, evidence, and objectives. – Justifies how the work may or may not be useful in a certain field of study. – Explains how researching this material benefited your own project. Example: Raising illiterate student: why all educators should say no to social promotion. (2015, August 6). Education, 376(8438), 9. Retrieved from http://www.education.com While Austin Crosby’s journal article is useful for an analysis of high school literacy instruction, it is limited in that it does not include commentary on students in kindergarten through eighth grade. His article describes the negative effects of the infamous No Child Left Behind legislation and social promotion. Crosby accurately credits these two factors as the primary reasons why countless students who do not meet their grade level standards are promoted anyway year after year, only to reach high school with a critical shortage of basic literacy skills. The article points out that most low-performing high school students were identified as struggling learners before third grade. Crosby wisely concludes that while social promotion has positive effects on mental, behavioral, and social issues, it does a huge disservice to both students and teachers academically. This is article an excellent resource to explore the controversy surrounding teenage illiteracy and social promotion. However, serious investigators should examine some of the applicable scientific research rather than simply take the author’s word.

Writing your bibliography

Writing your bibliography

Now, that you know what this specific type of paper is about, it’s time to write your annotated bibliography. While writing it may be no rocket science, it is most important to carefully examine the requirement guidelines for hints on a number of words, structure and citation style. Here is what’s involved in annotated bibliography writing:
  • Working with resources

The initial step of creating an annotated bibliography is the most challenging… Research. Carefully locate and record citations to resources that may contain useful ideas and information for your project.
  • Reviewing the items

Now it is time to put in some time. Review each of your sources. Familiarize yourself with the contents of the source. Examine the table of contents, forward, and introduction. Read as much of the resource as possible. Analyze the contents. Decide which sources will make the cut for your annotated bibliography (and research project). Choose the works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic. Take notes and write down the information you think should be incorporated in your annotation. Write a paragraph that covers the contents of the book or article.
  • Citation type

While the most common citation types for the bibliographic source information are MLA or APA format, your teacher may request that you use another citation type. Refer to your project’s specific guidelines to determine which type to use.

Annotative bibliography writing tip

Final Tips

In conclusion, an annotated bibliography consists of several steps that each require careful attention and extensive time. However, once it is done, you have a comprehensive demonstration of all the thorough research you’ve completed. Good luck!


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