This handout provides information about annotated bibliographies in MLA, APA, and CMS.
Contributors: Geoff Stacks, Erin Karper, Dana Bisignani, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-02-09 12:16:22
A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, Web sites, 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. Depending on your project or the assignment, your annotations may do one or more of the following.
- Summarize: Some annotations merely summarize the source. 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? The length of your annotations will determine how detailed your summary is.
For more help, see our handout on paraphrasing sources.
- Assess: After summarizing a source, it may be helpful to evaluate it. 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?
For more help, see our handouts on evaluating resources.
- Reflect: Once you've summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. 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?
Your annotated bibliography may include some of these, all of these, or even others. If you're doing this for a class, you should get specific guidelines from your instructor.
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. At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow you to see what has been done in the literature and where your own research or scholarship can fit. To help you formulate a thesis: Every good research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to state and support a thesis. So, a very important part of research is developing a thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current. Writing an annotated bibliography can help you gain a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, you'll start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and you'll then be able to develop your own point of view.
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. You may not ever get your annotated bibliography published, but as a researcher, you might want to look for one that has been published about your topic.
The format of an annotated bibliography can vary, so if you're doing one for a class, it's important to ask for specific guidelines.
The bibliographic information: Generally, though, the bibliographic information of the source (the title, author, publisher, date, etc.) is written in either MLA or APA format. For more help with formatting, see our MLA handout. For APA, go here: APA handout.
The annotations: The annotations for each source are written in paragraph form. The lengths of the annotations can vary significantly from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages. The length will depend on the purpose. If you're just writing summaries of your sources, the annotations may not be very long. However, if you are writing an extensive analysis of each source, you'll need more space.
You can focus your annotations for your own needs. A few sentences of general summary followed by several sentences of how you can fit the work into your larger paper or project can serve you well when you go to draft.
An annotated bibliography is essentially a list of resources that you
might use regarding a particular topic, and brief summaries of those sources.
These summaries can be as short as 30 words, 50 words, 100 words, 150 words.
I might have seen some annotated bibliographies that each
annotation is 250 words.
So an annotated bibliography is really just a list of sources that
a writer annotates, which is describes or summarizes what that source is.
You see them in a myriad of ways throughout scholarly writing.
The one that comes to mind to me first is at the end of some books,
they'll list a lot of resources that readers can turn to if they
want to continue thinking about a particular idea.
And a particular author will have annotated those, and that enables his or
her readers to identify really quickly which ones are going to be more or
less relevant to them.
Another occasion where you see an annotated bibliography is
in the research process.
In preparing for a longer kind of research paper, writers will
often prepare an annotated bibliography to track their thinking and their research.
And then they search that anno bib, it's called an anno bib, with someone else so
that that respondent can clearly see if the kind of the map of
the field is as full or rich as it maybe should be.
So there are a variety of purposes.
In terms of elements, the elements of an annotated bibliography look
different depending on the context in which you're writing and
the occasion that kind of inspired it.
Sometimes it can be straight summary.
Sometimes it can be summary along with kind of evaluation, right,
like whether the source does a good job at doing something or
fails to mention something, kind of like a critical review.
And sometimes there can be another element in there where a writer will write
an annotated bibliography and discuss how they see that source as being applicable
or potentially useful or valuable, or not, for his or her own writing project.
I'm so happy that we are going to be crowdsourcing
an annotated bibliography on the cultivation of talent across all
the various kinds of expertise that you have become interested in.
So I see this as a really valuable potential resource for
other people who are interested in thinking about talent and
expertise more generally or specifically within particular fields or hobbies.
Because you will be providing a whole list of resources that other people can turn
to if they want to become more familiar with expertise and talent in general,
or if they want to gain expertise in a particular field like window washing,
or the history of World War II, or exercise science, whatever it is.
Here's an example of an annotated bibliographic entry from our
Purdue Owl resource that we often turn to.
It's annotating a book by Anne Lamott called, Bird by Bird.
And I'm going to show you how this writer of this annotation has chosen
to incorporate some of those elements of just summary, of evaluation,
of applicability, so that you can make your own choices.
And here we can see that this word, honest,
is an example of that kind of evaluative approach to the annotated bibliography.
If we took out that honest, then it would just be summary.
Taking a humorous approach to the realities of being a writer,
the chapters in Lamott's book are wry and anecdotal and
offer advice on everything from plot development to jealousy,
from perfectionism to struggling with one's own internal critic.
In the process,
Lamott includes writing exercises designed to be both productive and fun.
And here, in blue,
I have underlined all of those moments that I think are evaluative.
And it's not that one way is better than another,
it's just that this illustrates the choice that this writer has made.
If we took these words out, it would be summary.
Lamott offers sane advice for
those struggling with the anxieties of writing, but
her main project seems to be offering the reader a reality check regarding writing,
publishing and struggling with one's own imperfect humanity in the process.
This last one maybe you can make an argument that it's not evaluative,
it could be just summative, but the other ones, I think, are evaluative.
Chapters in this text could easily be included in the curriculum for
a writing class.
And, here, I will outline in green this sentence because it shows one of those
Several of the chapters in Part 1 address the writing process and would serve
to generate discussion on students' own drafting and revising processes.
And here again is applicability.
Some of the writing exercises would also be appropriate for
generating classroom writing exercises.
So, I'll take one more example of a color,
and I'll say that the red is just the summative.
And you can see that this writer has chosen to include
all the elements of annotated bibliographies.