Referencing and citing

Annotated bibliographies

Learn what they are and how to write one.

Introduction to annotated bibliographies

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources in which each item has been supplied with a brief description explaining its content and significance. It helps the reader determine the usefulness of a source and lays the groundwork for future research.

See also Student Learning's Annotated bibliography for additional advice.

What is a bibliography?

A bibliography - sometimes called “works cited”, “works consulted”, or “references”—usually appears as an alphabetical list of sources at the end of a written work (eg. book, book chapter, or article). It identifies the sources the author used in their research and writing.

Entries are arranged alphabetically by author or title (if there is no author).

Structuring your annotated bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a listing of sources related to a particular topic. It may consist of only one kind of item (for example, only books) or there may be a variety.

Your bibliography gives researchers concise, accurate information about the literature on a particular subject. You will need to make clear whether your bibliography is a comprehensive survey of available resources or only a sample.

Each entry begins with a bibliographic citation set out in an approved citation style. The citation is followed by a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph called the “annotation”. The average annotation is 100–200 words long. Your lecturer or department will specify which citation style you should use and how long your annotations should be.

Annotated bibliographies often exist as separate, complete documents, but they may be appended to another work. They do not replace the works cited, references, or bibliography at the end of the work.

Formatting your citations

The entries in your bibliography should be ordered alphabetically by the author of the item. If there is no author, use the title instead. For web pages where the individual author is not identified, give the name of the sponsoring organisation or institution as the author.

Citations are constructed according to the style guide your School or Programme has approved for your study. Check with your lecturer, tutor, or supervisor to find out which style is approved for your bibliography.

The Library holds a number of referencing guides and manuals of style, in print and online.

Writing your citations

The annotation may immediately follow the bibliographic information on the same line, or it may be separated from the citation by one or two lines, possibly with a paragraph indention.

For all annotations you should discuss the author’s authority: their credentials, experience, and qualifications to write about this subject.

There are two kinds of annotation, but most annotations will combine both.

Descriptive or informative annotation - full bibliographic information and a summary of an item’s contents, scope and significance, highlighting the main focus and major arguments. Include and appraise significant features of the work e.g. illustrations or a good index. Describe the intended audience. Note whether it is an overview of the topic or single aspect. Note if the work is influenced by a particular theory. Avoid your personal opinions.

Evaluative or critical annotation - critical appraisal of an item’s contents, scope, significance and limitations. You need to:

  • Evaluate its accuracy, bias, and the strengths and weaknesses of its argument
  • Compare and/or contrast the item with other works on the same subject, or of a similar type
  • Comment on the audience: intended for specialists, or general readers?
  • Assess its currency. Is it up-to-date? Does it matter?
  • Assess its relevancy.

If you are particularly critical of a work, you may have to explain and justify its inclusion in your bibliography.

An annotation has a number of similarities with a book review, but:

  • an annotated bibliography consists of multiple works
  • in each annotation the emphasis is on brevity and precision of description
  • annotations are less personal than book reviews—reviews will typically address concepts or arguments that evoke strong responses from the reviewer.

Advice on style

  • Write in the third person.
  • Avoid beginning annotations with phrases as “This book discusses...”
  • Avoid needless repetition of information explicit in the title.
  • Sentences do not need to be grammatically complete, but they should begin with a capital and end with a full stop.
  • Only provide significant details in the annotation e.g. background materials and references to previous work by the same author
  • Be concise and specific. Avoid unnecessary words and long complex sentences.
  • Use such words as argues, asserts, demonstrates, discusses, examines, proves, speculates, suggests.

Bibliographic essays

You may be asked to produce a bibliographic essay, which is also sometimes called a “research review” or “literature review”. A bibliographic essay evaluates your bibliography’s entries, compares and contrasts them, and groups the entries according to themes, emphases, trends, and schools of thought. You may find subheadings to be a useful way to organise a bibliographic essay.

Samples: MLA descriptive/informative style

Modern Language Association of America. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed. New York: MLA, 2009. Print.

Covers issues such as research and writing, spelling, punctuation, use of numbers and quotations, the format of research papers, and documentation. Guides the researcher and writer through the process of selecting a research topic to submitting the completed manuscript. This revised edition of the Handbook includes an updated and expanded discussion on the use of electronic resources in research and their citation.

London, Herbert. "Five Myths of the Television Age." Television Quarterly 10.1 (1982): 81-89. Print.

Explains how television contradicts five commonly believed ideas. Uses specific examples of events seen on television, such as the assassination of John Kennedy, to illustrate points. Examples have been selected to contradict such truisms as: "seeing is believing"; "a picture is worth a thousand words"; and "satisfaction is its own reward." Logical arguments are used to support ideas which reflect the author's opinion. Previous works on the topic are not mentioned.