Referencing and citing

Annotated bibliographies

Learn what they are and how to write one.

Introduction

An annotated bibliography is a list of information sources in which each source has a brief description explaining the content and significance of the source. These descriptions, called “annotations”, help the reader determine the usefulness of each source and can be a starting point for future research.

Annotated bibliographies often exist as separate documents. They may also be added to other written work but they do not replace the reference list or bibliography required for the purpose of referencing and citing.

What is a bibliography? explains the difference between a reference list or list of works cited, a bibliography or list of works consulted, and an annotated bibliography.

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Content and structure

Your annotated bibliography should have a clearly defined scope and give concise, accurate, information about the information sources included. For the content and structure of your annotated bibliography, consider:

  • Subject scope – An annotated bibliography is usually a list of information sources related to a particular topic. Clearly define your topic or research question.
     
  • Literature coverage – Clearly state whether your bibliography is a comprehensive survey of all available literature on the subject, or only a sample. For example, does it include only one type of publication format, such as books, or does it include a variety of publication formats.
     
  • Bibliographic entries – Each information source must have a bibliographic entry. Each entry starts with the complete reference details for the source, formatted using a specific referencing style.
     
  • Annotations – For each bibliographic entry, the complete reference details are followed by a brief, descriptive, and evaluative, paragraph, called an annotation. Typically an annotation is 100–200 words long.

Formatting

For writing your annotated bibliography, your School or Programme will have defined a layout and approved a referencing style that you should use. Ask your lecturer or supervisor for details.

Important formatting includes:

  • Order of entries – Your bibliographic entries should be ordered alphabetically by the author of the information source, or by the title if there is no author name. Sometimes you should use an organisation's name as the author name, for example, for web pages where the individual page author is not identified but the website clearly belongs to an organisation. Follow the recommendations of the referencing style.
     
  • Referencing style – Format the complete reference details at the beginning of each bibliographic entry to match the referencing style.
     
  • Position of annotation – Your annotation may immediately follow the reference details on the same line, or it may be positioned one or two lines below, usually with a paragraph indent. Follow the layout defined by your School or Programme.

Writing annotations

Annotations are similar to book reviews but annotations should be shorter, less personal, and less emotional than book reviews. Make sure annotations you write are accurate and concise.

Typically an annotation is one paragraph containing 100–200 words. Ask your lecturer or supervisor to confirm how long your annotations should be.

What should I write?

Each of your annotations should discuss the authority of the author of the information source: their credentials, experience, and qualifications to write about the subject.

Each of your annotations should include descriptive or evaluative statements about the contents of the information source. Most of your annotations will include both descriptive and evaluative statements.

  • Descriptive, or informative annotation could include:
    • Summary of contents, scope, and significance – Is it a broad overview or a focussed aspect of the subject? Is it influenced by a particular theory, perspective, or purpose?
    • Description of main focus, ideas, methods, evidence, arguments, or conclusions.
    • Identification of intended audience.
    • Identification and appraisal of significant features, such as a glossary, colour illustrations, or a good index.
    Avoid your personal opinions when writing descriptive annotations.
     
  • Evaluative, or critical annotation is a critical appraisal of the contents, scope, significance, and limitations of the information source. You could:
    • Evaluate accuracy, bias, strengths, and weaknesses of ideas, methods, evidence, arguments, or conclusions.
    • Compare and contrast with content of other similar information sources.
    • Comment on the intended audience – How well does it suit specialist, or general, audiences?
    • Assess research and publication dates – Is it up-to-date? Does it matter?
    • Assess relevance to subject scope. Reflect on its contribution to your annotated bibliography.
    If you are very critical in your annotation you should justify why you included that information source in your annotated bibliography.

How should I write?

  • Write in the third person – Use sentences with he, she, it, they, them, or their. Avoid using I, me, or my.
  • Use verbs (action words) such as argues, asserts, demonstrates, discusses, examines, proves, speculates, suggests.
  • Be concise and specific. Avoid unnecessary words. Avoid long, complex sentences.
  • Sentences do not need to be grammatically complete but they should begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop.
  • Avoid beginning annotations with phrases such as “This book discusses...” or “This paper presents...”.
  • Avoid unnecessary repetition of information explicit in the title.

Samples

Below are two sample annotated bibliography entries using the MLA referencing style, with the annotation positioned two lines below with a paragraph indent, and descriptive, or informative, annotations.

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.

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