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Annotated Bibliographies

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a descriptive and/or evaluative list of citations for books, articles, or other documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (100-200 word) paragraph—the annotation—consisting of a summary of the content of that source and/or the author's thoughts on the accuracy, quality, and relevance of that source. An annotation (written by the author of the bibliography) is not the same thing as an abstract (written by the author or publisher of the cited source).

An annotated bibliography allows a writer to express their opinions on and criticisms of the information contained in the cited sources and to craft an informed argument or thesis statement based on these sources. It should also help the reader to decide whether to further pursue these sources. It can stand alone or become part of a larger research project such as a literature review, proposal, paper, article, thesis, or dissertation.

This guide contains advice on and examples of how to create a typical annotated bibliography. If you are creating an annotated bibliography as a course assignment, it is important that you know and understand the specific expectations your instructor has for it. What approach (descriptive, evaluative, or both) do they want you to take? How long should the annotations be? What specific content do they want you to include in each annotation? Do they have a specific model or example they want you to follow?

Some Common Elements of an Annotation

Depending on the purpose of your bibliography, different elements will be more important and some may not be important at all. Your professor may also have guidelines or be able to talk about specific expectations. In the absence of such guidelines, consider the purpose of your bibliography and then select appropriately from the following elements:

  1. Author information
    Who is the author? What is her/his background? Is the author qualified to write this document?

  2. Author's purpose
    What is the author's purpose in writing this article or doing this research? Is the purpose stated or implied? Does the author have a particular message?

  3. Audience information
    To what audience is the author writing (scholars, teachers, the general public, etc.)? Is this reflected in the author's style of writing or presentation?

  4. Author bias
    Does the author show any biases or make assumptions upon which the rationale of the article rests? If so, what are they?

  5. Information source
    What methods did the author use to obtain the data? Is the article based on personal opinion, experience, interviews, library research, questionnaires, laboratory experiments, empirical observation, or standardized personality tests?

  6. Author conclusion
    What conclusions does the author draw? Are these conclusions specifically stated or implied?

  7. Conclusion justification
    Are the conclusions justified from the research or experience? Are the conclusions in sync with the original purpose of the research and supported by the data? Are the conclusions skewed by bias?

  8. Relationship to other works
    How does this work compare with others cited? Does it conflict with conventional wisdom, established scholarship, government policy, etc.? Are there specific studies or writings cited with which this one agrees or disagrees? Are there any opinions not cited of which readers should be aware? Is the evidence balanced or weighted in favor of a particular perspective?

  9. Time frame
    Is the work current? Is this important? How does the time in which it was written reflect on the information contained in this work?

  10. Significant attachments
    Are there significant attachments such as appendices, bibliographies, illustrations, etc.? Are they valuable or not? If there are none, should there be?

 

Tips for Evaluative Annotated Bibliographies

Each annotation should be clear, thorough, and accurate.  The goal of the annotation is to concisely describe and evaluate a source so that other researchers can make a decision about following up on it for their own research. 

An evaluative annotation might try to answer these questions:

  • What does the source set out to do and what does it conclude?

  • What is important for the reader to know about the method(s) used to arrive at the source’s conclusion?

  • Who is the audience for the source – what type and level of researcher might find this source useful?

  • What are the pros and cons of the source’s approach, or how does this affect the conclusions of the work?

  • What is unique, especially striking, and/or missing in topic coverage in this source?

  • What bias, if any, can be detected?