Annotated Bibliography Writing Help

(Updated on October 3, 2017 by Michelle Williams)


Many types of reports require the student to complete an annotated bibliography, which is very different from a simple listing of references from which the student writes citations within an academic paper.  An annotated bibliography is still a list of references, but it includes a summary and possibly an evaluation of each source.  Students are often frustrated by the requirements of an annotated bibliography, but a simple review of what is required to prepare such a list of references can relieve the anxiety.

According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, a bibliography is a "complete or selective list of works compiled upon some common principle, as authorship, subject, place of publication, or printer" which have been "used or consulted in the preparation of a work or that are referenced in the text."  Most students learn how to prepare a simple bibliography before graduating from high school.  Annotated bibliographies, on the other hand, are more complicated.  An annotated bibliography must contain the standard author, title, date and place of publication, and printer.  Additionally, an annotated bibliography should also include a summary, an assessment, and/or a reflection.  

Annotated Bibliography Writing HelpAn annotated bibliography summary is a paragraph about the reference book, manual, or publication that briefly describes (or paraphrases) what the reference is about.

An annotated bibliography assessment is an evaluation of the source.  Was the source helpful, did it contain reliable and reputable information, and was it objective or biased?  Compared to the other sources used for the project, was the source better or worse?  

An annotated bibliography reflection of a source should indicate how useful that source was to the writer.  Even though a student used a source for a project, that source may not have been as helpful to the writer as some of his/her other sources.  A reflection should evaluate the usefulness of the source.

Many instructors require that students prepare their annotated bibliographies before writing their documents.  This is because completing an annotated bibliography can often help students understand their sources better.  A student who displays a solid understanding of his/her sources as evidenced by a well-written and thoroughly-prepared annotated bibliography is better prepared to write his/her assignment, regardless of the topic.  Additionally, preparing an annotated bibliography indicates to the instructor that the student has, in fact, actually read the sources that he/she intends to use to prepare the report assignment.  In this way, annotated bibliographies serve two purposes: to prepare the student and to assure the instructor that he/she is ready to proceed with the work.

Writing an Annotated Bibliography

In general terms, a bibliography is an alphabetical listing of the books that were used to help complete a reference project.  This listing is typically found at the end of the paper or other literary work and serves to provide the original author with credit for the information while also providing the reader with others sources for further information.

The most basic of bibliographies contain only the details needed to find the referenced material.  More specifically, they contain information such as the title of the work, the author's name, the copyright date, the volume number, and other basic information.  

With an annotated bibliography research paper, the bibliography is taken to a new level.  This is because the annotated bibliography includes evaluative comments and descriptions in addition to the basic reference information.  By including commentaries and descriptions within the annotated bibliography, the person reading the literary work can better determine whether or not he/she should use that source for additional information.  

When completing the annotation to be included within the bibliography, you should typically expect to write about 150 words.  Although it can be as little as just one sentence, the annotation should generally be longer in order to provide the reader with an adequate amount of information.  

When determining what you'll include in the annotation, you should consider several factors.  For example, you should consider the main purpose of the work you have sited.  In addition, you should provide a brief description of the content and format of the work you're referencing, as well as the theoretical basis for the argument the author presents.  

When completing an annotated bibliography, you should provide some information about both the content of the source that you're citing and the author of that source.  For example, the intellectual and academic credentials of the author should also be briefly discussed in the annotated bibliography.  Similarly, you should mention the intended audience of the work as well as any significance or value that the work contributes to the subject area.  

If there are any significant features to the work that are of particular importance, such as appendices, a glossary, or a very helpful index, this should be included in the annotation.  If there are any shortcomings to the work, this can be mentioned in the annotation, as well.  Finally, you can provide a brief summary of your personal impressions of the work you're citing.

It is important to note that an annotation isn't the same as an abstract.  Whereas the abstract merely summarizes the main points being made in the work, the annotations of the bibliography should both describe the work and evaluate the major points.  As such, the purpose is to provide the reader with valuable information regarding the sources you have cited while also providing the reader with information on how to conduct additional research beyond that which is included in your document.  As with any aspect of an academic paper, be certain to use proper grammar and punctuation when writing the annotations.

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