How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Learn everything you need to know about how to write an annotated bibliography in this article, including how to find sources, evaluate sources, a step-by-step guide, and general tips.
Kelly Spancer
9
min read
Sep 8, 2021

You probably know what a bibliography is; sometimes called works cited or references, it is a collection of the sources used in a paper. An annotation is a brief summary or evaluation, so putting those two together an annotated bibliography is a collection of sources, each one including a brief description of the source. Making an annotated bibliography is important to learn especially if you are looking to pursue a higher degree or work in research. 

What is an Annotated Bibliography? 

Put simply, an annotated bibliography is a list of sources about a research topic including a brief analysis of each source. It can be part of a larger project, or it can be a stand-alone assignment. Depending on the purpose of the assignment, writing an annotated bibliography can either just be a summary of the contents of a source or can include a little bit of analysis as well. The analysis of the source can be as short as one sentence but is usually a few paragraphs long. You can think of it as similar to an abstract for a paper. By the end of this article, you will know how to make an annotated bibliography.  

How to write an annotated bibliography step by step?

Let's go over the steps to creating an annotated bibliography beginning with how to start an annotated bibliography.  

Step 1. Analyze the relevance and value of sources

The quality of sources is the most important factor when writing an annotated bibliography and will determine how good the final paper will be. Make sure you have a research topic that isn't too broad or too narrow so that you can steer your research in a specific direction. Once you have clearly defined the scope of your research, you can start searching for sources. If the bibliography is part of a larger research project, the scope may be simpler to understand than if it is a standalone assignment. 


Make sure you understand what the main questions you are trying to answer are and what the purpose of the assignment is. Find sources that answer the main questions to ensure that you don't go off track.  


Ask yourself what kind of sources are acceptable for your assignment. Depending on the topic, and guidelines from your teacher, you may only be allowed to use journals and published research. Check if you can use newspaper articles? Should you only use primary sources? 


Looking at the works cited page of an article that is high quality is a great place to find other sources. Important pieces of research that show up in the works cited of several papers about a subject are important and must be included when writing an annotated bibliography. 


Look into the expertise and credentials of the authors of any source. identify any biases that they may have to determine the overall quality of the source.   

Step 2. Start creating your annotations

There are four main types of annotations, which one you choose and what to write in an annotated bibliography depends on the requirements of the assignment as well as the type of topic. 


A descriptive or indicative annotation is the simplest. It is a summary of the main points of the source. Make sure to include the thesis of the source, as well as any other major points being made. There is no need for any personal evaluation for this type of annotation.


An evaluative or critical annotation provides some analysis of the source. It still includes a summary but also provides your opinion of the positives and negatives of the source. Start your evaluation with the broad topic, then move on to specific details, and finally your opinion of the quality of the research. Think about the author's biases and mention their qualifications. Evaluate whether the information is correct, how it compares to other research in the field, how clearly the information is presented, what the target audience is, and why the source and information are important. 


An informative or summative annotation is similar to an indicative annotation in the sense that it also provides a summary of the main points of a  source. The biggest difference is that a summative annotation emphasizes and highlights the important data from the source. This includes things like the hypothesis, methodology, specific data, proofs, and conclusions. An informative annotation is written from a neutral perspective and contains no analysis of the quality of the source or opinions from you the writer. 


When writing an annotated bibliography the most common type of annotation is a combination of the above types. A brief summary of the main points of an article followed by some of the key data followed by a few sentences evaluating the quality of the source. The best way of knowing what type you need to use is by going over your assignment guidelines. If you have any doubts make sure to ask your teacher or professor. 


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Step 3. Annotated bibliography formatting

The first thing to note about the annotated bibliography format is that each entry proceeds in alphabetical order starting with the author's last, then first name. When writing an annotated bibliography every line in the bibliography including the explanation paragraphs should be indented so that the author's names are the only thing that is completely on the left. The specific formatting of each entry is slightly different based on the citation style you need to use. The next section will give the format of each citation style along with examples. 


These are some general ways of formatting a bibliography:

  • Go in alphabetical order
  • Indent everything except the author's last and first name
  • Center the title “Annotated Bibliography”
  • Right align the page number
  • One-inch margins
  • Double spaced


The specific structure of each entry when writing an annotated bibliography depends on whether the requirements are for summary, evaluation, or reflection; essentially the requirements or the guidelines of the assignment. More often than not, a combination of several approaches is used, so here is a general structure for annotation paragraphs.


  • The full bibliography of the source in the correct citation style
  • The background and qualifications of the authors
  • The general purpose of the source
  • The main arguments or hypothesis
  • Who the intended audience is
  • The different research methods used 
  • The main conclusions of the source
  • The quality of the text regarding its reliability
  • Important pieces of data
  • Why the source is important within the scope of your research
  • Why the source is important in general 
  • The strengths and weaknesses of the source
  • Your personal opinion of the source

Step 4. Choosing citation style

There are three main bibliography citation styles that you may be asked to use based on the guidelines of the assignment. If it is not clearly mentioned, make sure to ask your professor because each bibliography has a different format based on the citation style. When writing an annotated bibliography, the citation style matters in the actual bibliography entry only, the format of the annotation does not change based on the citation style. 


How to write an annotated bibliography MLA style


MLA stands for Modern Language Association. It is one of the most common types of citation styles used. MLA is generally used for the subjects in the Arts and Humanities and has a unique citation style. 


This is an example of an informative or summative annotated bibliography in the MLA style.  


McGrath, Matt. “Nature Crisis: Talks Resume on Global Plan to Protect Biodiversity.” BBC                                                               News, BBC, 23 Aug. 2021, www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58306288.  



This article written by Matt McGrath for the BBC speaks about the delayed COP 15 summit that is supposed to happen in October 2021 in China. UN negotiators have started work on the Global Diversity Framework which aims to conserve at least 30% of the planet's natural resources like the ocean and wildlife.  None of the goals that had been set for 2020 have been fully realized, so a new set of targets for 2030 have been published but not yet ratified. The main goals include the target of 30% of land and seas to be protected, a minimum of a 50% reduction in the number of invasive species, the reduction of pesticide use by two thirds, and an increase of funding for conservation efforts to at least $200 billion a year. 


The negotiations are a key step to combating climate change and protecting the planet.  One of the key questions is about the digital sequence of information on genetic resources. This refers to digital biological data and how this information will be shared amongst countries. 


How to write an annotated bibliography APA style


APA stands for American Psychological Association. Along with MLA this is one of the most used citation styles. APA is generally used for technical, scientific, and social science related subjects. 


This is an evaluative or critical annotated bibliography example in the APA style. 


McGrath, M. (2021, August 23). Nature crisis: Talks resume on global plan to protect biodiversity. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58306288. 


This article written by Matt McGrath for the BBC is about the delayed COP 15 Summit. UN negotiators published the Global Diversity Framework about the conservation of natural resources on the planet. Several goals have been set for the year 2030 and negotiations will begin virtually in October 2021. The framework and the following negotiations are some of the most important global meetings regarding the future of the planet.


Matt McGrath has been writing about environmental issues for the BBC since 2006. As a source, the BBC is well known to be an impartial news distributor with highly reliable information. McGrath clearly states the current situation regarding the UN negotiations and provides the reactions of various experts both about the environment and about UN proceedings. 


The article is important as it sums up the biggest goals of the proposed framework and the reasons why these goals are important, as well as identifying key issues to look for during the negotiations. Any paper about the changes in the Earth's environment and human efforts to combat it will benefit from the information and analysis in this article.


How to write an annotated bibliography Chicago style


The Chicago style of citation is most often used for published works in the humanities like stories, books, literature, history, and the arts. It is rarely used for university assignments, but be sure to check with the professor whether this style of citation should be used.


This is an annotated bibliography example Chicago style of a descriptive or indicative annotation.  


McGrath, Matt. “Nature Crisis: Talks Resume on Global Plan to Protect Biodiversity.” BBC News. BBC, August 23, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58306288. 


This article written by Matt McGrath for the BBC is about the delayed COP 15 Summit. UN negotiators published the Global Diversity Framework about the conservation of natural resources on the planet. Several goals have been set for the year 2030 and negotiations will begin virtually in October 2021. The framework and the following negotiations are some of the most important global meetings regarding the future of the planet.

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FAQ 

How to do an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a collection of various sources about a specific research question or topic along with a brief description of each source. The bibliography entries should be in the required citation style. Below every bibliography, the description of the source can either be just a summary, an evaluation, or a reflection.


How long should an annotated bibliography be?

An annotated bibliography entry can be as short as one sentence but is often much longer.  Depending on the type of evaluation, it can extend up to a page per entry, but most commonly is 1-3 paragraphs. 


What are 3 types of annotations?

The three main types of annotations are: 

  • Descriptive or indicative - A brief summary of the main points of the source
  • Evaluative or critical -  a short summary followed by an evaluation of the source
  • Informative or summative -  a brief summary of the main points of the source including important pieces of data but without a personal evaluation


How does an annotated bibliography look?

An annotated bibliography looks like an expanded version of a normal bibliography/work cited /references page. Each individual entry looks like a bibliography entry followed by a paragraph. 


Should an annotated bibliography be in alphabetical order?

Yes, when writing an annotated bibliography each entry should be in alphabetical order with the author's last name going first.  


Is an annotated bibliography double spaced?

Yes, when writing an annotated bibliography everything is double spaced including both the citation as well as the annotation.  


What is an annotated bibliography introduction example?

An annotated bibliography starts directly from the first bibliography entry followed by the annotation paragraph. 

Conclusion

Writing an annotated bibliography is a useful tool to gain information about a specific topic or can be an essential part of a larger literature review, research paper, or thesis paper. It is an excellent way of collecting and organizing your sources for easy later access. It can also be a fantastic assignment for ensuring that students have done appropriate research on a topic. If you need any help with either a standalone annotated bibliography or a larger research paper or thesis, don't hesitate to reach out to the experts at Studyfy. They can help you with any kind of academic assignment!

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