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The Annotated Bibliography – Getting it Right

October 30, 2015 - Posted toWriting

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The Annotated Bibliography – Getting it Right

Every student knows how to prepare a bibliography, sometimes knows as a works cited page. You have a format to follow (MLA, APA, Turabian, etc.), and you list all of the resources you used in a research work you have written. The information gives the author, the title of the work, the date and place of publication, and so forth. At some point, most students will be required to write annotated bibliographies, which are totally different and present unique challenges. This piece should help you eliminate some of the risk factors of preparing annotations, so that your grade will not be lowered as a result of a poorly constructed one.


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Defining the Annotated Bibliography

Getting to a precise understanding of what is an annotated bibliography, there are a couple of other terms that must be defined, as follows:

  • Annotation: An annotation is not just a short summary of a research resource that has been used. It has to provide the reader with sufficient information that s/he can make an informed decision as to whether the work would be useful to a research paper or project s/he is currently writing. The reader also want to know why the work might be useful.
  • Abstract: Many students confuse abstract and annotation. While both provide a summary of a work, the abstract stops there. The annotation, on the other hand, will provide additional information, some of which will be evaluative and critical.

Now, we can actually define an annotated bibliography: It is a complete listing of all sources used in the production of a research work, and, following each listing, there is a one-paragraph annotation, usually of about 100-200 words. Depending on the type of work that has been produced, an annotated bibliography may have one or more of the following purposes:

  1. Give a comprehensive literature review on a specific topic
  2. Give examples of the types of resources that are available on a specific topic
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of the resource materials that have been used in the production of a research work
  4. Provide future researchers with a better understanding of the nature and importance of specific resources cited in the text of a research work.
  5. In a research work that involves a controversial topic, an annotated bibliography will provide the reader insight into the argument topics of authors of the resources used.

Two Types of Annotated Bibliographies

Professors are usually pretty definitive in specifying which of two types of annotated bibliographies they want students to produce:

  1. The Descriptive Annotation: This type begins as if it were an abstract, providing a summary of the content of the resource. It goes a few steps beyond by explaining why the resource was useful, any unique features of the resource, and it may also explain an author’s point of view and conclusions. It will not, however, pass judgement on any of those views or conclusions. In this respect, you will need to be careful about your choice of words so that they do not appear to be judging those points.
  2. The Critical or Analytical Annotation: This type provides all of the information of a descriptive annotation but it also comments on the strengths or weaknesses of the author’s views and conclusions.

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography – The steps

  1. As you conduct research for your paper or project, have a separate document for each source that you can make notes that will be included in your annotation. When you finish studying a resource and taking your notes, write a short summary of that source, note the important information that it contributed to your topic, and, if you are to provide a critical analysis and judgement, make some notes about that. This will help you so much in the end, as you will not have to go back and try to remember.
  2. Once your paper or project is completed, you are ready to create that annotated bibliography. Before you begin, make sure you have the correct citation style. An MLA annotated bibliography, for example, will begin with the normal complete citation format each resource. The only exception may be if a professor wants the bibliography to be chronological (based upon publication dates) as opposed to alphabetical.
  3. Once you have entered the full citation, double space and begin your annotation. Here is the general order in which the information should be presented:

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  • Purpose of the source (original research, reported research, objective, argumentative)
  • Summary of the source content
  • Statement declaring the relevance of the content to your research topic. This is really a personal reflection/response.
  • Brief description of any unique features of the resource (surveys, interviews, etc.)
  • Biases, strengths, or weaknesses (if it is to be an analytical annotation)
  1. Be certain that your annotation is written in scholarly paragraph style, with a topic sentence that usually relates to the purpose of the source’s author. For example, “John Doe has summarized 4 major research studies on the effects of art therapy as a treatment for clinically depressed adolescents in an attempt to evaluate the efficacy of such therapy.”

Do’s and Don’ts/Common Mistakes

Do’s  Don’ts
  • make sure that you have clear instructions about the type of annotations you are to write – descriptive or descriptive/critical
  • use the wrong format for the regular citation entry. Professors are pretty picky 
  • make sure that you have provided enough information that a future researcher can read your annotation and know whether it would be relevant for his/her own research.
  • go over the allowable word count. Limit your annotation to 200 words; however, individual professors may have different parameters.

​Another hint for you to remember is develop a word list that will cue you on the all of the parts to be included – summary, personal reflection, etc. You don’t want to leave any critical piece out.

Some Final Thoughts

One of the best way to help yourself learn how to write annotated bibliographies is to study those that have been written by others. You can even Google “samples of annotated bibliographies” and find thousands of them. Look for those in your required format style.

You have to pack a lot of information into 200 words. Write your annotation first without concern for the number of words. Once you have it complete, get your word count and, if it is too long, go back and start eliminating adverbs and adjectives. Look for any redundancies in what you have written. But never go over your word limit.

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