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Citation Assistance Resource Guide: Annotated Bibliographies

Annotated Bibliographies

Annotated Bibliography Examples

Annotation vs. Abstract

At first glance, it may seem like a resource abstract and an annotation are the same thing. However, they serve different purposes


Abstracts are specifically descriptive summaries located at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or indexes. 


Annotations are often contextual to the research project. They are meant to assist in writing research papers by including not only a brief summary, but also one or more sentences that (a) evaluate the author's authority, (b) comment on the intended audience, (c) explain how this work ties in with your thesis or (d) compare or contrast this work with another you have cited.

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a combination of two parts: the citation (in your chosen style) and a brief description of the source and how it is useful to your research. They can be used with any citation style (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.).  

Annotated bibliographies are a great way to collect your sources and determine how and why you have chosen to include them for your assignment. They help you think about the quality of the source you have chosen. 

The annotation, or description, part of the annotated bibliography is normally between 3-5 sentences, but may vary depending on what your instructor requires. Typically included in the annotation:

  1. A short summary of the source and its information.
  2. An assessment of the quality of information in the source. (Is the information reliable? What is the goal of the source? How does it compare to other resources you have collected? etc.)
  3. An evaluation of how this source will be useful for your assignment. (Has it changed your thinking of your topic? How will it help shape your argument?) 

**Keep in mind your instructor may have different guidelines for your annotation than the three listed here. Always be sure to follow the requirements given by your instructor. **

Annotated Bibliographies are structured the same way as any other Works Cited or References page. Each citation is placed in alphabetical order and has a hanging indent. The annotation directly follows the citation it is describing. 


MLA Annotated Bibliography eample

APA Annotated Bibliography example

The Process

Finding and Selecting Sources

The quality and usefulness of your bibliography will depend on your selection of sources. Define the scope of your research carefully so that you can make good judgments about what to include and exclude. By understanding the requirements and focus of your research it will make the search process more streamlined. Refer to the Finding Scholarly Sources guide for searching tips. Consider these questions to help you find appropriate limits for your research:

  • What topic do I want to write about? What question(s) am I trying to answer? If your bibliography is part of a research project, this project will probably be governed by a research question/thesis. If your bibliography is a project on a general topic (e.g. incarceration and economic status), try formulating your topic as a question or a series of questions in order to define your search more precisely( ie. How does economic status effect incarceration sentences?) 
  • What kind of material am I looking for? (scholarly academic books and journal articles? government reports or policy statements? articles from the popular press? primary historical sources? etc.)
  • Do my sources fit the requirements of the assignment?

Your annotation should identify the main argument of the source. This is often the source's thesis or hypothesis. Include a brief description of the source's main points and the author's final conclusion. 

The following reading strategies can help you identify the argument of your source:

  • Identify the author’s thesis (central claim or purpose), research question, or hypothesis. Both the introduction and the conclusion can help you with this task.
  • Look for repetition of key terms or ideas. Follow them through the text and see what the author does with them. Note especially the key terms that occur in the thesis or research question that governs the text.
  • Notice how the text is laid out and organized. What are the main divisions or sections? What is emphasized? Why? Accounting for why will help you to move beyond listing contents and toward giving an account of the argument.
  • Notice whether and how a theory is used to interpret evidence or data. Identify the method used to investigate the problem/s addressed in the text.
  • Pay attention to the opening sentence(s) of each paragraph, where authors often state concisely their main point in the paragraph.
  • Look for paragraphs that summarize the argument. A section may sometimes begin or conclude with such a paragraph.

This section will be specific to your overall research. How does the source fit into the argument you are making in your paper? If your annotated bibliography is not part of a larger assignment, how does the source contribute to your larger selection of sources? Some thoughts to consider:

  • Are you interested in the way the source frames its research question or in the way it goes about answering it (its method)? Does it make new connections or open up new ways of seeing a problem? 
  • Are you interested in the way the source uses a theoretical framework or a key concept? 
  • Does the source gather and draw from other ideas and sources that you want to use? 
  • How do the source’s conclusions bear on your own thoughts?

In order to determine how you will use the source or define its contribution, you will need to assess the quality of the argument: why is it of value? what are its limitations? how well defined is its research problem? how effective is its method of investigation? how good is the evidence? would you draw the same conclusions from the evidence?

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