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A Writer's Handbook

Annotated Bibliographies

The following is used from Purdue OWL website at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/614/01/

A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, websites, periodicals, etc.) one has used for researching a topic. Bibliographies are sometimes called "references" or "works cited" depending on the style format you are using. A bibliography usually just includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher, etc.).

An annotation is a summary and/or evaluation.  Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of each of the sources. Depending on your project or the assignment, your annotations may do one or more of the following:

  • Summarize: Some annotations merely summarize the source. What are the main arguments? What is the point of this book or article? What topics are covered? If someone asked what this article/book is about, what would you say? The length of your annotations will determine how detailed your summary is.
  • Assess: After summarizing a source, it may be helpful to evaluate it. Is it a useful source? How does it compare with other sources in your bibliography? Is the information reliable? Is this source biased or objective? What is the credibility of this article?
  • Reflect: Once you've summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How does it help you shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?

Why should I write an annotated bibliography?

  • To learn about your topic:   Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project. Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when you have to write annotations for each source, you're forced to read each source more carefully. You begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information. At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow you to see what has been done in the literature and where your own research or scholarship can fit. To help you formulate a thesis: Every good research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to state and support a thesis. So, a very important part of research is developing a thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current. Writing an annotated bibliography can help you gain a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, you'll start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and you'll then be able to develop your own point of view.
  • To help other researchers:  Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published. They provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic. You may not ever get your annotated bibliography published, but as a researcher, you might want to look for one that has been published about your topic.

Format of the Annotated Bibliography

The bibliographic information: Generally, though, the bibliographic information of the source (the title, author, publisher, date, etc.) is written in either MLA or APA format.

The annotations: The annotations for each source are written in paragraph form. The lengths of the annotations can vary significantly from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages. The length will depend on the purpose. If you're just writing summaries of your sources, the annotations may not be very long. However, if you are writing an extensive analysis of each source, you'll need more space.

You can focus your annotations for your own needs or for the needs of your instructor. A few sentences of general summary followed by several sentences of how you can fit the work into your larger paper or project can serve you well when you go to draft

Examples of Good and Bad Annotations

Good Example

Bad Example

What To Do With Annotations

Annotated bibliographies for the composition classes show your instructor that you have evaluated the sources that you are thinking of using for an essay that requires primary and/or secondary sources.  While the annotated bibliography is an evaluation of sources and their relevance to your actual essay topic, using the information from these sources will look a little differently in the context of the essay with an overall thesis.

  • In the actual essay, you have already evaluated the source’s validity, so there is no reason to summarize the source or discuss its credibility
  • In the actual essay, you will use contextual integration (discussed in the next few pages) to cohesively blend your ideas in your essay with the example and support that primary and secondary sources offer.