How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Writing guide
Posted on July 8, 2022

A bibliography is usually understood as a list of books in alphabetical order. The authors refer to this list in the process of research that they conduct to write their work. Along with the book bibliography, there may be other sources such as interviews, reports, articles, or digital resources such as audio recordings or videos, as well as websites. Because the bibliography may also consist of such resources, words such as “references”, “works cited”, or “works consulted” may be recalled in context. In standard form, the bibliography will contain detailed information about how the sources you consulted during the writing process were cited:

  • Name of the author(s);
  • Date of publication of the work;
  • Job title;
  • The name and location of the publisher.

The function of a bibliography is to orient readers in the list of sources that you have used in your work. In the bibliography, in addition to the main annotated quotations, there are evaluation comments and descriptions that determine the value and character of all the sources used. Your reader will receive critical information when you add these comments. They also receive the basis for further acquaintance with your text.

Sample Entry Annotated Bibliography

You can annotate even one sentence, but to make this part worthy, after the citation information, you should add a short paragraph of 150 words in length, which should fit into 3-6 sentences. An annotated bibliography resembles a literature review, except for the actual length of the text. It is based on:

  • Types, number, and volume of sources (this can be non-printed materials, articles, books, or primary documents). Your instructor should give you instructions on whether you will make a selection or a complete list;
  • Extraction of sources during the search;
  • The retrieved sources are evaluated by proofreading and writing down your findings and thoughts;
  • After completing the complete group of sources, you need to provide complete citation data, relative to the required bibliographic style (this can be APA or MLA), which is usually chosen by the person who asked for the assignment. You will annotate each source, but don’t repeat yourself.
  • The start of the annotation is the line that follows the citation data. They can consist of verb phrases or complete sentences. It all depends on the person who is giving you the task.

The annotation itself includes quite a lot of elements despite the fact that it seems to be less essential in the text than its body. It should contain the following:

  • An explanation of the scope and main purpose of the work you are citing;
  • The content of your work and a short description of its format;
  • The relevance of the author’s arguments and the theoretical basis of your text;
  • Credentials of the author in the academic and intellectual sphere;
  • What is the target audience of the work?
  • Evaluation of the significance of the work as a contribution to the work you have written;
  • What are the shortcomings in the work or are there some biases;
  • The presence of significant features of the work, such as appendices or a glossary;
  • Your opinion about the work and your impressions.

Some of these characteristics are already included in the literature review, but there is an emphasis on brevity in the bibliographic abstracts.

An annotated bibliography can be confused with just an abstract, but the latter simply gives a summary of the key points of the work. It does not matter what became the subject of annotation – an article or a book, or whether it in itself is a continuous list of sources of a large volume, an annotated bibliography still has only one purpose:

  • Illustrating the scope and quality of the research you have done;
  • A review of the literature that you used to disclose your topic;
  • Providing readers with additional alternative sources for review;
  • To see or you turned to some specific source;
  • Show what types of resources there are for your readers on a given topic.

The quality of the sources you choose directly affects the quality and usefulness of your bibliography. You should have a clear idea of how big your study will be so that you can clearly understand what you will exclude and what you will include in your study. The topic of your work should include as much information as possible and at the same time respect the boundaries. You can ask yourself some questions to understand what boundaries your task will have: What is the exact problem of your topic? What questions do I want to uncover? It may be that the bibliography becomes part of a research project, in which case it will be governed by the research question.

You can also write a bibliography as an independent project on a well-known topic (for example, pharmacy or science in developing countries). In such a case, you would formulate the topic as a question, or a series of questions, to narrow your search for sources:

  • What is the level of pharmacy in developing countries?
  • What is the cost of medicine?
  • What segments of the population can afford to buy more expensive medicines?
  • Are there any law regulating pharmacies?
  • Should they trust local producers?
  • What are the best sources to get information on this topic?
  • Are there any government reports on this topic?
  • Are there any publications in the popular press about this?
  • Are there worthwhile studies on this topic?

When answering these questions, try to find confirmation of this from other sources, including. It is always worth referring to some proven expert opinion.

Writing an Annotated Bibliography Step by Step

According to the standard, the process of creating an annotated bibliography consists of three stages. You start by evaluating selected sources to determine which ones will really benefit your article. Each source will have one annotation. And you complete the process by choosing a citation style. It is better to consider each of these stages in more detail.

Step 1: Analysis of Selected Sources

When the writing process brings you to the annotated bibliography stage, you need to critically evaluate all the sources and research done on your topic. First, look at the qualifications of the author, his/her authority, as well as the date when the study was done. Relevance should always be checked so that your text does not end up with outdated analyzes and opinions. After verifying the author, make sure that the magazine, book, or any other source is approved by professionals in the field. Your text will not benefit from a non-authoritative source or an unknown author. You won’t be able to make as good arguments as you plan to. Pay attention to the omission of facts, errors, and bias of the author.

In the process of choosing sources, do not forget that you need to write everything out so as not to lose it and be able to return it if you find useful information. A good tool would be Google Scholar in order to take the first steps. Skim through the topics presented, and then select the works that fit your theme. Download all materials to your computer if you have the opportunity.
Roman Frankovsky

Review carefully all the selected sources that you have collected. They are easier to revise once, but only when you have more or less mastered the topic of your assignment. You will also understand whether you should continue to search in this area. Next, take each source and add an annotation to it. You can use online tools to highlight and quote.

Note! When you critique all these areas, it will help you understand whether the source can be trusted and how useful it will be to you. You will also find out if it fits your thesis.

Step 2: Create Annotations

After critically evaluating your sources, you can begin to annotate them. They are not suitable for all authors and not in all cases. Depending on your intentions, you can choose different ways how you create them. You can write evaluative comments, brief comments, descriptive comments, or a combination of both in your abstracts. Just remember throughout the process what was asked in your assignment.

When you cite from your sources, pay attention to the style of the annotated bibliography. Further, your abstract should be concise so that the reader does not get tired of reading the summary of the topic or the content of the selected source. You can make a couple of sentences to each source that evaluates the author’s experience and authority, comment on the audience gathered by him/her, compare or contrast the selected work with others from the same field, and explain how this work relates to your topic, identify unique features or special citations. From the selected material, as well as describe the strengths and weaknesses in the content of the text.

In regard to annotation style, you are also quite free, as you can choose different annotation styles. By default, annotations exist in three specific formats, which depend on length:

  • Phrase annotations that briefly and concisely convey information to readers;
  • Complete sentences should be with correct grammar and punctuation, but do not stretch them;
  • Long annotations can even be split into paragraphs, which is very effective with the combined type.

To effectively complete the annotation, it is worth reviewing all the sources again and commenting on them. You can work on two screens at once to speed up the process. Strange as it may seem, many authors miss the final moment of checking the final version of the annotated bibliography – take the time to review the whole thing.

Pro tip

You can arrange abstracts in chronological or alphabetical order, depending on your assignment and research goals. Review this order for patterns and consistency. You may find that you still have gaps in the research or have some important questions.

Indicative/Descriptive Annotations
The names of these annotations fully reflect their function. Description of the source is their goal. You do a short overview of the resource and arguments with the help of orienting annotations, which at the same time describe key chapters or main points.

Informative/Summary Annotations
With this type of annotation, you show a summary of your sources. You add there your arguments and points that you raised in the consideration of the topic. You must show your readers why the selected source was important to your text and why it made it to your list.

Evaluation Annotations
With annotation, you can summarize or go a little further and evaluate the source. Comparison or contrast with something will contribute to this. Explain in this way to readers why you liked this particular source and why it fits the topic of the article.

Combined Annotations
It is often difficult to make annotations conform to only one format. You have the opportunity to combine all three types in an annotated bibliography. You can use multiple sentences to describe and summarize the annotation and add a score to it at the end.

Step 3: Format of the Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography has an abstract, citations, and a title. If the rules for writing annotations are the same for everyone, then the way you create a citation and a title for your text depend on the style you choose. Three of them are mainly used: APA, Chicago, and MLA.

Creating an annotated bibliography is a complex process that requires analytical skills from the author. You should do library research to provide readers with a summary of what they have read. You take the first steps when you collect all the selected information together and begin to analyze it. After that, the same annotation process takes place for each of the selected sources.

Assessing the Relevance and Value of Sources

Your abstract should end with an assessment of the value of the source that has been brought to the study of the problem or thematic issue. You need to describe the purpose of the source in the work if it is part of the research. But when the abstract is a project in itself, then you need to give a clear assessment of the contribution that has been made to the study of your topic.

To inspire you to write your annotated bibliography and find the most interesting topic, then look at the work of other writers and check them through:

Great Annotated Bibliography Topic Ideas for Smart Students

The abstract can show how the source influenced the formulation of the research question and whether it adequately answers this question. Show your readers whether the source has a theoretical basis or is a key concept. Regarding the evidence you are using, does the source gather a body of facts to support it? Determine if the conclusions from the source are consistent with your own.

To determine the contribution of a source or the way it is used, you need to evaluate the argument according to the criteria of value, possible limitations, clarity of the definition of the research problem, and the effectiveness of its research methods. Evaluate both the evidence and the conclusions from them. Always keep in mind the context of the project you are working on. Find out how the material is assessed in your student program or discipline. Review the course materials to see which models are used to evaluate arguments.

Difference Between Annotated Bibliography, Abstract, and Literature Review

Most often, it may seem to you that all these three terms are the same, but there is a difference between them, albeit a very blurry one. This is especially difficult to discern if you are new to academic writing. You have already learned what an abstract is – a synopsis of your source. Now read about the difference between an abstract and a literature review.

Literature Review

Literature reviews are like an annotated bibliography because they can also be full articles or added to the university newspaper. You write them for the purpose of linking and reviewing all the previously published scientific research together to support your thesis work. A literature review can also be used to advance your research or identify gaps in existing research. In preparing a literature review, you will learn how to identify sources and evaluate them critically.


Unlike an annotated bibliography, abstracts are included in research papers. You write them in order to provide information to the researcher who is interested in the topic or issues of the study, in its methodology and conclusions. Essay writing will help you determine whether a source is appropriate for your own written work or not.

The annotation serves as a summary and not for determining the grade. You do not include any additional material in the annotations, such as explanations of the topic or additional literature. On average, an abstract consists of 150-250 words. You can use a style such as APA, which will put your abstract right after the title page.

APA format bibliography example

Note! You are now more prepared to write a good annotated bibliography because you are familiar with the difference between it, an abstract, and a literature review.

Highlight and Underline

In the process of annotating texts, a very common way is to highlight or underline phrases, keywords, or the main author’s ideas. You can use this method and make it easier for yourself to repeat the material, for example, for exams. When you highlight any part of the text, you focus on important things that you may want to quote in your text. However, overly reliance on underlining and highlighting is discouraged because:

  • By trend, you highlight a lot more information than necessary. This is especially typical for the first reading;
  • Highlighting can slow down the interaction with the ideas in the text and prevent you from thinking.

But highlighting is still a good way to mark the parts of the text where you want to take notes. It is recommended to emphasize those phrases and words in the text that you refer to in other annotations.

In addition to the general guidelines and rules, you can see what experts advise when writing an annotated bibliography:

Annotated Bibliography in Chicago Style for New York Times Nonfiction Bestsellers
6 Most Important Annotated Bibliography Components in a Scientific Paper
10 Rules to Remember from Every Annotated Bibliography Book You Come across

Paraphrasing the Main Ideas and Their Summary

To reinforce understanding of your ideas, you can use paraphrasing, going beyond looking for information and being able to make sense of it. You prepare in the same way for any essay, which is likely to be given to you based on what you have read. You can make marginal notes next to the main ideas, which will make a visually convenient summary of what you have read right on the page. Furthermore, you should be able to take the gist of a sentence or an entire paragraph and condense it into a few words. In this way, you clearly demonstrate that you understand the ideas that have been considered.

Descriptive Plan

The organization of your text can be shown to readers with a descriptive outline where they can see how you introduced the idea and how it developed. In a descriptive plan, you will include details, facts, explanations, support for your ideas, and not just the main ideas (for the convenience you can even create a ppt).

You focus the attention of the descriptive plan on the functions of individual paragraphs or sections in the text. These functions may include any of the following:

  • Argument or summary;
  • Introduction of your idea;
  • Explanation;
  • Give examples;
  • True evidence;
  • Consideration of the opposite point of view;
  • Rejection or acceptance of someone else’s point of view;
  • Adding a transition;
  • Conclusion.

This is not an exhaustive list of what you can add, but it is important to understand that you may repeat these features as you work. Especially if you have several main ideas. When you draw up a descriptive outline, you will make it easier for yourself to keep track of the construction of the argument of the source author and how he/she thinks. This will also help create annotations.


Annotation can be used as something more than understanding the meaning of the text and its organization, but also for stating your own reactions, which may be agreement or disagreement with the opinion of the author. You can also express your personal experience, and find its connection with ideas from other sources. This is a good way to articulate your personal vision and formulate your own ideas.

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