Annotated Bibliographies Explained

Alice Lopez


An annotated bibliography consists of citing a source (MLA or APA style, for example) and writing a brief summary and evaluation of said source. Once you compile all your sources in this manner, you have created an annotated bibliography. We use annotated bibliographies to map our sources and gain an overall understanding of how each source can fit in our work.

What Are Annotated Bibliographies?

When publishing their research, scholars usually introduce their own work by informing the reader of what has already been written about the topic. This portion of an article is called a “literature review” (in this case, “literature” means previous research and publications).

An annotated bibliography is a less formal version of a literature review. It is an alphabetized list of sources cited in a specific format (MLA or APA, for example) with an accompanying summary and evaluation of each source. It is created when we review sources that we are researching for a project.

An annotated bibliography is an intermediary step between reading our sources and using them in our own writing. It allows us to summarize and evaluate the different sources we work with to decide how to use them in our article or paper.

Why Do We Write Them?

An annotated bibliography is a useful step in your research and writing process. Creating an annotated bib does not require that you create more work for yourself; rather, it structures your research and helps you begin to write.

Creating an annotated bibliography requires you to be able to describe the main points/arguments of a source, summarize complex ideas, and determine the relevance of the source for your work. Because these skills are useful for your college classes and even professional life, you might find that you continue to use an informal annotated bibliography process as a way to organize complex research processes. 

Instructors use annotated bibliographies as a way to help students start their research, catalogue their sources, as well as read, analyze, and organize the information they have gathered. 

When in the Writing Process Do We Create an Annotated Bib?

Typically, you write your annotated bibliography once you have found your sources and spent some time with their content. The annotation you create for each source then helps you write your paper.

You can work on your annotated bibliography throughout your research process, adding to it as you determine which sources to use. Usually, you’ll start your annotated bibliography after you have begun researching and finish it before you begin drafting. But everyone has a different writing process, so feel free to draft your paper before you finish your annotated bibliography. 

Who Is Our Audience?

In the context of your college classes, the audience for your annotated bibliography is likely to be your instructor. Your annotated bibliography shows your instructor the research you conducted and the direction you are taking as you prepare to write your paper. It also demonstrates your ability to condense, summarize, and evaluate information while helping your instructor know what kind of guidance to provide before you draft your assignment.

If you decide that annotated bibliographies help you organize your research, you might create them informally for yourself in future classes or research projects.

How Do We Write an Annotated Bibliography?

To write an annotated bibliography, you will need to begin researching and collecting sources useful for your project. You can write your annotated bibliography at any time in your research process, but you need to make sure you understand your source before writing about it. You will create a document where you present each source in the format required by your instructor. You might have heard of this document referred to as a Works Cited page or Bibliography. 

After going through each of your sources, you will compose your annotation: in a couple of paragraphs (typically, 100 to 300 words) you will write a summary and evaluation. Your annotated bibliography is the combination of each source, presented in the required format, followed by your summary and evaluation. 

Step One: Find Your Source

Before starting your annotated bibliography, you must find the content (articles, book chapters, recorded materials etc.) that you find useful for your project. Consequently, your first step is research. If you haven’t done so yet, I recommend you read this article on how to become a responsible researcher.

Step Two: Create a Citation

The citation you will create is the same kind you would use for a Works Cited page or References list. You can read more about how to format your citations by referring to this article.

Step Three: Read/Watch/Listen to Your Source

Once you have located a source that you wish to use as part of your research, you will need to read/watch/listen to it. While taking in the content from your source, you want to keep track of what your source says. You can document the material you find in many ways—you might already know what kind of notetaking works best for you. But just in case, here are some ideas:

  • Highlight the arguments made by the author.
  • If you find a quote you find interesting or important, copy it in a separate document (digital or otherwise). Make sure to note the author’s name, the page number, the publication’s name, etc.
  • In the margins, write your questions or comments.
  • Outline the main arguments.
  • Note whether any perspective is missing.
  • Use voice memos or other digital documents to keep track of the content of your sources. If you choose this option, make sure to title each voice memo/digital note with an abbreviated title of the article and the author’s last name. 

Regardless of how you go about it, the goal is to make sure you understand and keep track of the content of your sources as it will help you write your annotations. The effort you put into taking notes and documenting your responses will make the process of writing your annotated bibliography much easier.

Keep in mind that you are gathering material for the purpose of writing a paper. In order to make the most out of your sources there are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • What interests you about this topic? What do you already know?
  • How does this source fit within your topic?
  • Do you agree with the source? Disagree?
  • Are some elements missing or under-addressed?
  • Is the author credible? Is the argument well-supported?
  • Do you find the article to be biased or mostly based on opinions instead of research?

Step Four: Write Your Annotation

Now that you are done going through your sources, it is time to look back at the notes you took or recorded and write your annotations. There are several ways in which you can present your sources: 

  • Some annotations will confine themselves to being informative: you will describe and summarize the content of the text you read, making sure to mention the arguments made by the author(s). Keep in mind that an informative annotation should not contain opinions about the source.
  • You can write an evaluative annotation where you gauge the strength of the author’s claims as well as their usefulness and relevance for your specific purpose.
  • Finally, your annotation can be a combination: you could write an annotation that is both informative and evaluative.

What kind of language/style should you use? The language you use depends on the purpose and audience of your annotated bibliography:

  • If you are writing for an outside audience (such as your instructor), you will use full sentences, unless instructed otherwise. Depending on the length of your annotations, you might choose to use paragraphs in order to keep the text organized and easier to read.
  • If you are writing for yourself, you can use a telegraphic style, meaning you will not use full sentences. Rather, you focus on writing information that will jolt your memory or be relevant to your specific assignment.


In conclusion, an annotated bibliography can serve as a useful step in your research. It will ensure you understand your sources and give you a chance to start writing about them, preparing you for your assignment. Working on an annotated bib also gives you a chance to try different methods of note taking and recording the information you encounter. The habits you develop while working on your annotated bibliography will be useful any time you need to organize and recall complex information.

Examples of Annotated Bibliographies

For examples of annotated bibliographies in MLA, APA, and Chicago style, please consult the OWL Purdue (Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab).

For a simple introduction to citation and formatting, read “The What & Why & So-What of Plagiarism: Citation and Format Made Simple.”


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Open English @ SLCC Copyright © 2016 by Alice Lopez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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