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Annotated Bibliographies: A Primer

This guide offers a brief introduction on how to construct an annotated bibliography.

What's an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is, in essence, an evolution of a basic bibliography or works cited.

A bibliography or works cited is a list of external information resources, such as books or journal articles, that you're citing in your own work. It's intended only to allow your readers to locate those sources separately by following the information in your citations. By contrast, an annotated bibliography is meant to provide your readers with more information about each of those sources. This typically takes the form of a brief summary of its contents highlighting the most important things about the work.

Choosing your sources

The first step in constructing an annotated bibliography is the same as with any other research project: finding useful, reliable sources. As always, it's important to subject your selected materials to a critical examination before using them in your work. Any sources you include in your annotated bibliography should be more than superficially relevant to the topic you're exploring; that is to say, they should help both you and your readers develop a more meaningful understanding of your topic. The information offered by your sources should also be both accurate and trustworthy. If you're not sure how to make that determination, the CRAAP test (linked below) is a helpful evaluative tool.

Choosing your citation style

Your next step when compiling an annotated bibliography should be to build a basic bibliography that includes all of your chosen sources. There isn't one universal citation style for use with annotated bibliographies, so you'll need to select a citation style that's appropriate to your project. Your instructor will most likely have a preferred style for you to use, so be sure to check with them first. Once you know which style you'll be working in, the links below should provide you with more details on how to construct individual bibliographic entries with the correct formatting.

Composing your annotations

Once you've chosen your sources and assembled your bibliography, your final step will be writing annotations for each bibliographic entry. These should be relatively short - one paragraph, roughly 100-200 words. The tone should be academic, but you should write in full sentences and avoid using in-text citations of the work you're annotating.

What you include in your annotations will depend on the purpose of your annotated bibliography. If it's meant only to be descriptive in nature, then you should stick with purely factual sentences. This means describing the central focus of the cited work, as well as quickly summarizing the most significant aspects of the information presented in it, such as the authors' credentials, their intended audience, the theories involved, research methodology, and findings.

If your annotations are meant to evaluate the materials in your bibliography as well, then they should also contain some subjective sentences. These typically involve commentary on the strengths or limitations of the work, which can include pertinent information that wasn't covered or questions that are left unanswered. Additionally, you may also explain why the work is significant to your research topic, and its importance to understanding the subject.

Not sure whether your bibliography is meant to be descriptive or evaluative? Be sure to ask your instructor for clarification. The links below should also offer more assistance on how to compose your annotations.

Example Annotated Bibliography entries

Here are three examples of what an annotated bibliography entry should look like under three separate citation styles. Always remember to double-check your own work with your instructor to ensure that you're following the correct format your your assignment.

 

This is an example of an annotated bibliography entry in MLA style (8th edition) for an e-book:

Lautenbach, Ebbing, et al., editors. Practical Healthcare Epidemiology. E-book, 4th ed.,

Cambridge University Press, 2018. doi:10.1017/9781316597170

A compilation of essays providing an overview of the essentials of epidemiology within a healthcare setting. Edited by researchers from medical schools throughout the United States, and mostly featuring contributions from American writers. Broad areas covered include methods for preventing infection, major sources of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), antimicrobial-resistant organisms, and infection prevention within special healthcare settings. The authors target their writing towards healthcare professionals, particularly those working on infection prevention programs and those new to the field. As a result, the text focuses less on theory and more on practical advice from practitioners who have field experience in infection prevention, with an emphasis on specific anecdotal examples drawn from the authors’ careers. The book is therefore best understood as a baseline reference tool rather than a source of cutting-edge research.

 

This is an example of an annotated bibliography entry in APA style (7th edition) for a journal article accessed through an online database:

Cheng, S. H., Sun, Z., Lee, I.  H., Lee, C., Chen, K. C., Tsai, C. H., Yang, Y. K., & Yang, Y. C. (2017).

Factors related to self-reported social anxiety symptoms among incoming university students.

Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 11(4), 314–321. doi:10.1111/eip.12247

The authors, all researchers and practitioners at National Cheng Kung University and its associated hospital, use data gathered from 5126 university students during their orientation activities to examine the circumstances of those who self-report social anxiety symptoms (SAS). Their collected data includes demographic information, lifestyle and social factors, an assessment of personality traits, and an inventory of psychological symptoms, all based on standardized tests accepted within the field. They found that 1221, or 23.7%, of those students reported an above-average level of SAS. Furthermore, upon subjecting their data to logistic regression analysis, they noted correlations between several factors and higher reported levels of SAS. Among others, those factors include being an undergraduate student, being a non-smoker, having poor social support, and displaying the symptoms of internet addiction. As with most studies that rely on self-reported information, the authors’ conclusions must be regarded cautiously, and as such this paper cannot be held as definitive. Nevertheless, it remains an importance piece of research on the subject of anxiety among college students, offering a potentially valuable bit of insight into its root causes.

 

This is an example of an annotated bibliography entry in Chicago style (17th edition) for a print book:

Blake, William. Selected Poetry and Prose. Edited by Northrop Frye. New York: Random House, 1953.

A collection of the major written works of the English poet and painter William Blake (1757–1827), edited and featuring an introduction by the prominent Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye. It contains many of the highlights of Blake’s standalone poetry, from his first collection Poetical Sketches to the pieces extracted from his notebooks now known collectively as The Pickering Manuscript. Selections from his epic and prophetic poems, such as Milton and Jerusalem, are featured as well, along with some of Blake’s prose, including a number of his personal letters and marginalia transcribed from his personal literature collection. Frye’s editorial decisions help to keep the book focused, and his introduction and notes add significant context to Blake’s writing. Though not a complete compilation of Blake’s work, this edition is nevertheless an integral one for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the poet’s oeuvre.

More detailed examples

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Created and Modified by

David Bernardo, 3/20.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.