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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography: Annotated Bibliography Basics

Never written an annotated bibliography? It's not nearly as scary as you might think. Use this guide to help you get started.

What is an annotated bibliography?

Good question.

For starters, let's make sure we understand the definition of a bibliography. A BIBLIOGRAPHY is a listing of citations -- usually including the author, title, publication information, etc -- of the sources that you have used or plan to use for your research topic (Ellison, 2010, p. 55). Bibliographies help the readers of your research find out where you obtained your information. They are used by instructors and others to assess the validitity of your research findings as well as aid future researchers in locating sources on similar research topics. Bibliographies are also sometimes referred to as Works Cited pages or References. Depending on the style guide you are required to use, citation formats will vary.  You should consult your professor, the appropriate style guide (MLA, APA, Turabian, etc), or the library's guide Citing Sources to learn more about formatting bibliographies.

An ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY goes one step further. An annotated bibliography provides a short paragraph of description/criticism/evaluation of each of your sources. Annotated bibs can help you remember specific information contained in your source and often act as a springboard to further research because you are able to see what has already been written about your topic (Ellison, 2010, p. 56).

Ellison, C. (2010). McGraw-Hill’s concise guide to writing research papers. New York: McGraw-Hill.

What does an annotated bibliography look like?

The image above is a page taken from Abstract Expressionist Women Painters: An Annotated Bibliography. Citations are listed alphabetically and are followed by a short paragraph providing information about the work. Citation formatting information can be found within the style guide that you are required to use.  Check the Citing Sources libguide or consult your style manual.

For additional examples of annotated bibliographies, click on the links found in the "Annotated Bibliographies Toolbox" in the right column of this guide.

When in doubt, your professor is your best resource. The creator of the assignment has a specific idea of what your completed assignment should look like. Don't be afraid to ask questions. We're all here to help you learn.

What is the difference between an abstract and an annotated bib?

But isn't annotation just another way to say abstract? 

Well, yes and no.

While there are some definite similiarities between a journal abstract and an annotation, there are some differences that set the two apart.  An ABSTRACT usually refers to the summarial information found preceeding a journal article.  Authors and editors use abstracts to provide a summary of the article.  In most cases, an abstract is written by the author and simply provides bare bones information about what the article contains so that the researcher knows what to expect prior to reading the source in its entirety (“Earlham Libraries - How to Write Annotations,” 2011).

An ANNOTATION, however, can be used for a different purpose.  While an annotation can be used to provide a summary of a source, their primary purpose is to provide the reader with a description/critique of the source in order to enable the researcher know whether or not they would benefit from reading the information contained within the article. When possible the annotated bibliography should establish relationships between the sources it discusses and then highlight strengths and weaknesses within the collected works as they relate to each other (“Earlham Libraries - How to Write Annotations,” 2011).

Still not sure you can tell the difference?

Try thinking about it this way:

When a new car rolls off the line, the company that created that car will develop all kinds of advertisements and brochures explaining all of the wonderful features that their car offers.  These publications are great ways to find out what the makers of the product think about what they have been able to create. Information published by the auto maker is similar to an abstract that is written by the author or publisher.


Months later, outside companies like Edmunds or Consumer Reports will put this same vehicle through a series of tests to evaluate its performance.  Usually they will try out several cars of the same period in the same vehicle class (ex: Dodge Charger vs Ford Mustang). Those companies will then publish a report that discusses the pros and cons associated with each individual model and then compare all similar models to each other to determine which are among the best and the less than best for that particular study. This is what you are doing when you are building an annotated bibliography.  You are putting your sources through a sort of test to determine what is great about the source and then to examine where some of its potentional pitfalls lie. Having this knowledge readily available when you begin writing your research can be immensely helpful. This is why entire books worth of annotations are published every year!

My Annotated Bib for this Guide

Ellison, C. (2010). McGraw-Hill’s Concise Guide to Writing Research Papers [electronic Resource]. McGraw-Hill. Retrieved from

Written with the beginning researcher in mind, this guide covers the process of research writing from start to finish. The author, Carol Ellison is considered a veteran in the field of english compisition and is able to present the information in language that is accessible to most people especially as she provides a layman's approach to research terminology. Although, with this approach comes a tendency to over simplify that is not found in similar works. This work was used to locate a working definition of "annotated bibliography" that would make the information approachable for this audience.

Earlham Libraries - How to Write Annotations. (2009, June 31). Retrieved November 3, 2011, from

This source is similar to this libguide in nature and was created by libarians at Earlham University for student use. The language is approachable and does an excellent job of explaining the differences found between abstracts and annotations. Indications that this is a reputable source are shown in the nature of the website (university library), the examples used, and the fact that the creator of this information included his name and contact information. Information provided in this source was helpful in writing the explanatory section discussing the differences between abstracts and annotations.

Ask Your Librarian

Elizabeth Ponder
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Jarrett Library, Office 111
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Annotated Bib Toolbox

Tools to Evaluate Your Bibliography

Rubrics are tools that can be used to evaluate assignments such as papers and bibliographies. Check out these rubrics to help you evaluate your own annotated bibliographies.

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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography by Elizabeth Ponder at East Texas Baptist University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.