Guide to Annotating a Bibliography

First, understand what an annotated bibliography is:

What is a bibliography? -- A bibliography is a list of accurate citations for a number of sources on a certain topic.

What is an annotation? - An annotation is a short description/evaluation of a source that helps someone to decide whether or not the source may be useful for their research needs.

So, an Annotated Bibliography is a combination of the above: a list of accurate citations and annotations for a number of sources on a certain topic.

There are several steps in composing an annotated bibliography.
  1. Define the types of sources that you need to find.
  2. Find the sources.
  3. Cite the sources.
  4. Examine/Annotate the sources.
  5. Organize the annotated bibliography according to the proper format for your purposes.
Let's look at these steps more closely:
  1. Define the types of sources that you need to find.
  2. Most annotated bibliographies contain a variety of different sources, to provide broader coverage of the topic. If you are creating a bibliography for a class assignment, the syllabus probably requires certain types of sources. Try asking your instructor or consulting for help in understanding what characterizes a certain type of source.

  3. Find the sources.

    Depending on the types of sources you need, you may need to look in different places to find them. For example: books, reference books and audiovisual materials can be located by using the University Libraries' online catalog, Minerva. Journal, magazine and newspaper articles are often found by using one of the Libraries' online databases. For tips on finding other kinds of sources, check out, or ask a librarian!

    The first source is not always the best one, so be sure to choose each source carefully based on how useful it will be to your research. Compare several different sources before making your decision.

  4. Cite the sources.

    Citations are designed to lead other people to the sources you have used in your research. There are specific formats that are used when writing citations, so that they are clear and concise. Two of the most frequently used formats are APA(American Psychological Association) and MLA(Modern Language Association). Style guides for each of these formats are available at .

    While these style guides cover most of the more common types of sources, sometimes you will need to refer to a more comprehensive guide. There are two books in the library that will help. For APA style, use the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. For MLA style, use the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Both of these books are located in the ReadyRef section of the University Library (main), next to the reference desk.

    Here are some examples of citations:

    A Book:
    APA Format:
    Schwartz, D. (1938). In dreams begin responsibilities. Norfolk, CT: New Directions.
    MLA Format:
    Schwartz, Delmore. In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1938. Print.

    A Magazine Article:
    APA Format:
    McCallum, J. (2001, August 20). Life after death. Sports Illustrated, 95(70), 70-82.

    MLA Format:
    McCallum, Jack. "Life After Death." Sports Illustrated 20 August 2001: 70-82. Print.

    A Journal Article:
    APA Format:
    Kondro, W. (2002, July 6). Low profile for health at Kananaskis G8 summit. Lancet, 360(9326), 61.
    MLA Format:
    Kondro, Wayne. "Low profile for health at Kananaskis G8 summit." Lancet 360.9326 (2002): 61. Print.

    CAUTION: Make sure you know beforehand which style of citation you need to use.

    Copy down as much information about each source as you can find the FIRST time you find it. Otherwise you will waste a lot of time re-finding it later on.
  5. Evaluate/Annotate the sources.

    While you may have done some preliminary evaluation when choosing your sources, now is the time to really examine each one.

    There are two forms of annotations you might compose, descriptive and critical:

    • A descriptive annotation, not surprisingly, describes the source: what it is (book, website, etc.), who created it, how long it is, what it contains:

      Zinn, H. (1997). A People's History of the United States. New York: New Press.

      This book covers American history from the point of view of various underrepresented groups. It contains a large amount of firsthand information and some interesting illustrations.

    • A critical annotation evaluates the source and explains why a particular source is valuable in relation to the topic of the bibliography. The Libraries' Evaluating Research Materials page ( has some excellent tips and tutorials to assist you in this process.

      Zinn, H. (1997). A People's History of the United States. New York: New Press.

      In this book the history of the United States is seen from the viewpoint of people who were not necessarily beneficiaries of American democracy. The book concentrates on the experiences of slaves, American Indians, women, and other disenfranchised groups and how they were affected by the major events in American history. It also includes excerpts from primary sources that show many of the country's most famous individuals as members of an elite upper class rather than as idealized heroes. Zinn emphasizes in the introduction that his intent is not to demonize figures such as revolutionary leaders, but to portray them in a more realistic light, as people who, while contributing to the development of the United States, were influenced by the prejudices of their time. As a source of information that is usually not included in history books, A People's History of the United States is invaluable to the study of American History.

    While brief descriptive annotations are useful, critical annotations enable the reader of the bibliography to make an informed choice about which source to use. Critical annotations also show that you have a good understanding of the strong and weak points of each source, and that you have spent some time choosing the best sources for your topic. If you are doing this for a class assignment, your instructor will specify if you need to write critical or descriptive annotations.

  6. Organize the annotated bibliography according to the proper format for your purposes.

    Some annotated bibliographies contain hundreds of sources and take up an entire book (e.g., Keeling, R. North American Indian Music: A Guide to Published Sources and Selected Recordings. New York: Garland, 1997.) Some have ten or even fewer sources.

    The format of the bibliography depends upon its intended use. If you are composing the bibliography for a class assignment, the instructor will tell you what format to follow.

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