This handout provides information about annotated bibliographies in MLA, APA, and CMS.
Contributors: Geoff Stacks, Erin Karper, Dana Bisignani, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-02-09 12:16:22
A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, Web sites, periodicals, etc.) one has used for researching a topic. Bibliographies are sometimes called "References" or "Works Cited" depending on the style format you are using. A bibliography usually just includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher, etc.).
An annotation is a summary and/or evaluation. Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of each of the sources. Depending on your project or the assignment, your annotations may do one or more of the following.
- Summarize: Some annotations merely summarize the source. What are the main arguments? What is the point of this book or article? What topics are covered? If someone asked what this article/book is about, what would you say? The length of your annotations will determine how detailed your summary is.
For more help, see our handout on paraphrasing sources.
- Assess: After summarizing a source, it may be helpful to evaluate it. Is it a useful source? How does it compare with other sources in your bibliography? Is the information reliable? Is this source biased or objective? What is the goal of this source?
For more help, see our handouts on evaluating resources.
- Reflect: Once you've summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How does it help you shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?
Your annotated bibliography may include some of these, all of these, or even others. If you're doing this for a class, you should get specific guidelines from your instructor.
Why should I write an annotated bibliography?
To learn about your topic: Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project. Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when you have to write annotations for each source, you're forced to read each source more carefully. You begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information. At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow you to see what has been done in the literature and where your own research or scholarship can fit. To help you formulate a thesis: Every good research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to state and support a thesis. So, a very important part of research is developing a thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current. Writing an annotated bibliography can help you gain a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, you'll start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and you'll then be able to develop your own point of view.
To help other researchers: Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published. They provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic. You may not ever get your annotated bibliography published, but as a researcher, you might want to look for one that has been published about your topic.
The format of an annotated bibliography can vary, so if you're doing one for a class, it's important to ask for specific guidelines.
The bibliographic information: Generally, though, the bibliographic information of the source (the title, author, publisher, date, etc.) is written in either MLA or APA format. For more help with formatting, see our MLA handout. For APA, go here: APA handout.
The annotations: The annotations for each source are written in paragraph form. The lengths of the annotations can vary significantly from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages. The length will depend on the purpose. If you're just writing summaries of your sources, the annotations may not be very long. However, if you are writing an extensive analysis of each source, you'll need more space.
You can focus your annotations for your own needs. A few sentences of general summary followed by several sentences of how you can fit the work into your larger paper or project can serve you well when you go to draft.
Most everything written or published in the higher academy is cited. The citation of sources prevents plagiarism, helps a professor fact-check an essay or paper for accuracy, and can aid the student in finding information if they decide to return to a certain source in the future. Learning the importance of citing sources is something any and every student should learn wholeheartedly and always embrace because, at the college or university level, it is a fact of life.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY EXAMPLES
However, with the overwhelming bombardment of information and terminology in higher education, it can be a challenge doing things the correct way – and can get very confusing. This certainly applies to a writing assignment requiring a student to cite the sources they have used, referred to or encountered in compiling information and writing an essay or research paper. A Works Cited page and Bibliography are perfect examples: the two are often used interchangeably, mean close to the same thing, yet have entirely different purposes, meanings, and implications.
Bibliographies, which are mostly found at the end of a book or published an academic article, are a list of the books or other articles referred to in a scholarly work – and are not merely a simple paper, essay or research paper written by an undergraduate. Usually printed as an appendix, bibliographies provide an overview of what has been published on a topic. Some bibliographies are annotated, meaning they include a brief summary of each work’s contents and explain how it was relevant in writing about the subject of the paper. A bibliography is an ideal starting point for the student looking to conduct research on a specific topic or range of topics. However, some professors may require their students to make a list of all the sources that informed the student writing the paper – those that may have lead the student to other, more recent sources. In this case, a bibliography may be best.
The Works Cited
The Works Cited, often referred to as the “Works Cited Page,” is a separate page at the end of a student’s essay or research paper; it lists the sources they used in the writing and completing their assignment – whether they used information in direct quotes, rephrased summaries, the incorporation of data and general information, like statistics. Whenever a student borrows legitimate information from any reputable source (anything that is not common knowledge: “the capital of Thailand is Bangkok”), that information needs to be cited in MLA style. This list should be alphabetized by authors’ last names – or by editors’ or translators’ names – and should have “Works Cited” as a centered heading. In many cases, one’s professor may read the student’s Works Cited page first to get a feel for the kind of effort put into the assignment.
FOOTNOTES VS. ENDNOTES
Student, keep in mind! In the event, a student is not sure which exactly their professor prefers – works cited, bibliography or an annotated bibliography – that student should talk with their professor; rather than risk getting a low grade, it is best they inquire early on in getting an assignment.