How to Write an Annotated Bibliography: Format and Tips

June 26, 2024

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography Step by Step

Have you written an annotated bibliography before instead of a simple list of sources and citations? It adds instant credibility to your work and shows that you did your research. In school, your instructor might ask that you use an annotated bibliography.

In addition to being peer-reviewed, scholarly work gains credibility from the sources or references used. When you include an annotated bibliography, you prove that you dug deep and wide into the subject matter to your audience. In this guide, you will learn how to write a perfect one for your paper or assignment.

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a summary of sources used in a research project, organized in a list, and represented by a citation style. So as the name suggests, they are bibliographies with added annotations to describe the source.

The annotation helps readers to determine the relevance of the work to the research topic. It makes the annotated bibliography unique compared to the usual type of bibliography, which has plain listings with no descriptions included.

Each annotation in the list should have a length of about 150 words, but the list of sources could be endless. Given the annotation's brevity, it should be as concise as possible while giving useful information to the reader. This annotation can be objective, subjective, descriptive, or analytical.

What are the Types of Annotated Bibliography

The kind of annotation used in the bibliography determines what kind it is. There are two main types of annotated bibliography. Also, the author is free to add his own opinion of the source or remain purely subjective.

  • Descriptive: a descriptive annotation describes the source with the view of informing the reader of its most distinctive points. As such, it is also called an informative or summary bibliography. However, it does not analyze the author’s conclusions.
  • Analytical or critical bibliography: In addition to describing the source and the author’s main points, the analytical bibliography also analyzes the source publication for relevancy, and identifies its strong points and weaknesses. It is also called an evaluative bibliography.

The annotation makes this type of bibliography unique from other types of source lists, including abstracts, works cited, reference pages, and literature reviews.

In the next section, we shall take a brief look into the major differences between them.

How Annotated Bibliography Compares to Other Assignments

Here's how  annotated bibliography compares with other assignments:

1. Annotated Bibliography vs. Abstract

Abstracts are purely descriptive summaries of a work usually given at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or periodical indexes.

They do not contain any evaluation or opinion about the source, while an annotation will often examine the author's relevance, point of view, authority, and clarity.

2. Annotated Bibliography vs. Works Cited

A works cited is a separate page of the references used in the research used in your paper.

The annotated bibliography will have a list of references used. However, it will also carry an extra annotation to describe what information the source has.

3. Annotated Bibliography vs Reference Page

A reference page is simply an author's list of all the sources used in a publication, including books, journals, articles, and magazines.

It is usually found on the last page of a publication and is listed as 'References.' 

An annotated bibliography is more detailed thanks to the annotation.

4. Annotated Bibliography vs Literature Review

An annotated bibliography is very brief and is usually limited to 150 words for every source. Its organization can be either chronological or alphabetical.

A literature review is a more in-depth study of references regarding a theme or topic.

What Makes a Good Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is judged by how it will summarize the works cited. Some of the criteria used to define a good one include the following:

  • Relevance to the work or topic of interest
  • Completeness and conciseness of its annotations regarding the sources
  • Strengths, weaknesses, and biases in the material, if any.
  • Relevance to the type of audience for whom it is written
  • The purpose of the work

With this in mind, you can write an excellent annotated bibliography for any paper.

However, let us first show you how it should be structured and what it contains.

What Makes a Good Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is judged by how it will summarize the works cited. Some of the criteria used to define a good one include the following:

  • Relevance to the work or topic of interest
  • Completeness and conciseness of its annotations regarding the sources
  • Strengths, weaknesses, and biases in the material, if any.
  • Relevance to the type of audience for whom it is written
  • The purpose of the work

With this in mind, you can write an excellent annotated bibliography for any paper.

However, let us first show you how it should be structured and what it contains.

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography Step by Step

 When it comes to writing an annotated bibliography step by step, you have to think about the information that you meant to pass on to the reader.

It helps to have a checklist so that your annotations can be as complete as possible.

Ask yourself these questions, and their answers will help you write better annotations.

  • What is the main focus of the work?
  • What is the intended audience?
  • How useful is it in the field or how relevant is it to the work?
  • What are the source's unique features, and is it particularly helpful?
  • What is the background and credibility of the author?
  • What conclusions or observations did the author reach?
  • What conclusions and observations do you have about the work?

The Step by Step Process

To start writing an annotated bibliography, you need to come up with relevant sources for your topic. That means visiting the library and taking out books, checking online for journals, and collecting records and other materials.

You will have to read at least some part of the source to get a clear idea of what it is about or check out literature reviews, which cite it as a source.

Otherwise, you probably will already have read it and will have no problem summarizing the main points used.

The Right Way to Structure an Annotated Bibliography’s Outline

An annotated bibliography has two main parts. These are citation or reference entry for the source, and the annotation in paragraph form. The annotation needs to be in a revelation style such as APA, MLA, and Chicago style.

Start by creating a reference list of each source in alphabetical order and the right format or citation style. Then, under each reference, write the annotation paragraph in your own words. Do not copy the source's abstract, and do not paraphrase or quote.

Finish by indenting the entire annotation. If it has multiple paragraphs, indent the first line of each paragraph in addition to the first indentation. Repeat this procedure for all the included references.

Apart from indentation, please note that there are rules associated with how you should write your annotated entries. These include:

  • Double-space the entry and annotation
  • Start the numbering on the title page at the top right of the page
  • The reference list must have a hanging indent
  • 1-inch margins all around the page
  • Use a serif font such as Times New Roman

Citation Styles for an Annotated Bibliography

The two major citation styles for an annotated bibliography are APA and MLA. However, the Chicago style is also used sometimes.

Usually, your instructor will give you specific regulations regarding what style you should use.

In the absence of such instructions, APA is used mostly in the social sciences such as Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, education, and other similar fields. The Languages, Arts, and Humanities use MLA style.

The best way to see the two major styles in action is through simple examples.

Annotated Bibliography Sample

APA Style

Stark, R. (1997). The rise of Christianity: A sociologist reconsiders history. New York, New Jersey: HarperOne.

The author explores the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire and how, contrary to popular belief, it attracted the high and mighty of the age. With a rich background of historical expertise, the author explores what it was that drew the rich and powerful together with the poor and afflicted toward a small movement in one corner of the Roman Empire. Blunt, spirited, and unconventional, the book debunks common myths about the rise of Christianity. However, the sociological approach is narrow and requires the reader to be more open-minded.

MLA Style

Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity: a Sociologist Reconsiders History. HarperOne, 1997.

The author explores the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire and how, contrary to popular belief, it attracted the high and mighty of the age. With a rich background of historical expertise, the author explores what it was that drew the rich and powerful together with the poor and afflicted toward a small movement in one corner of the Roman Empire. Blunt, spirited, and unconventional, the book debunks common myths about the rise of Christianity. However, the sociological approach is narrow and requires the reader to be more open-minded.

Chicago Style

Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity: a Sociologist Reconsiders History. New York, New Jersey: HarperOne, 1997.

The author explores the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire and how, contrary to popular belief, it attracted the high and mighty of the age. With a rich background of historical expertise, the author explores what it was that drew the rich and powerful together with the poor and afflicted toward a small movement in one corner of the Roman Empire. Blunt, spirited, and unconventional, the book debunks common myths about the rise of Christianity. However, the sociological approach is narrow and requires the reader to be more open-minded.

Get Help With Your Annotated Bibliography

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About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

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