Write an annotated bibliography

What is an annotated bibliography

Description
  • A bibliography, sometimes referred to as References or Works Cited, is an organized list of sources (e.g., books, journal/magazine articles, Web sites, etc.) consulted in the research process.
  • Each source in the bibliography is represented by a citation that includes the author (if given), title, and publication details of the source.
  • An annotated bibliography is a bibliography with an additional description or evaluation (i.e., annotation) of each source.
Purpose
The purpose of the annotation is to help the reader evaluate whether the work cited is relevant to a specific research topic or line of inquiry.

Annotations versus abstracts

Abstracts
Abstracts are brief statements that present the main points of the original work. They normally do not include an evaluation of the work itself.
Annotations
Annotations could be descriptive or evaluative, or a combination of both. A descriptive annotation summarizes the scope and content of a work whereas an evaluative annotation provides critical comment.

What the annotation includes

Generally, annotations should be no more than 150 words (or 4-6 sentences long). They should be concise and well-written. Depending on your assignment, annotations may include some or all of the following information:

  • Main focus or purpose of the work
  • Intended audience for the work
  • Usefulness or relevance to your research topic (or why it did not meet your expectations)
  • Special features of the work that were unique or helpful
  • Background and credibility of the author
  • Conclusions or observations reached by the author
  • Conclusions or observations reached by you

Which citation style to use

There are many style manuals with specific instructions on how to format your annotated bibliography. The style you use may depend on your subject discipline or the preference of your instructor. Whatever the format, be consistent with the same style throughout the bibliography.

Consult our guide on how to cite correctly for examples of how to format citations in different styles such as the MLA, APA, Chicago.

Sample citations and annotations

Below are 2 sample annotations (The citations are in APA Style and are based on the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 5th edition.)

Book citation example with brief descriptive annotation (APA)

Liroff, R. A., & G. G. Davis. (1981). Protecting open space: Land use control in the Adirondack Park. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.

This book describes the implementation of regional planning and land use regulation in the Adirondack Park in upstate New York. The authors provide program evaluations of the Adirondack Park Agency’s regulatory and local planning assistance programs.

Journal article citation example with evaluative annotation (APA)

Gottlieb, P. D. (1995). The “golden egg” as a natural resource: Toward a normative theory of growth management. Society and Natural Resources, 8, (5): 49-56.

This article explains the dilemma faced by North American suburbs, which demand both preservation of local amenities (to protect quality of life) and physical development (to expand the tax base). Growth management has been proposed as a policy solution to this dilemma. An analogy is made between this approach and resource economics. The author concludes that the growth management debate raises legitimate issues of sustainability and efficiency.

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