Citation Help and Annotated Bibliography Guide 

The Citation Help and Annotated Bibliography Guide provides in-depth online support for many citation styles used at Cal Poly (including MLA, APA, Chicago, IEEE and more).  It also provides guidance on citing images, citation management software, and annotated bibliographies.

You may also seek live, personalized assistance via the Research Help Desk or 24/7 Live Chat Help.

Some basic citation principles and information, however, are provided on the remainder of this page.

Why cite correctly?

The main reason for citing sources is to give credit to the authors whose ideas you have used in your research paper. Citing your sources also allows readers of your work to build on your research by finding the sources to which you’ve referred

Elements of a Citation

Regardless of the citation style you use, there are certain elements common to all citations. Therefore, keep track of the following as you locate and gather research materials:

Author (or editor); Title; and Publishing information (City, Publisher, Year of publication)
Author(s); Title of article; Title of journal or magazine; Volume and Date of periodical; and Page number(s) of article

If you access information via the Web, also record the address of the Web site (or online database you used) and the date you accessed the site or database.


The OWL at Purdue provides excellent online help for basic citation questions and lists key examples from  APA  MLA, and Chicago.

APA has an excellent online site with plentiful APA citation examples.

Write an annotated bibliography
What is an annotated bibliography
  • 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.
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 are brief statements that present the main points of the original work. They normally do not include an evaluation of the work itself.
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.

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.