Writing an annotated bibliography

This guide provides general help about writing an annotated bibliography. However, individual instructors may give instructions that vary from these examples. Always check with your instructor to ensure that you are following your assignment criteria.

An annotatated bibliography typically includes features like:

  • Complete bibliographic information.
  • Some or all of the following:
    • Information to explain the authority and/or qualifications of the author
    • Scope and main purpose of the work
    • Any biases that you detect
    • Intended audience and level of reading difficulty
  • Evaluation or why you feel this work is suitable for your topic

Bibliography Style

Write your bibliographic entry according to the appropriate (APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, etc) and add an annotation to each entry. The annotation describes the essential details of the work and its relevance to the topic. The library also provides guides on these citation styles.

Types of Annotations

Annotations that summarize a source are sometimes called informative or descriptive annotations. This is often the type of annotation you'll write when describing the sources you intend to use for an assignment, paper or thesis. Annotations that also evaluate and assess a work are often known as critical annotations.

Informative/Descriptive Annotation

An Informative or descriptive annotation describes the content of the work without judging or appraising its quality. It can, however, point out distinctive features of the work.

London, Herbert. "Five Myths of the Television Age." Television Quarterly 10 (1) Spring 1982: 81-89.

Herbert London, the Dean of Journalism at New York University and author of several books and articles, explains how television contradicts five commonly believed ideas. He uses specific examples of events seen on television, such as the assassination of John Kennedy, to illustrate his points. His examples have been selected to contradict such truisms as: "seeing is believing"; "a picture is worth a thousand words"; and "satisfaction is its own reward." London uses logical arguments to support his ideas which are his personal opinion. He doesn't refer to any previous works on the topic. London's style and vocabulary would make the article of interest to any reader.

Critical Annotation

In other cases, annotated bibliographies are written to assess the literature on a chosen topic more broadly. Here, the compiler of the annotated bibliography would normally be more critical and evaluative when discussing the works, in considering not only how a book, article, website, etc. is relevant to an assignment, but how well the work stands up aginst most of the published works in a particular field of study.

In addition to the suggestion above, this type of annotation would more specifically include:

  • an evaluation of the source‚Äôs usefulness, reliability, strengths, and weaknesses
  • how the work relates and compares to other works on the topic
  • how or whether the work would be useful to others exploring the topic

In addition to the components that make up an informative or descriptive annotation, a critical annotation also evaluates the usefulness of the work for a particular audience or situation. The words that are in bold below indicate what has been added to the descriptive annotation to make it a critical annotation.

London, Herbert. "Five Myths of the Television Age." Television Quarterly 10 (1) Spring 1982: 81-89.

Herbert London, the Dean of Journalism at New York University and author of several books and articles, explains how television contradicts five commonly believed ideas. He uses specific examples of events seen on television, such as the assassination of John Kennedy, to illustrate his points. His examples have been selected to contradict such truisms as: "seeing is believing"; "a picture is worth a thousand words"; and "satisfaction is its own reward." London uses logical arguments to support his ideas which are his personal opinion. He doesn't refer to any previous works on the topic; however, for a different point of view, one should refer to Joseph Patterson's, "Television is Truth" (The Journal of Television 45 (6) November/December 1995: 120-135). London's style and vocabulary would make the article of interest to any reader. The article clearly illustrates London's points, but does not explore their implications, leaving the reader with many unanswered questions.