Writing an Annotated Bibliography for a Paper

Providing an Overview of Research Published on a Given Topic

An annotated bibliography is an expanded version of a regular bibliography—those lists of sources you find at the end of a research paper or book. The difference is that an annotated bibliography contains an added feature: a paragraph or annotation under each bibliographical entry.

The purpose of the annotated bibliography is to provide the reader with a complete overview of the articles and books that have been written about a certain subject. Learning some background about annotated bibliographies—as well as a few key steps to writing one—will help you to quickly create an effective annotated bibliography for your assignment or research paper.

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Annotated Bibliography Features

Annotated bibliography

The annotated bibliography gives your readers a glimpse of the work a professional researcher would do. Every published article provides statements about prior research on the topic at hand.

A teacher may require that you write an annotated bibliography as the first step of a big research assignment. You would most likely write an annotated bibliography first and then follow with a research paper using the sources you've found.

But you may find that your annotated bibliography is an assignment on its own: It can also stand alone as a research project, and some annotated bibliographies are published. A stand-alone annotated bibliography (one that is not followed by a research paper assignment) would most likely be longer than a first-step version.

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How It Should Look

Write the annotated bibliography just like a normal bibliography, but add between one and five concise sentences under each bibliographical entry. Your sentences should summarize the source content and explain how or why the source is important. Things you might mention include whether the:

  • Thesis of the source is one you support or don't support
  • Author has a unique experience or point of view related to your topic
  • Source provides a sound basis for a paper you intend to write, leaves some questions unanswered, or has a political bias
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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Find a few good sources for your research, and then expand by consulting the bibliographies of those sources. They will lead you to additional sources. The number of sources will depend on the depth of your research.

Determine how deeply you need to read each of these sources. Sometime you'll be expected to read each source carefully before putting it into your annotated bibliography; in other cases, skimming the source will be sufficient.

When you are doing an initial investigation of all of the sources available, your teacher may not expect you to read each source thoroughly. Instead, you likely will be expected to read parts of the sources to learn the essence of the content. Before beginning, check with your teacher to determine whether you have to read every word of every source that you plan to include.

Alphabetize your entries, just as you would in a normal bibliography.