Writing an Annotated Bibliography for a Paper

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Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Annotated bibliography

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 bibliography 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. 

If you are required to write an annotated bibliography, you are probably wondering things like:

  • Why do I need to do this?
  • What should it look like?
  • How do I go about creating one?
  • Where can I find examples?

Why Write an Annotated Bibliography?

The purpose of writing an annotated bibliography is to provide your teacher or research director with an overview of the research that has been published on a particular topic. If a professor or teacher asks you to write an annotated bibliography, he or she expects you to take a good look at the sources that are available on a topic.

This project gives you 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. An annotated bibliography can also stand alone as a research project, and some annotated bibliographies are published.

As a student requirement, 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.

What Should It Look Like?

Typically, you would write the annotated bibliography just like a normal bibliography, but you will need to add one to five concise sentences under each bibliography entry.

Your sentences should summarize the source content and explain how or why the source is important. It will be up to you to decide why each item is important for your topic. Things you might mention are:

  • The thesis of the source is one you support or don't support.
  • The author has a unique experience or point of view related to your topic.
  • The source has strengths or weaknesses.
  • The source provides a sound basis for a paper you intend to write.
  • The source leaves some questions unanswered.
  • The source has a political bias.

How Do I Write an Annotated Bibliography?

Your first step is to collect resources! 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.

Another factor that will be affected by your particular assignment and teacher is how deeply you read each of these sources. Sometime you'll be expected to read each source carefully before putting them into your annotated bibliography.

Other times, when you are doing an initial investigation of the sources available, for example, your teacher will not expect you to read each source thoroughly. Instead, you will be expected to read parts of the sources and get an idea of the content. Ask your teacher if you have to read every source that you include.

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