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What is an Annotated Bibliography?


A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, websites, etc.) that you used for researching a topic. These are sometimes called "References" or "Works Cited" depending on the citation style used. Bibliographies usually include only the citation (which includes the author, title, and publisher information).

An annotated bibliography includes a summery and/or evaluation of each of the sources you have read through for your research. Depending on your project or assignment, your annotation may include a summary, assessment, and/or reflection.

Why Should I Write an Annotated Bibliography? 

A top reason why you should write an annotated bibliography is to learn more about your topic. Writing an annotation is an excellent way to prepare for a research project by having you to closely read through each source that you are considering using for your research. Another important reason why you should write an annotated bibliography is to help you formulate your thesis and gather evidence to support your argument. By writing out annotations, you can gain perspective on what is being said about your topic and how it relates to your paper more broadly. 

Summarize, Assess, and Reflect

Your annotated bibliography may include some or all of the following. If you have questions about what you should add into your annotated bibliography, ask your professor for specific guidelines. 

Some annotations merely summarize the source. Ask: What are the main arguments made? What is the point of this book or article? What topics are covered and talked about? If someone asked what this article or book is about, what would you tell them? 

Assess and Evaluate
After summarizing a source, it is helpful to evaluate what you have read. Ask: How does this source compare with other sources you have read? Is the information reliable? Is the source or author biased and/or objective? What is the overall goal of this source?

Once you have summarized and assessed your source, you need to ask how this source fits into your research. Ask: Was this source helpful to you? How does it help to shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? How has it changed how you think about your topic?

Formatting Your Annotation

General Format

The format of an annotated bibliography can vary, so always ask your professor for specific guidelines. 

Generally, annotated bibliographies contain two parts: the bibliographic citation and the annotation. Begin your entry with the citation of your source. This should be formatted as it would be for your final paper. After your citation (on a new line), comes the annotation. Annotations are written in paragraph form, with the length varying depending on the purpose.

Examples of Annotations 
Remember, the annotations you include should reflect your research project and/or the guidelines of your assignment. 

Sample APA Annotation 

Ehrenreich, B. (2001). Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. Henry Holt and Company.

In this book of nonfiction based on the journalist's experiential research, Ehrenreich attempts to ascertain whether it is currently possible for an individual to live on a minimum-wage in America. Taking jobs as a waitress, a maid in a cleaning service, and a Walmart sales employee, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow workers, and her financial struggles in each situation.

An experienced journalist, Ehrenreich is aware of the limitations of her experiment and the ethical implications of her experiential research tactics and reflects on these issues in the text. The author is forthcoming about her methods and supplements her experiences with scholarly research on her places of employment, the economy, and the rising cost of living in America. Ehrenreich’s project is timely, descriptive, and well-researched.

Sample MLA Annotation

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anchor Books, 1995.

Lamott's book offers honest advice on the nature of a writing life, complete with its insecurities and failures. Taking a humorous approach to the realities of being a writer, the chapters in Lamott's book are wry and anecdotal and offer advice on everything from plot development to jealousy, from perfectionism to struggling with one's own internal critic.

In the process, Lamott includes writing exercises designed to be both productive and fun. Lamott offers sane advice for those struggling with the anxieties of writing, but her main project seems to be offering the reader a reality check regarding writing, publishing, and struggling with one's own imperfect humanity in the process. Rather than a practical handbook to producing and/or publishing, this text is indispensable because of its honest perspective, its down-to-earth humor, and its encouraging approach.

Chapters in this text could easily be included in the curriculum for a writing class. Several of the chapters in Part 1 address the writing process and would serve to generate discussion on students' own drafting and revising processes. Some of the writing exercises would also be appropriate for generating classroom writing exercises. Students should find Lamott's style both engaging and enjoyable.

Sample Chicago Annotation 

Davidson, Hilda Ellis. Roles of the Northern Goddess. London: Routledge, 1998.

Davidson's book provides a thorough examination of the major roles filled by the numerous pagan goddesses of Northern Europe in everyday life, including their roles in hunting, agriculture, domestic arts like weaving, the household, and death. The author discusses relevant archaeological evidence, patterns of symbol and ritual, and previous research. The book includes a number of black and white photographs of relevant artifacts.

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