Writing An Annotated Bibliography Step By Step

18 Jul 2023

write annotated bibliography

Are you getting tired with the endless supply of essay formats you need to master? By now you probably have many compositions under your belt and have a knack for several of the particularities of academic writing. From eating 5 paragraph essays for breakfast to memorizing the APA style guide, you seem to have it all covered. And then something happens. Just when you thought you had covered every format in academia, your professor asks you to do an annotated reference list.

If you find yourself scratching your head without a clue where to start. Don’t fret, you’re not alone. Many students ask how to write an annotated bibliography. First, don’t let this technical term scare you. This portion of your text is much easier than it sounds. And can be mastered with a few tips from the pros and a bit of practice. Furthermore, you’ll soon see that this format adds a bit of dash to an often boring section of your paper. So roll up your sleeves, grab a cup of coffee and let’s get down to it.

What Is An Annotated Bibliography?

To simplify matters, according to Webster’s dictionary, ‘annotation’ is to note with a comment or explanation. That’s it, no tricks and no rocket science. The format for this section will resemble any good bibliography or reference page but add an explanation of your sources.

What are Annotations?

The methods of putting together annotation/s come in a couple types each having their own specific focus. – descriptive annotated bibliography and analytical-critical. The purpose of a descriptive-informative annotated book is to give a consolidated summary of what the reader may find in the text. In a way it works like a mini abstract. An analytical-critical annotated reference list is more developed beyond a simple description. Here you are expected to critique the source and state how the text is useful. You may also pose any open ended questions of the source that were relevant to the research in your paper.

How Is Annotation Different From Abstract?

At this point you may be wondering if you can just use sources abstract for your annotated works. The abstract is a good starting point to get a general summary for a text, but you’ll still need to provide your own analysis. Additionally, be careful not to plagiarize any content, including the abstract, when writing an annotated bibliography. Many researchers don’t have the time to be bothered writing this section and seek the help of professional dissertation writers to do the more mundane work for them. This is particularly useful if you lack good writing skills and cannot properly articulate why a text was useful for your work.

What Is The Purpose Of An Annotated Bibliography?

We often ask why we need to do things and for good reason – especially when university is concerned. Annotated sources can seem like a redundant task that just serves to take up time and frustrate you. The true purpose is to give credence to your work. It demonstrates you have a full understanding of the materials you’ve referenced in your work and that you’ve fully investigated the questions you had posted in your text.

Why Is An Annotated Bibliography Useful?

There is, however, much use in using this format, particularly if you’re conducting deep research. As you write your paper, you may brush over some topics which are not critical to the focus of your work but are important for the work of others. With a good annotated bibliography, other researches can reference your sources and get a clear idea if they are relevant for their work. By providing a detailed analysis you are furthering the depth of academic knowledge.

How to annotate sources?

A typical reference will be about 150 words per source. To write an effective reference be sure to include these six parts. This will ensure your reader has a full idea of what to expect in the text and determine whether it is relevant for their work or how it had influenced your work.


Lead off your reference just like any other citation. Be sure to adhere to your universities formatting guidelines and ensure all available details are included. Failing to properly cite work reduces the credibility of your research and could get you in hot water with the plagiarism police so proceed with caution.

Author Qualification

Authoritative work will add weight to your arguments For this, stating the author’s qualifications will go a long way to build a reader’s confidence in your arguments. Examples would include any diplomas, awards, published articles, as well as professional experience an author has in their field.

Methods Of Author

Scientific work often revolves around repeating events to observe if the outcomes are similar. Knowing the steps a study was conducted will reinforce the value of the conclusions. When you write your bibliography entry the methods an author had used will allow other researchers to duplicate the study to come to their own conclusions.

Summary Of The Argument

This will be the longest part of your scientific annotated bibliography. Give a brief summary over the work and focus on the value of the research and its contribution to academic knowledge. Note the work the author had conducted and its relevance to the study.

Evaluation Of The Work

When analyzing your sources give sound reasons based on logic and be sure to critique work in a professional manner. If there are any shortcomings be sure to present these not as attacks on the author’s work. Instead list areas of improvement where the study could have been expanded. Also reference any particular areas that influenced your research.

How The Work Supports Your Own Research

Building off the prior section, the more instances a study is validated, the more credible it becomes. If you have a key finding in your work that is supported by several other researchers, the less time you’ll need reinforcing your position allowing you to explore areas where research be a bit thinner.

How To Write An Annotated Bibliography: Step By Step

Getting Started

The easiest way to start your bibliography is to document your sources while you are writing a research paper. When you finalize your paper you’ll have a list of all texts involved in your paper and you’ll simply need to expand upon them. To best fit in with your annotated bibliography definition keep your resources handy. Give a quick review of the work and fill in the bibliography to hit all the points.

How Long Is An Annotated Bibliography

The length of your bibliography of sources will depend on the amount of research put into your paper. As indicated each citation will be about 150 words in length. A standard essay will typically be a page or less while a full length dissertation will span several pages.

Annotated Bibliography Title

Many universities will require some sort of title for your bibliography. Include your name and class in the corner. For the title, state the subject matter of your paper and write “Annotated Bibliography” under it. If permitted you may begin directly referencing your sources below this. Otherwise, start your references on the next page leaving the cover page as is.

Annotated Bibliography Outline

The difference between an annotated outline and a standard outline is the later is drafted after you’ve conducted your research. A standard outline may build an overall structure of your paper and give direction for future research. An annotated outline, however, will structure itself based on how your research will fold into your paper. This is a good strategy if you need to better organize your data to incorporate into your paper.

How To Format An Annotated Bibliography?

The same rules that apply to academic writing will also apply to your annotated bibliography research paper. Here is a breakdown of popular formatting styles used by most colleges.

APA (6th Edition)

If you study in the social sciences, you are likely to encounter APA formatting. This popular style has a specific header on each page called a running head which provides some details regarding the scope of the work. When citing texts in this format be sure to include relevant dates as the age of sources is an important factor in this discipline.

MLA (8th Edition)

The MLA format is popular among literature and other humanities. It has many similarities with APA but does not require a running head and the date of publication plays a back seat. The recommended font for an MLA paper is a Times New Roman 12pt font with double spacing.

Chicago (17th Edition)

Chicago style is unique that it includes footnotes and has a couple options when citing references. This format is popular with studying history and some professors prefer it with other studies.

Turabian (9th Edition)

Turabian is based on Chicago style but it is geared more for students while Chicago is designed for professional publication. The format includes shorter citations compared to Chicago which makes it more user friendly.

Annotated Bibliography Examples

Despite all these requirements, there is some good news. The format for your references list will be the same no matter the paper you compose. So whether you are required to write an annotated essay, or an annotated journal article, you can rest assured that formatting relies more on your college’s citation style and not the type of paper you need to write. Here is an example to use for reference.

Annotated Research Paper Example

To see how all these folds together let us take an example source that had been used in a research paper in psychology.

Hughs, A. v. (2005), “Sympathy and Scrupulous Integrity”: Gender and education in the history of special needs education. Contemporary Journal of Education,
Hughs, correlates how the lack of women involved with deaf children in schools are mentored to learn educational skills. As a Doctor of psychology he has many published case studies regarding educational outcomes of students based on the gender of their mentors. He outlines how cognitive ability and how various adaptive programs have had mixed results as most schools do not tailor their curriculum to the individual needs of the intended students. However, his case studies heavily favored methods for educating those with visual or auditory impairments and only had a small sample of those with cerebral development delays. In his work he was able to improve the performance of his pupils through practical case studies.

Properly citing your paper and listing the sources is a great way to get your paper noticed. But adding the details of your references through annotation will greatly improve the usefulness of your work. Papers that clearly define how research was employed in the work will be taken more seriously and treated with a higher level of professionalism. If you need help improving your paper, a professional writer is a tool many students use to improve their work and protect their grades.

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