Writing an annotated bibliography

What is an annotated bibliography?

A bibliography is an alphabetical list, by author, of the sources (books, journals, websites, etc) you have used to research and write your assignment.  A bibliography usually includes information such as the author, title, publisher and date. An annotation is a concise summary and/or evaluation of the value or relevance of each source.   An annotated bibliography combines these two elements and provides bibliographic information plus a summary and/ or evaluation of each of the sources you have used. An annotated bibliography may be one part of a larger assessment item.

Why do we write annotated bibliographies?

You may be asked to write an annotated bibliography for several reasons:

  • to provide a review of the literature on your subject
  • to demonstrate the quality and depth of your reading
  • to show the scope of sources or research available, e.g. journals, books, websites
  • to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy and quality of sources that may be of interest
  • to explore and organise sources for further research.

How to write an annotated bibliography

There are two main sections to each annotated bibliography entry:

  1. the bibliographical information (the reference).
  2. the explanatory paragraphs (the annotation).

Parts of the annotation

The annotation must provide

  1. a summary of the main arguments or ideas presented by the author and depending on your assessment requirements.
  2. an evaluation of how useful you found the source. Assess its objectivity, reliability and bias, and compare it with other sources you have used.
  3. a reflection on how you used the source in your research.

1. The summary section

This provides a summary of the research findings or the main arguments or ideas presented by the author.

You can use the structure of the article or chapter you are reviewing to structure your annotation, e.g. "This chapter focuses on three issues which are ...".

If the author has a specific purpose behind her/his writing, specify this, e.g. "The author's intention is to present an overview of ...".

If the source is reporting on empirical data, describe the research methods and summarise the results. Give an overview of the general design of the study, e.g. survey, interview; the participants and any limitations of the study, e.g. sample size or geographic area. e.g. "This article presents findings from a study into the use of social network sites for educational purposes. Surveys were conducted with 300 students to evaluate whether this medium is an appropriate way to disseminate unit assessment requirements and support information. The participants in the sample were aged between 18 and 50, included 120 males and130 females and were a mixture of domestic and international students"

2. The evaluation section

This provides an evaluation of how useful you found the source.

Critique the source – evaluate its reliability or objectivity.

ASK: Is the text descriptive or analytical and use this in your evaluation? e.g. "Although an interesting chapter, it is mainly descriptive and doesn’t discuss options for prevention or treatment".

Look for evidence the author may have used to support his or her ideas, e.g. "The author supports this claim with statistics from the World Health Organization".

3. The reflection section

This provides a reflection of how you used the source in your research.

ASK yourself:

  • How useful was this source in my research?
  • did it add to my understanding of the topic?
  • Was it easy to read?
  • Are there any useful references to follow up?
  • How could other researchers use this source?

e.g. "Although the guidelines on this website for infection control are very detailed, they are written in plain English and clearly articulate the message of thorough hand washing as the main defense against the spread of germs."

e.g. "While the focus of this chapter was very broad, the authors supply some useful references for readers to pursue for more specific information."

Checklist for an annotated bibliography

Have I:

  • Used the referencing style specified for my task?
  • Given a brief overview of the main ideas of the source, using features such as the structure, the purpose or the research methodology of the text as discussion points?
  • Evaluated the source for its objectivity and reliability, if required by the assignment task?
  • Commented on whether the source was useful for my task if required by the assignment task?
  • ensured my spelling, grammar and punctuation are correct and my writing is set out in a logical format.