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Citation & Documentation

Annotated Bibliography


Why do an Annotated Bibliography?

One of the primary purposes of citing sources and creating an annotated bibliography is to support your arguments and claims with valid research. By including citations in your bibliography ("Works Cited" for MLA, "References" for APA), readers have the opportunity to verify the information themselves by referring to the referenced material. Researchers who are intrigued by your text or argument can access the resources you used, either to fact-check your arguments or to further explore the topic based on their own interests. However, it is worth considering that while a bibliography offers a list of research sources with publication details, it may not convey much about the sources themselves to the reader or researcher.

However, an annotated bibliography provides specific information about each source you utilized. As a researcher, you have gained expertise in your subject matter, hopefully enabling you to explain the content of your sources, evaluate their usefulness, and share this valuable information with others who may have less familiarity with them. Think of your paper as engaging in a conversation with individuals who share your interests. The annotated bibliography serves as a guide for readers, indicating what they should explore, what may be worth considering in certain contexts, and what might not warrant their time and attention. It's similar to recommending a list of noteworthy movies to your classmates and then discussing each film with them, explaining why one movie surpasses another or why a particular student might prefer a certain film over another. The aim is to provide your audience with enough information to grasp the basic content of the sources and make informed decisions about how to allocate their resources based on their interests.


What does an Annotated Bibliography do?

  • Promotes critical thinking by analyzing the content, relevance, and connections of the works you incorporate into your research.
  • Demonstrates comprehension and familiarity with the sources you have consulted.
  • Validates your work as a reliable source and establishes your competence as a researcher.
  • Places your study and topic within the context of ongoing professional discourse.
  • Assists others in evaluating the usefulness of a source for their own research.
  • Enables interested researchers to assess their interest in a topic by providing background information and insight into the current developments within a field.


Annotated Bibliography Assignments

An instructor may assign you an annotated bibliography before a large research project is due. Typically, they do that to help you become familiar with a research topic. They want you to immerse yourself into the conversations surrounding your topic and identify a source's support, objectivity, and reliability - as well as develop a structure for using these sources within academic research. Then, after you complete your annotated bibliography, you can choose the best sources to include for your research project. You can also use your own annotated bibliography to synthesize (connect) the sources and begin to form a cohesive and supported argument.


What are the elements of an Annotated Bibliography?

  • Properly formatted bibliography based on the specified citation style (MLA, APA, etc.).
  • Clear exposition of the main ideas and purpose of the work, including its thesis, demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of the source.
  • Evaluation and critical assessment of the author's authority and qualifications.
  • Assessment of the value, effectiveness, and utility of the work in relation to the research topic and/or your own project.
  • Identification of the author's perspective or point of view, including any noticeable biases or target audience.
  • Appropriate inclusion of relevant links to related sources or works in the field, potentially including comparisons to existing sources, in order to establish connections and explore different aspects of the argument or opposing viewpoints.


Things to Note

Annotations do not rehash minor details, cite evidence, quote the author (unless specifically stated), or recount steps in an argument (MLA 9). Annotations are more than just a couple of sentences, but are generally no longer than a paragraph. Typically between 100-200 words.

  • Each annotation should be one paragraph, between three to six sentences long (about 150- 200 words).
  • Start with the same format as a regular Works Cited or Reference list.
  • All lines should be double-spaced. Do not add an extra line between the citations.
  • If your list of citations is especially long, you can organize it by topic.
  • Try to be objective, and give explanations if you state any opinions.
  • Use the third person (e.g., he, she, the author) instead of the first person (e.g., I, my, me)

*Always take professor's specific instruction into account when creating your annotated bibliography for an assignment. 


Steps to Success

One: Writing a bibliography

Include the correct citation for each source in the research ("Works Cited" for MLA, "References" for APA). Formatting these citations is a challenge for many students, but there are lots of resources (including folks at the Writing Center) that can help.

Two: Annotation in summary and evaluation of the source

The annotations are generally written in paragraph form under each source citation, but can sometimes include bullets or direct quotes (properly cited) to address specific source details. Annotations oftentimes summarize the source to address its main ideas and purpose, assess the sources use to the research at hand (is it objective? Is it trustworthy? Etc.) and touch on how it will be included within the topic and project (support, counter-argument, accuracy, credibility, etc.). Always consider any specific instruction when it comes to annotations; the purpose may vary depending on audience.

Considerations for Annotated Bibliography Writing
Instructor specifications: every research project needs to meet a criteria for the course and keep that purpose in mind when writing and researching 
Format: Be sure to format your bibliography in the same citation format of your paper 
Length: Annotations will vary based on the project but generally are an entire paragraph long at minimum


Sample APA Annotated Bibliography

Leighley, J. & Nagler, J. (2016, October 17). Same-day registration and increased absentee voting would help. The 

New York Times.

Leighley & Nagler's (2016) article “Same-Day Registration and Increased Absentee Voting Would Help” is a bad source because opinions are asserted as a facts along with any useful data. In addition, no dissenting opinions are mentioned. It is important to understand the amount of voters who don’t turn out on Election Day due to unavailability and/or indifferent opinions on either candidate. The authors explain some of the hurdles to registering and voting in American elections. The authors argue that same-day registration and voting through the mail would increase voter turnout. While addressing the presidential candidates, Leighley and Nagler discuss the lack of meaningful differences between the candidates’ points of view, and suggest that if voters understood the distinction between the candidates’ ideals that would also increase turn out. 

Sample MLA Annotated Bibliography

Krugman, Paul. "The Tainted Election." New York Times, vol. 166, no. 57444, 12 Dec. 2016, pp. A21Education

Source Accessed 15 Dec. 2016.

New York Times writer and self-proclaimed liberal Paul Krugman discusses the outcome and implications of the 2016 election in the article “The Tainted Election.” He accounts for possible Russian intervention and hacking, media coverage in the week prior to the vote, and the role of the electoral college. The author’s tone is one of anger and frustration with the election; he highlights a lot of discrepancies within the election process. In writing in this tone (one of clear bias), the outrage at times obstructs the reader from an otherwise informative article that raises good questions about the fairness of the U.S. democratic system. The article does provide, however, a very clear picture of the electoral college’s role on the individual citizen that does not feel represented by it. Krugman’s well-spoken frustration supports the idea that the electoral college may not be a true democratic representation.