Guide to Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Guide to Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Like any other bibliography, an annotated bibliography is a list of sources on a particular topic or theme, for example, Polar Exploration or Global Warming. Sources might include books, articles, web sites, videos and sound recordings. An annotated bibliography includes not only the author's name, title, date, publisher, and place of publication for each entry, but a brief description of the contents of the works listed. To write an annotated bibliography it is necessary to have at least some knowledge of the sources that are included in order to describe them.
An annotated bibliography can be the foundation for a different, larger project, like a Literature Review, a Research Paper or a Senior Thesis. Working on an annotated bibliography can help you to prepare to write a paper, and it will help you to write a much better one.

A good annotation answers questions like these:

  • What are the qualifications of the author?
  • How is this source useful for research on the topic? In other words, how does it help you to answer your research question?
  • What kind of coverage does the source provide? Is it a brief introduction, or a detailed analysis? Is it a broad overview, or does it have a relatively narrow focus?
  • Is the author writing for a general audience, or for experts who are already familiar with the issues being discussed?
  • What questions does the author address, and how successfully does she or he answer them?
  • Does the source reflect bias of any kind? Does it promote a particular point of view?
  • Is the source a classic in the field? (In other words, do other authors frequently cite it and refer to it?) Does the author cover new ground? Is the author revising and reconsidering a more traditional, established interpretation of the topic?
  • Is the source a new contribution to an ongoing discussion? Is it based on current research, or on older data that may be outdated or no longer relevant?
  • Are the author's arguments convincing? Are the research methods used valid? How does the source compare with other sources treating the same topic?

A good annotation reflects critical thinking about sources, including an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of a source.
A good annotated bibliography demonstrates that the researcher who wrote the annotations:

  • Is familiar with the literature treating his or her topic and is able to think critically about the sources included.
  • Is able to provide a reliable and accurate summary of an individual source.
  • Is able to place individual sources in the broader context of scholarship on a given topic.

Format for an Annotated Bibliography

Annotated bibliographies can be arranged alphabetically or chronologically. Each citation in the bibliography conforms to the same style, this might be according to MLA (Modern Langagues Association) or ASA  (American Sociological Association) or another style guide required by your professor. Style guides are available at the library - ask at the reference desk! You can also use Refworks to generate your bibliography.  If you are unfamiliar with Refworks, try the  Refworks online tutorial, or ask a reference librarian.

Finding Sources for an Annotated Bibliography

The first step to finding sources for a bibliography is to develop a research question about your topic that will guide your choices. If, for example, your research question were -  "What was the relationship between British and American nationalism and polar exploration in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century?" -  then you would choose sources that you were confident would address that question or provide information that would help you to find an answer to it.  You would not include a book about exploring the Amazon in that period, or an article about Russian polar explorers, or a web site on Henry Hudson's final expedition, and so on.

The library web page provides links to library handouts including Finding Books and Finding Articles in the library. These guides can help researchers to find materials in our library and to order materials on Interlibrary Loan. The library also provides links to numerous web resources in the Web Subject Guides. These guides cover many different subject areas and the sites included have been selected for their reliability and merit, either on the recommendation of members of the faculty, or one of the members of the reference staff.


This guide is adapted from guides developed at the University of Maryland, Cornell University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The sites consulted are the following:

Engle, Michael, Amy Blumenthal, and Tony Cosgrave. "How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography." 20 November 2002. Reference Services Division, Olin and Uris Libraries Cornell University Libraries. 8 April 2004 <>

University Libraries, University of Maryland, "Preparing an Annotated Bibliography" 12 June 2006. University of Maryland Libraries. <>

The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "Annotated Bibliographies" <>

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Comments? Suggestions? Please email Rebekah Ambrose at