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A Complete Guide to Annotated Bibliographies


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This page provides an in-depth explanation of annotated bibliographies, including detailed instructions on how to create an annotated bibliography, how to write an annotation, and an example of an annotated bibliography.

Here’s a table of contents for this guide:

What Is an Annotated Bibliography?

Annotated bibliography definition: An annotated bibliography is a comprehensive list of sources related to research on a specific topic or area of study, but it also includes “annotations” that describe and/or evaluate each source.

Annotated bibliographies provide:

  • Evidence of your ability to locate, analyze, and compile a list of high-quality resources associated with a topic
  • Readers with a full, extensive inventory of the best and highest-quality resources to use when researching the same topic

Annotated bibliographies include three items:

  • A brief introduction found at the beginning of the bibliography provides the reader with an overview of what they’ll see in the annotated bibliography
  • Citations for books, journal articles, websites, and many other sources that relate to the research topic
  • A summary or critique of each source, which is added directly below each citation

To review an annotated bibliography example, scroll down to section 3, “Creating Annotations.”

Continue reading this page for further detailed instructions on creating an annotated bibliography.

Still wondering, “What is an annotated bibliography?” Need help understanding how to define “annotated bibliography”? If so, click here for further reading.

Step 1: Choosing Your Topic & Exploring Resources

The first step in developing an annotated bibliography is choosing a research topic or area of study the bibliography will focus on. This might be a topic assigned by your professor, or, if you’re lucky, a topic you’ve chosen yourself. Once you have your topic, the next step is to seek out relevant resources.

The best sources to include in annotated bibliographies are scholarly and academic in nature. Locate superb sources that are high-quality, credible, and valid. Scholarly journal articles, dissertations, books, websites, and other materials from trustworthy companies and organizations are all acceptable to include in annotated bibliographies. Such source types are highly regarded as credible and authoritative.

Once you’ve determined your topic and the types of sources to include in the bibliography, it’s time to actively seek out materials. Public and school libraries subscribe to databases and other beneficial online resources. Librarians are extremely helpful in this step of the process. They can guide you to helpful sources and, when possible, provide you access to them. They may even provide you with further resources if you’re learning how to create an annotated bibliography or provide you with an annotated bibliography template. Most librarians know how to make an annotated bibliography, so take advantage of this helpful resource!

This process of creating a bibliography is time-consuming, especially if you’re not organized. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin your search. Keep track of the search terms and keywords you use throughout the process. When you locate and access a source that seems worthy to include in the bibliography, read it in its entirety before determining if it’s acceptable.

Step 2: Creating Citations

Once you’ve found a source that matches your research topic, create a citation and an annotation for it.

Determine the correct citation style. When your teacher or professor assigns your project, they will tell you to format your bibliography in a specific citation style. This will affect the way your citations look.

Citations include various pieces of information including the title of the source, the author’s name, the date the source was published, and other information. Readers look at citations to understand the sources included in the bibliography. Readers may even be interested in finding the source themselves. They can use the information in the citations to locate sources.

To create your citations in MLA, use the following format:

Author’s Last name, First name Middle name (or initial). “Title of the Article or Webpage.” Title of the Journal or Website, Names of other source contributors  (such as an editor), vol. number, and issue no., Name of the Publisher, Publication date, URL or DOI number.

Your citations may look different depending on the type of source and the number of authors. If you need help, refer to Citation Machine’s MLA format Guide.

The American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual does not include any information about creating APA bibliographies. If your teacher or professor asks you to create an annotated bibliography in this citation style, Citation Machine recommends following your school’s guidelines or following your school’s annotated bibliography template. Citation Machine has an APA format citation guide and other helpful tools.

Citations in this style are formatted differently depending on the source type used. If you’re citing a scholarly journal article, use this format:

Author’s Last name, First initial. Middle initial. (Year published). Article title. Title of Journal, Volume number(Issue Number), Page range. DOI number or URL

To cite other types of sources, and for further instructions on this citation style, check out the directions and suggestions in the link found above.

Citation Machine will help you cite your sources. To help you create your citations quickly and easily, use Citation Machine’s citation generator and click here for more citation styles.

Citation Machine also has an annotated bibliography maker. Add your written annotation at the bottom of the citation form and Citation Machine will help you format the citation and the annotation.

Step 3: Creating Annotations

Include an annotation, a description or evaluation of the source, below each citation. This annotation should include either a brief summary of the source, a critique of it, or both.

When using MLA style, generally, the annotations should not exceed one paragraph per source but follow your instructor’s specific directions for the use of full sentences or short phrases. For MLA annotations, If you need more than one paragraph per annotation, indent each one but do not add any extra space between paragraphs.

If you include summaries, make them as brief as possible. It should be a heavily condensed version of the entire source. Exclude extra details, author quotations, specific evidence, or arguments.

If you include critiques, include an evaluation of the source as it pertains to the research topic.

Write annotations in summary style, critique style, or use both styles according to your specific instructor’s directions.

Sample Annotated Bibliography:

Below is an annotated bibliography sample for both annotation styles: one in summary format and the other in critique format. They are for the children’s novel Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling.

Example of Annotated Bibliography in summary form:

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastic, 1998.

Harry, a young wizard, is the main character in this fantasy novel. Harry is summoned to Hogwarts, a school specifically for wizards. He spends the school year meeting new friends, studying wizardry, and learning the true past of his parents and the enemies who are after him.

Example of Annotated Bibliography in critique form:

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastic, 1998.

Introduces good and evil to young children. Bullying, fighting, and death are seen throughout. Another major theme is discovering one’s true self and growing up. Easy-to-read format, accompanied by clever concepts and fantasy elements.

For another example of an annotated bibliography or a sample annotated bibliography, click here.

Step 4: How to Format Your Annotated Bibliography

The citations and annotations can be organized in the following ways:

  • Alphabetical order by author last name or title of the work (as in a normal list of works cited or bibliography)
  • By subject (if your bibliography is broken up into different categories or sections)
  • Chronological order by date of publication

According to MLA 9, you should title your list as “Annotated Bibliography” or “Annotated List of Works Cited.”

Step 5: Developing the Introduction

Believe it or not, the introduction should be the last item written for the bibliography. The introduction should be somewhat brief. It should include information about the research topic, a rationale as to why the topic was chosen, an overview of the types of sources included in the bibliography, and the methods used to locate the sources.

The introduction should be the first item in the bibliography. Follow it with the citations and annotations.

If you’re still wondering how to write an annotated bibliography, click here for more information.

Step 6: Final Checklist

Prior to handing in the bibliography, check for the following:

  • Are the citations correct? Check to ensure that all names of individuals, titles, and publication information are correct.
  • Are the citations in their proper citation style format? Use Citation Machine’s citation generator to check.
  • Do the annotations follow the guidelines found in the annotated bibliography sample section? Remember, follow your specific instructor’s directions for what style to use for the annotations: use the summary form, critique form, or both.
  • Use the Internet to search for annotated bibliography examples. Verify your bibliography is similar.

Still wondering, “What is an annotated bibliography?” Need help understanding how to define annotated bibliography? If so, click here for further reading.

Citation Machine’s citation generator form has a place to add your written annotations. Add the text to the form and Citation Machine will help you generate the citation and add the annotation below it. This is a huge time saver! Try our annotated bibliography maker.


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How long do annotations need to be for an annotated bibliography?

An annotation, which summarizes or evaluates a source, should be a double-spaced paragraph of 100 to 200 words for each source. The annotation follows the citation. If you need to include multiple paragraphs for an evaluation, indent the second and subsequent paragraphs. An annotation can be written as either phrases or complete sentences.

How are sources organized on an annotated bibliography?

The sources in an annotated bibliography are generally organized in alphabetical order of citations but can also be organized by subject or chronology.

  • Citation entries are arranged by the chosen organization, using author or title, subject, or publication date.
  • When organizing by subject or publication date, the citations are generally listed alphabetically under each subject or date.
  • The document title is “Annotated Bibliography.”
  • The title is center-aligned.
  • The second and subsequent lines in a citation are indented one-half inch from the margin and double-spaced.
  • The annotation is indented one inch from the margin and double-spaced.