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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Tips and formatting guidelines for writing annotated bibliographies in APA, MLA, and Chicago styles.

What's an annotated bibliography?

Your sources, explained

Annotated bibliographies contain short descriptions and evaluations of the sources you find related to a particular project or paper. They help us practice critical thinking skills such as summarizing, analyzing, and evaluating information. In an annotated bibliography, you explain to your readers the sources you used to learn about a particular topic or area of research. They can be a great starting point for research because they compile and evaluate the available information on a topic, helping readers (and you!) choose information that is relevant, credible, and useful.

The point of an annotated bibliography is to tell the story of your research. It's a way to prove that you've read and thought critically about the information you've encountered, and to help your readers quickly learn about sources that are important to a particular topic. When you sit down to write a paper after completing an annotated bibliography, you'll have a strong foundation of information on your topic and a plan for how to use that information to support your writing.

How do I get started?

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the number 2 in an orange circle with the word
the number 3 in an orange circle with the word

Step 1: Cite

  • Cite each source as you normally would for a bibliography or references list.
  • Make sure you're following the citation style requirements of your course, major, or program.

 

Step 2: Summarize

  • Summarize the main arguments and purpose of the source.
    • What's its thesis? What are the major points or pieces of evidence used to support that thesis? What are the authors' main conclusions?
    • For empirical studies, it might be important to include information about the study's methods and participants.
  • Annotations are typically brief, so keep your summary short (2-3 sentences).
  • TIP: How would you describe the source to someone who doesn't know anything about the topic? Approaching a summary in this way can help you determine what's most important to include and what details you can leave out.

 

Step 3: Evaluate

  • Provide a brief analysis or evaluation of each source (2-3 sentences). You might comment on:
    • The authority and credibility of the source and its author(s) 
    • The intended audience of the source (experts, the general public, students, etc.)
    • The quality of the source's arguments and evidence
  • Explain how the source relates or compares to the other sources in your annotated bibliography.
    • How is the information useful, unique, or important? If it isn't, why?
    • How does the source answer your research questions? Will you use it in your project or paper? Why or why not?

How do I format an annotated bibliography?

Check your style manual

The manual for your required citation style will likely have guidance on how to format your annotated bibliography. Formatting guidelines for common citation styles at UJ are included here.

APA
  • The usual formatting rules apply:
    • Order alphabetically
    • Hanging indent each entry
    • Double space​ the entire document
  • Start the annotation on a new line
  • Indent the entire annotation so that it's flush with your hanging indent​
MLA
  • The usual formatting rules apply:
    • Hanging indent each entry
    • Double space​ the entire document
  • Order is more flexible--alphabetically is standard, but you can also organize by subtopic or theme
  • Start the annotation on a new line
  • Indent the entire annotation 1 inch (so, one extra indent)
Chicago
  • The usual formatting rules apply:
    • Order alphabetically
    • Hanging indent each entry
    • Single-space the document; 2 lines between the page heading and your first entry, 1 line between each entry
  • Either start the annotation on a new line or immediately following the citation
  • Indent the annotation so that it's flush with your hanging indent​