How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Everybody knows how stressful being student can be. The number of stress factors is overwhelming, both study-related and personal. Many students state that one of the biggest stress factors is coping with all the written tasks. The biggest complication about it lies not in researching and writing proper, but having to tell one kind of task from another, formatting everything, etc. In other words, you cannot get good grades just for being bright and hard-working, you also have to accord to all the formal bureaucratic requirements which have little to nothing to do with how well you understand the subject and how insightful your ideas are.

For example, you may encounter a task of writing an annotated bibliography. The term itself is enough to stun a student into procrastination. What is an annotated bibliography? How does one write it? Where does one begin? Why is it even a separate task in the curriculum? Same as with any other assignment, it is not a good idea to subside to panic, it is best to calm down and dig into the issue. So, let's see how you can achieve that.


Basically, it is exactly what you may think – a bibliography with brief annotations to each item. Surely you have written essays where you had to reference the sources you have cited in the end. Roughly, an annotated bibliography is this reference section, only you add annotations to these sources.

An annotation includes a very brief summary of the referenced source along with your unbiased opinion on how credible this source in particular and its author in general is. You may also be asked to evaluate how useful this particular source is to your research and whether or not you should even use it.


Having to write an annotated bibliography may seem a peculiar assignment. It often leaves a student wondering – why they even have to write it. That is, of course, aside from the fact that it is on the curriculum and you have to submit this task if you want to have decent grades. As a matter of fact, this assignment serves two main purposes:

1) Developing research skills

As we have mentioned, one of the things you will need to do to write is to summarize your sources as brief yet as meaningful as possible. This suggests thorough reading to be familiar with the text well enough to grasp its pure gist. You also need to evaluate the source's credibility and relevance to the topic so you will not be able to just pull any random source and throw it into your list. Instead, you will choose your sources more carefully. This is how writing an annotated bibliography trains you to be a better researcher.

2) Helping you to use your time more efficiently when performing an actual research

If you have conducted some research and are now at the stage of actually writing the first draft of your paper, you will always remember some quotes from your sources to substantiate your argument. What you need to do is to find that quote and cite it properly. It is easy when you write a short essay with two or three sources. However, things get more challenging when you have to write a larger and more serious work with ten or more sources. You will remember a perfectly fitting quote, but chances are, it will take you some time to find it in your stockpile of sources. That is unless you have prepared an annotated bibliography before getting down to drafting your paper. Putting together an annotated bibliography may seem like a nuisance, but you will be glad you did it once you get down to writing with an annotated bibliography at hand.


1) Research for sources

Same as any other academic paper, an annotated bibliography begins with a research. If you are not sure where to start, feel free to consult your tutor or find a manual online. One thing to keep in mind is that your goal here is to gather more sources than you think you may need. This is because some sources that may seem relevant when you first see them, may turn out not quite what you need as you start writing and you will have to return to this initial stage. This is why it is always better to have a little surplus of sources at hand.

2) Take notes of the sources as you read them

This, of course, does not imply thorough recapitalizing of every single detail that may or may not be important. Your goal right now is simply to write an annotation. So, here is a list of things that should be in your notes:

  • main idea
  • comments on the credibility of the source or of the author (these may come in the form of questions)
  • ideas and quotes that may end up in your paper
  • your conclusion as to whether or not this particular source is useful to your research.


Once you have notes of all your sources at hand, it is high time to go on to writing your annotated bibliography. Of course, you should know all the exact requirements for your end result.

These include:

  • word count
  • formatting style
  • whether or not your annotated bibliography should include an introduction with a summary of all sources
  • should your annotations be only informative or should they also include a critique
  • in which order should you organize your sources

If you are not sure about these details, do not rely on your intuition. It is always better to consult your professor on any issue that raises even the smallest doubt.

Basically, writing an annotated bibliography can be broken down into three steps:

Step 1. Cite all your sources according to the formatting style that your tutor has specified

As you may guess, there will be one entry per source. Each entry will begin with a properly formatted bibliographic description. For example:

APA formatting style:

Better, A. (2017). How to write an annotated bibliography. Manual Journal. (11)2, 12-14

MLA formatting style (7th edition):

Better, Author. “How to Write an Annotated Bibliography.” Manual Journal. 11.2 (2017): 12-14. Print.

MLA formatting style (8th edition):

Better, Author. “How to Write an Annotated Bibliography.” Manual Journal, vol. 11, no. 2, 2017, pp. 12-14.

If your tutor has specified any other formatting style (ASA, Chicago / Turabian, Harvard, etc.), you can easily find detailed instructions with examples online. Once again, remember to ask your tutor if they have any specific requirements when it comes to formatting.

Step 2. Summarize every source

A summary here does not mean retelling the source in brief. Instead, it suggests an explanation of the main ideas that the author has intended in the source. It is easier to do when you imagine someone who hasn't read your source. This imaginary reader should be able to look through your summary and understand what this source is about. You may be tempted to give your opinion on the source right away, but hold your horses, this is not your goal right now. Your goal is just to inform your reader about the main idea of the source, merely this and nothing more. For example:

Better’s article focuses on the peculiarity of annotated bibliography as an academic writing assignment, explains the purpose of such assignments, and provides a comprehensive instruction on how to accomplish them. The article is full of examples to illustrate what the author is talking about for the convenience and better understanding of the students who read it.

Step 3. Give your opinion on each source

Now is the time to tell your reader what exactly you think about each of the listed sources. It does not have to be very detailed. On the contrary, your evaluation should not exceed the volume of one or two brief paragraphs. Of course, your opinion should be objective and unbiased. The best way to achieve this is to ask yourself some or all of the following questions and include the answers in your evaluation:

  • Does the author seem credible?
  • How did the source appeal to me?
  • Were there any off-putting points?
  • What was the author’s intention?
  • Were the author's arguments sufficient to realize this intention?
  • Are the arguments well substantiated?
  • What are the strong points and drawbacks of this piece in particular and of the author in general?
  • In what way is this source useful to my research?

For example:

Dr. Better is a renowned education researcher with a vast experience of teaching pedagogy. His articles regularly get published in internationally recognized scientific journals, so there is no reason to doubt his ideas and opinions.

This article is a very valuable source for my essay because it mentions how students sometimes get frightened at the very idea of writing an annotated bibliography and breaks down the process into three steps, concluding that the task is much easier when divided into several mini-tasks. Better also includes excellent examples which I might borrow for my work.

Basically, this is it. You have cited, summarized, and evaluated each of your sources. Now all that's left to do is to put it all together – citation to summary to evaluation, and your annotated bibliography is almost ready. This was not nearly as much of a challenge as it looked like, was it? Only three easy steps – cite, summarize, evaluate – and you have an accomplished assignment. What you do now is just give it one final proofread – and your annotated bibliography is ready for submitting! So, good luck with your research!

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