Most students are familiar with bibliographies. A bibliography is a listing of sources including books, journals, Web sites, and periodicals used during research of a specific topic. Other name given to bibliographies are “References” or “Works Cited.” The term you use will depend on the style formatting you use. A bibliography includes the following information:

  • Author
  • Title
  • Publisher
  • Date

The definition of annotation is a summary or evaluation. An annotated bibliography includes a summary or an evaluation of each listed source. Your annotations may incorporate or more of the following depending on your assigned project.


Some annotations simply provide a summary of the source. The summary contains information such the main arguments made in the source, the point of the book or article, and the topics covered.


Once you have summarized a source it is often useful to include an evaluation of the source. For instance, how it compares with other sources, the reliability of the information it contains, the level of objectivity and the goal of the source.


This is where you explain how the source fits into your research. You can describe how it was helpful in shaping your argument, if and how it changed your thinking and how you will utilize this source in your research project.
Your annotated bibliography may include some, all of these, or additional information. It is a good idea to get specific guidelines from your instructor before you start your annotated bibliography.

Why Should I Write an Annotated Bibliography?

Writing an annotated bibliography provides excellent preparation for a research project. When you required to write annotations for every source, you will have to read each source more carefully. Annotated bibliographies force you to read sources with a more critical eye instead of simply collecting information. When you research and write at a professional level, annotated bibliographies provide a window into what has been done in the literature and where your own research may fit in. Annotated bibliographies also help you formulate a thesis. Good research papers set out a compelling argument. The purpose of research is to state that argument and support it. A crucial part of research is developing a thesis one can debate, is interesting, and up-to-date. Writing an annotated bibliography helps you establish a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and evaluating a variety of sources on a topic, you are able to begin identifying the issues, understand what people are arguing about, and develop your own point of view.

Often extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are published. These bibliographies provide a comprehensive overview of all the important research that has been, and is being said, about that topic. They can be extremely helpful to other researchers. As a researcher yourself, you might want to look for an annotated bibliography published about your topic.


It’s important to ask for specific guidelines requiring what format your research needs to be in. This will affect the format of your annotated bibliography.

The bibliographic information

In general, bibliographic information of the source (the title, author, publisher, date, etc.) is written in MLA or APA format.

The annotations

Write annotations for each source in paragraph form. Annotation length can vary greatly from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages. The length of an annotation depends on the purpose. If you are simply providing summaries of your sources, the annotations may not be shorter. However, if you write an analysis of each source you will end up with longer annotations.

It is alright to focus your annotations on your own needs. A few sentences of general summary followed by several sentences of how you can fit the work into your larger paper or project can be very helpful you begin to draft your work.

Example of An Annotated Bibliography:

Elizabeth Thompson
Professor Stacks
English 102
20 August 2001
Stem Cell Research: An Annotated Bibliography
Holland, Suzanne. The Human Embryonic Stem Cell Debate: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy. Boston: MIT Press, 2001. Print.

This is the annotation of the above source, which is formatted according to MLA 2009 (7th ed.) guidelines for the bibliographic information listed above. If one were really writing an annotation for this source, one would offer a brief summary of what this book says about stem cell research.

After a brief summary, it would be appropriate to assess this source and offer some criticisms of it. Does it seem like a reliable and current source? Why? Is the research biased or objective? Are the facts well documented? Who is the author? Is she qualified in this subject? Is this source scholarly, popular, some of both?

The length of your annotation will depend on the assignment or on the purpose of your annotated bibliography. After summarizing and assessing, you can now reflect on this source. How does it fit into your research? Is this a helpful resource? Too scholarly? Not scholarly enough? Too general/specific? Since “stem cell research” is a very broad topic, has this source helped you to narrow your topic?

Senior, K. “Extending the Ethical Boundaries of Stem Cell Research.” Trends in Molecular Medicine 7 (2001): 5-6. Print.

Not all annotations have to be the same length. For example, this source is a very short scholarly article. It may only take a sentence or two to summarize. Even if you are using a book, you should only focus on the sections that relate to your topic.

Not all annotated bibliographies assess and reflect; some merely summarize. That may not be the most helpful for you, but, if this is an assignment, you should always ask your instructor for specific guidelines.

Wallace, Kelly. “Bush Stands Pat on Stem Cell Policy.” CNN. 13 August 2001. 17 August 2001. Television.

The annotated bibliography provided above is in proper MLA format. You should use whatever style is appropriate or required in your field. Note that the annotations are in paragraph form and that the entries are alphabetized using the first word in the bibliographic entry. If you are writing a large annotated bibliography that has many sources, you may want to divide the sources into categories. Based on the above example of putting together an extensive annotated bibliography for stem cell research, it might work best to divide the sources into different categories including scholarly analyses, ethical concerns, and political ramifications.
To look at more examples, do a quick search at a library or on the Internet.

When you use a variety of sources it will provide you with a broader picture of what is being said about your topic. In some cases, it can be helpful to investigate how scholarly sources treat a topic differently than popular sources. If your assignment is to use scholarly sources, then you would not include sources such as magazines and websites.

Annotated Bibliography Samples


Here are some sample annotations from annotated bibliographies, each on a different research project. The annotations you include in your own bibliography need to reflect your research project and fulfill the guidelines of your assignment.

Please note that all text, including the write-up beneath the citation, must be indented so that the author’s last name is the only text that is flush left.

Sample MLA Annotation

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor Books, 1995. Print.

Lamott’s book offers honest advice on the nature of a writing life, complete with its insecurities and failures. Taking a humorous approach to the realities of being a writer, the chapters in Lamott’s book are wry and anecdotal and offer advice on everything from plot development to jealousy, from perfectionism to struggling with one’s own internal critic. In the process, Lamott includes writing exercises designed to be both productive and fun.

Lamott offers sane advice for those struggling with the anxieties of writing, but her main project seems to be offering the reader a reality check regarding writing, publishing, and struggling with one’s own imperfect humanity in the process. Rather than a practical handbook to producing and/or publishing, this text is indispensable because of its honest perspective, its down-to-earth humor, and its encouraging approach.

Chapters in this text could easily be included in the curriculum for a writing class. Several of the chapters in Part 1 address the writing process and would serve to generate discussion on students’ own drafting and revising processes. Some of the writing exercises would also be appropriate for generating classroom writing exercises. Students should find Lamott’s style both engaging and enjoyable.

In the sample annotation above, the writer includes three paragraphs: a summary, an evaluation of the text, and a reflection on its applicability to his/her own research, respectively.
For information on formatting MLA citations, see MLA 2009 Formatting and Style Guide.

Sample APA Annotation

Ehrenreich, B. (2001). Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

In this book of nonfiction based on the journalist’s experiential research, Ehrenreich attempts to ascertain whether it is currently possible for an individual to live on a minimum-wage in America. Taking jobs as a waitress, a maid in a cleaning service, and a Walmart sales employee, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow workers, and her financial struggles in each situation.

An experienced journalist, Ehrenreich is aware of the limitations of her experiment and the ethical implications of her experiential research tactics and reflects on these issues in the text. The author is forthcoming about her methods and supplements her experiences with scholarly research on her places of employment, the economy, and the rising cost of living in America. Ehrenreich’s project is timely, descriptive, and well-researched.

The annotation above both summarizes and assesses the book in the citation. The first paragraph provides a brief summary of the author’s project in the book, covering the main points of the work. The second paragraph points out the project’s strengths and evaluates its methods and presentation. This particular annotation does not reflect on the source’s potential importance or usefulness for this person’s own research.

Sample Chicago Manual Style Annotation

Davidson, Hilda Ellis. Roles of the Northern Goddess. London: Routledge, 1998.

Davidson’s book provides a thorough examination of the major roles filled by the numerous pagan goddesses of Northern Europe in everyday life, including their roles in hunting, agriculture, domestic arts like weaving, the household, and death. The author discusses relevant archaeological evidence, patterns of symbol and ritual, and previous research. The book includes a number of black and white photographs of relevant artifacts.
This annotation includes only one paragraph, a summary of the book. It provides a concise description of the project and the book’s project and its major features.

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