Your instructor has assigned a research paper, and you have spent some time discovering information about your topic and are ready to begin collecting the sources you want to use in your paper. However, before you begin the work of writing the paper, your instructor has asked you to turn in an “Annotated Bibliography.” So what exactly is an annotated bibliography?
An annotated bibliography is a summary or evaluation of the research you have compiled and are planning to use in your paper. The term, “bibliography” refers to a list of sources, such as books, peer-reviewed articles, or websites that one has compiled in their research. In MLA format, this list is referred to as “Works Cited,” and if you are using APA format, it is referred to as a “References” page. The bibliography listing includes the title of the book, article, or webpage, the author, and other publishing information.
In an annotated bibliography, you are asked to “annotate,” or summarize and/or evaluate the sources you are using. Whether you only summarize the research or evaluate it depends on the assignment guidelines.
When you summarize the research, you will simply state the main argument the research is making. When summarizing an entire book, you may want to include what the book’s main theme is, and any relevant chapters. When summarizing a website, you might want to offer a bit about the sponsor of the website. A journal article will probably have an argument it is trying to make, so you’ll want to summarize what the author’s position is.
When evaluating sources for an annotated bibliography list, you are being asked to give your judgment on the source. This could mean anything from explaining if the source is useful (hopefully, or you wouldn’t be using it, right?), if the source has any biases, or if the source is credible.
These are the most common annotated bibliography assignments, but other assignments might ask you to simply reflect on how you will use the sources in your paper. Take care to understand your instructor’s assignment before you begin.
Usually your instructor will give you specific guidelines to follow as you format your annotated list. If in doubt – ASK. Don’t guess. But generally the bibliographic information is written in paragraph form. Depending on your guidelines, the annotation may be only two or three lines, or two or three paragraphs. If your instructor asks you to summarize and evaluate, your annotation will be longer than simply a brief summary.
Below is an example of MLA annotated bibliography entry. Notice that the author’s name is on a hanging indent, with everything else indented:
(Example from http://library.ucf.edu/Rosen/guide_annotated.php)
In the example above, the annotations begin immediately after the citation information, with no line break. Note that formatting varies, and some style manuals offer no formatting guidelines. Always ask your instructor for his/her preference.
Researching sources for an assignment is often the most time consuming part of the writing process, but this is also the most critical step. Instructors don’t assign annotated bibliographies to torture you; reading the research carefully will help you to formulate a strong thesis. Becoming familiar with the research will also aid you as you organize your points, as you’ll know exactly what you need to support your position, and where to place the sources for the most effect. You’ll learn to better evaluate sources and consider how you’ll utilize them to support your argument.
The best part: after you’re done, you’ll be an expert among your peers on the subject!