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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

How To: Write an Annotated Bibliography: What Is An Annotated Bibliography?

A guide to writing an Annotated Bibliography

Annotated Bibliography Defined

Portrait of a Man Writing in His Study by Gustave CaillebotteWelcome to the Lloyd Sealy Library subject guide on how to write an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography is an alphabetical list of source citations with a short description and/or evaluation of that material under the citation. The purpose of an annotated bibliography is to present your critique, analysis, description and/or usefulness of a particular source listed. This guide contains sections on how to create an annotated bibliography, as well as proper citation styles and additional resources to help you construct your bibliography. 
                  Portrait of a Man Writing in His Study by Gustave Caillebotte

Key Concepts to Remember

Keep these key concepts in mind when constructing an annotated bibliography:
  1. An annotated bibliography is an alphabetical listing of citations which following a particular format or style (APA and MLA are two of the most common). 
  2. An annotated bibliography is not a literature review.  A literature review (click to see our research guide) is an essay which summarizes and analyzes the most significant sources published on a topic, issue or problem in a particular field of study.
  3. An annotated bibliography should mention the source's central theme, however, it is not an abstract. An abstract is merely a short summary for the reader. An annotated bibliography does more than summarize the source; it includes your opinion on whether or not the source in question is accurate, convincing, relevant, flawed, etc.
  4. An annotated bibliography is YOUR original work to help the reader understand a particular source you have chosen or used in your research.

Sample Entry of an Annotated Bibliography

A bibliography is an alphabetical list of selected sources.  It may include books, journal or magazine articles, newspapers articles, audiovisual materials, web sites, to name just a few types of resources. The actual citation includes all information necessary for someone to find that exact resource: author, title, publisher, url, etc.  This information is formatted according to a particular style as recommended by your professor.  APA and MLA are two commonly used styles (see our research guide on Citing Sources for help). Your annotation for a particular work is added underneath its citation.  It may simply be a comment, perhaps a few sentences, or one or more paragraph(s) as stipulated by your professor.

Here is a sample entry in an annotated bibliography which follows the MLA format for the citation:

(Link)Annotated Bibliography



Annotations versus Abstracts

Annotations in the Margins made to the work of Saint Augustine

Annotations in the Margins made to the work of Saint Augustine (Link)

An abstract is a short summary generally found in the beginning of scholarly articles and papers that inform potential readers of it's contents. It is descriptive only.  Annotations may also be descriptive in part, however, they also include an evaluative or critical element as well. Annotations may focus on a variety of issues such as the work's hypothesis, scope, methodology, conclusion and/or the overall success of the author's argument.

Nuts and Bolts of an Annotated Bibliography

A man and woman riveting team working on the "nuts and bolts" of the cockpit shell of a C-47 aircraft

A man and woman riveting team working on the "nuts and bolts" of the cockpit shell of a C-47 aircraft (1942) Link

Some aspects you may consider when preparing an annotated bibliography:

  1. Central theme of source.
  2. Audience for whom source was written (i.e. students, scientists, general public, etc.).
  3. Is the author an authority on the subject?
  4. Is the scope comprehensive or limited, and is that appropriate?
  5. Does the source meet its stated objective(s)?
  6. Are the conclusions convincing?
  7. Is there anything highly helpful or useful included in this paper? (ex: graphs, bibliography, a detailed glossary, etc.)
  8. What are some overall strengths and weaknesses?
  9. Does the source contribute your overall research?
  10. Does the source contribute to its field of study?

Descriptive Annotation

Descriptive Annotation

A descriptive annotation or the descriptive part of an annotation is essentially a summary of the work. The descriptive element of an annotation would summarize the work as a whole or discuss specific aspects related to the author(s) stated intention/purpose, methodology and/or conclusions.

Critical Annotation

A critical annotation or the critical component of an annotation presents your critique of the source in question and may include both positive and negative comments. For instance negative aspects of a critical annotation may discuss a noticeable tone or bias of the author, question the premise or accuracy of the work, or mention omissions that you believe may hinder the overall usefulness or validity of the work.  Positive aspects of critically analyzing a work may mention the author(s) new approach to topic, an interesting and valuable conclusion, an insightful urging for future investigations on the topic.