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How To Write An Annotated Bibliography Step-by-Step

How To Write An Annotated Bibliography Step-by-Step

Around 200 BCE, the renowned Greek poet Callimachus created the first bibliography ever; arranging and documenting Greek literature up to that time.

Today, we use bibliographies to validify our unpopular opinions on controversial issues in college essays. Scholars need trustworthy sources to prove any argument in academia.

However, bibliographies are mostly dull and hard to navigate, right? Well, this might not be true for annotated bibliographies.

As a scholar, you should LOVE annotated bibliographies for two simple reasons:

1. They make it SUPER EASY to find the correct, reputable source fast.
2. They provide insight into the content of the source, so you don’t waste time skimming through it.

So what is an annotated bibliography exactly and how do you write it?

Let’s dig right into the definitive guide by EssayPro.


Table Of Contents

What is an Annotation?

An annotation briefly describes the content (or discussion) of a specific article, book or source.

Annotations are similar to metadata in blogs, or good essay titles. They effectively inform the reader, allowing them to decide whether the following material will be useful in their studies.

There are two types of annotations, descriptive and critical. We will investigate them further in the blog.

Annotations and Abstracts: Is There a Difference?

Annotations are quite different from abstracts.

Abstracts merely summarize content. They are found in scholarly articles, periodical indexes, or similar work of, or relating to, academia. Darwin’s Origin of Species has an abstract, summarizing his methods and findings.

Annotations go beyond summarizing. They include descriptive content, often evaluating and critiquing the source. As an informed scholar, you are expected to identify the intended audience, expose the author’s biases, explore relationships with other sources, and much more.

What Is An Annotated Bibliography?

A bibliography is a list of sources (books, articles, etc.), just like the ones you’ll find in any essay or scholarly article.

However, an annotated bibliography is different. It is distinguished by the fact that each source is followed by an annotation from the author.

This format allows the reader to conclude whether the source is relevant and accurate.

Different purposes of an annotated bibliography

The bibliography may serve several purposes. This is determined by whether your work aims to explore, review, or formulate a convincing argument.

Here are five possible case scenarios:

  1. You aim to review the source, as in a typical literature review.
  2. You aim to give a reader background to heighten the impact or comprehension of your thesis.
  3. You wish to demonstrate the lengthy research you have done to build credibility.
  4. You’re simply providing examples of major sources connected to your topic.
  5. (Assuming the reader is a researcher) You are giving the reader a foundation for further reading.

Keep in mind that these are merely techniques, like rhetorical devices in literature.

When it comes to types of annotated bibliography, there are only two major ones. Let’s dive straight in!

Types of Annotated Bibliographies

As mentioned earlier, annotated bibliographies can be:

  1. Descriptive or informative
  2. Analytical or critical

types of annotated bibliogrphy

Descriptive or informative annotated bibliography (with an example)

Most people confuse a descriptive or informative annotated bibliography with an abstract - and for a good reason. Both serve the same purpose: to summarize a source, describing its content and how it applies to the subject at hand. This format is not rooted in critical analysis. It merely represents the arguments and conclusions of the author of the source.

Here’s an example:

(Both annotation examples refer to the article below)

Long-Term Effects Of Marijuana on the Brain by Joshua Gowin, Pd.D.
www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/you-illuminated/201409/long-term-effects-marijuana-the-brain

Gowin reports on the legalization of marijuana in the states, and how more people are prone to get addicted. He also clarifies that this entry is 1 in a three-part series. Gowin goes on to detail how THC is absorbed by human cells, claiming that it stays there for long enough to have a significant impact on the development of the human brain. The remainder of the article seeks to prove that claim by analyzing how long brain functions are altered following severe marijuana addiction. He bases his conclusions on the report of Andrew Zalesky from The University of Melbourne Australia. In the end, he mentions that Zalesky's research is a strong reason for concern, however, it does not constitute undeniable facts. To quote the final sentence of the article, "Any conclusions may be premature, but it makes you wonder."

Pay attention to how the author of the bibliography does not offer opinion or critique. Neutrality is a vital aspect of a descriptive or informative annotated bibliography.

Analytical or critical annotated bibliography (with an example)

The following type of annotated bibliography is a tad more complicated. A critical annotation evaluates the source and its author, offering critique. As a scholar, you are required to present your critical analysis of the source vaguely.

Here’s what to include an in a critical annotation:

  • A bibliographic citation
  • The author’s qualifications (if any)
  • A summary of significant structural elements: the thesis, and primary supporting arguments.
  • A brief idea of the target (intended) audience.
  • Author analysis, exposing bias and/or point of view.
  • Observation of how the source relates to other sources relevant to the subject area.
  • Proposal or report of solutions or findings or results (conclusion).
  • Specification of additional features (e.g. tools used in the study, professional comments, surveys, etc.)

Here’s an example:

In this article from the internet source Psychology Today, Joshua Gowin, Ph.D., starts with the assumption that because of the legalization of marijuana in the United States of America, more people are prone to get addicted to the substance. He also clarifies that this entry is only the first in a three-part series. Gowin bases his conclusions on the article of Andrew Zalesky from The University of Melbourne Australia. The target audience could range from students to adults, or those seeking quick information on the malicious effects of marijuana. Psychology Today usually contains simplified definitions of complicated concepts in their articles, which are accessible to any user, despite their level of education. The author is unbiased, presenting his information statistically; it does not seem like the author has an emotional connection to the topic. However, the article does aim to prove that teens and young adults should be aware of the possible dangers of marijuana abuse. Gowin does not provide any valuable or new information on the subject. To quote the final sentence of the article, "Any conclusions may be premature, but it makes you wonder." This seems to strengthen the fact that any source from Psychology Today could clarify a concept, but does not go beyond the realm of entertainment media.

The bad news is, you’ll mostly be writing critical or annotated bibliographies. Good news is there’s an easier way of doing it.

Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Now that you’re familiar with the how's and the why's, you can begin writing your very own annotated bibliography. Yay!

To get started you need to find your sources and citations for them. Just like with writing essays, there is a citation format you have to stick to (most probably MLA). You may create citations by hand using our citation guide or use any online citation generator, but BEWARE! They are very unreliable.

Next, review the sources. Pick the best ones, and outline the major points. Note down the name of the author, their qualifications, and your thoughts on whether the article is neutral or biased.

And finally, write a concise annotation by organizing all of your notes on the article. Use the bullet points presented in sections above for easy reference.

Pretty simple, huh? That goes to show that a little organization goes a long a way!

two ways of arranging annotated bibliography

Here at EssayPro, we firmly believe that writing is only 20% of the work. We always urge students to brainstorm, organize their thoughts, and create an outline before putting pen to paper.

Final Thoughts

Writing an annotated bibliography requires attention to detail and some critical thinking. It may seem complicated, but a little preparation goes a long way.

One final tip: whenever you find a trustworthy source that you’re going to use, ALWAYS create a citation for it right away. This will save you LOADS of time in the future.

Remember to stick to the correct citation format as instructed by your university (APA, MLA, or Chicago styles.) Here is an example of annotated bibliography formatted in MLA style.

annotated bibliography formatted in MLA style

Thank you for reading, we hope this blog has been helpful in your academic endeavors.

Happy writing!

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