How To Write An Annotated Bibliography (Plus APA Sample)

Writing an annotated bibliography

If you have done undergraduate or are in any postgraduate program, then you must have come across the term “annotated bibliography.”

Most academic programs require students to write an annotated bibliography as an assignment but it serves a bigger purpose during the writing of Masters or PhD theses or dissertations.

What is an annotated bibliography?

The term “annotated bibliography” is a combination of two words: “annotated” and “bibliography”.

All students are familiar with a bibliography. It is simply an alphabetical listing of all sources that have been referred to and cited in any written piece of work.

A bibliography appears at the very end of each paper.

A bibliography can also be called a reference list or works cited though there is a slight difference.

A reference list or works cited is a listing of those sources that have been cited in a paper only and excludes sources that have been referred to but not directly cited in the paper. A bibliography on the other hand includes both the sources that have been cited and those that have been referred to but not directly cited.

A bibliography includes the metadata of the sources referenced including: the names of the authors, the year the source was published, the title of the source, the volume and issue number of the source, the place of publication, the name of the publisher, and the digital object identifier number. The metadata depend on the type of source used, that is, whether it was a journal paper, a book, a newsletter, a webpage etc.

The term “annotation” simply means a note or a comment about something.

Annotated bibliography therefore means notes/comments about a document.

An annotated bibliography therefore has two parts:

  1. A citation which appears first.
  2. A note about the citation, which appears below the citation.

Purpose of an annotated bibliography

The annotated bibliography serves various purposes:

  • It is a listing of all the sources referenced and referred to when writing a paper. The annotated bibliography is mined later when the student is writing his thesis/dissertation.
  • It makes writing a thesis/dissertation easier as it is the first step in the writing process. The annotated bibliography is usually prepared when reviewing literature.
  • It enhances the critical thinking and analytical skills of a student. This is because part of the annotation is the relevance of the source to a student’s research. The student must therefore critically analyse how each source in the bibliography will shape or inform his/her research.
  • It sharpens a student’s writing skills. When writing the annotation of the bibliography, the student is required to use his/her own words to avoid plagiarism. The more the student writes, the better he/she becomes at academic writing.

Related post: Academic Referencing 101 (The What, Why and How)

Parts of the annotation

The annotation in the annotated bibliography contains three main elements:

  1. A summary on what the source was about including, what was the purpose of the publication? what were the main findings?
  2. An evaluation of the source: was the source credible and reliable (for instance, was it peer-reviewed or not? Is it an industry publication or academic publication? How do the findings compare with the findings from other related resources (do they support their findings or not)?
  3. The relevance of the source to the student’s own research: do the findings support the student’s argument or not? Are there quotes, statistics, facts or examples that the student can borrow from the source that are relevant to their own research?

Important factors to consider when writing an annotated bibliography

The annotated bibliography should be arranged alphabetically.

The annotated bibliography should be written following the referencing style recommended by the university. This could be APA, MLA, Harvard, Chicago etc. Each of this referencing styles has its own manuals that the student can refer to.

The length of the annotation depends on the purpose of the annotated bibliography and the instructions provided. For instance, if it is an assignment, the evaluation and relevance parts of the annotation may not be necessary hence the annotated bibliography will be short. On the other hand, if the annotated bibliography is supposed to inform a thesis or dissertation, the student will need to include the evaluation and relevance elements of the bibliography hence it may be longer. There is no one-size-fits-all guideline for the length of the annotated bibliography.

Sample of APA-style annotated bibliography

The following is an example of how to write an annotated bibliography using APA referencing style.

Sample of APA style annotated bibliography

Final thoughts on how to write an annotated bibliography

Writing an annotated bibliography is not difficult but it requires the ability to summarise a document into few words as well as the ability to critically analyse the content of a document. Although not a requirement in most postgraduate programs, it is a useful step in the writing process of a thesis or dissertation and makes the writing much easier.

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Grace Njeri-Otieno

Grace Njeri-Otieno is a Kenyan, a wife, a mom, and currently a PhD student, among many other balls she juggles. She holds a Bachelors' and Masters' degrees in Economics and has more than 7 years' experience with an INGO. She was inspired to start this site so as to share the lessons learned throughout her PhD journey with other PhD students. Her vision for this site is "to become a go-to resource center for PhD students in all their spheres of learning."

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