This is a general guide to writing annotated bibliographies. Before beginning to write your own annotated bibliography, always look at the course assignment sheet or check with your professor for specific instructions.
The disciplinary area and purpose of an individual annotated bibliography will determine its character. However, in most cases, it is your chance to:
Each entry in an annotated bibliography provides full bibliographical information (normally in the style* your department or discipline requires), then a paraphrase of, or commentary on, the source. Depending on the length of the annotated bibliography, these entries will be listed either alphabetically (typical in a short student paper), by ascending date, or by topic (in a long student paper).
*Note that each style guide suggests its own way of setting up an annotated bibliography.
There are also two writing styles in annotated bibliographies: one is to write in sentences, and the other, emphasizing conciseness, is to write in a kind of point-form using phrases rather than sentences. None of the examples in this handout uses the latter style, but an example of the point-form (or telegraphic style) would be: "An historical view of research in the field in the last century. Contains brief descriptions of important legislation." Ask your professor which style is preferable.
The text of an annotation normally ranges from two to ten sentences. This forces you to focus on the central ideas in the text and to write objectively.
A long annotated bibliography may be preceded by an introduction to the topic chosen, with a discussion of the rationale behind the selection of the entries for the bibliography as well as the exclusion of others, and the timeframe covered. In a very long annotated bibliography, the entries are often numbered (see examples A and B), but this is rare in student papers. As suggested above, other options for longer annotated bibliographies would be to arrange entries under topic and subtopic headings, or in chronological order. Again, check with your professor to find out what organizational style is preferred.
Generally, MLA, Chicago, or APA style is used, although, as you can see from several of our examples in this handout, this is not always the case in some disciplines. Ask your professor what referencing style you should use. But whatever style you use, make sure the appearance and form are consistent throughout your text.
In the arts and some social sciences, annotated bibliographies will be judged by how critical and analytical they are and often by how the writer links the text's usefulness to his or her potential or imaginary research project. In the sciences and some of the more scientific of the social sciences, annotated bibliographies are rarely used; when they are used, they will often be primarily summary or descriptive—that is, they will paraphrase the original text.
The purpose of the summary or descriptive annotated bibliography is to give the reader a summary of the main findings or arguments in a source with no analysis or evaluation. Although annotated bibliographies are rarely used in the sciences, when they are used they often take this form. The following sample is from a scientific source 1. Note that this bibliographic entry follows a scientific referencing style. It is all single-spaced, and the annotation is numbered (e.g., 1312) since it is taken from a long book that is an annotated bibliography.
1312. Wilson, M.C. (1996): Late Quaternary vertebrates and the opening of the ice-free corridor, with special reference to the genus Bison. Quarternary International 32: 97-105. One way to gauge the ecological opening of the ice-free corridor is to establish the chronology for the arrival of immigrant animal species. Bison (Bison) have excellent potential because of the abundance of their remains. Bison of 'southern' appearance [referable to ancient bison (Bison bison antiquus)] were present as far N [sic] as the Peace River region until about 10,000 B.P. Bison populations in western Canada apparently underwent a rapid change at that time, such that barely 500 years later, bison of 'northern' appearance [referable to western bison (Bison bison occidentalis)] were established. The rapidity and pervasiveness of this change seem to defy an evolutionary explanation rooted in punctuated equilibrium or phenotypic change, and could indicate a sudden population influx through the newly opened corridor.
A critical annotation goes beyond simple summarizing of the material in the original.
This might be done by indicating whether the information presented is at odds with other authors' findings or approaches to the subject— and hypothesizing why. For example, did this writer have access to sources that former writers were unable to access; did the writer fail to take important information into consideration? Did the author take a certain approach as the result of a particular theoretical viewpoint? It is always important to note when the author of one of the texts in your annotated bibliography is an outlier (espousing an opinion or approach that is different from the majority).
In the following examples, the critical comments are highlighted in bold text.
In the first example 2, the style is MLA, and the original author has used an abbreviation for the title of the journal. Such abbreviations would be used only when the same journal titles are repeated often in a long annotated bibliography and when the abbreviations are identified in a preface to the annotations. Note that in MLA style the left margin should be 1 inch, with double-spacing between and within entries, and the second or subsequent lines should be indented a further ½ inch. Note also that the actual annotation does not begin on a separate line from the citation. You will not normally need to assign a number for each citation unless you are so instructed.
556. Fisher, Alexander J. "Paul Hindemith, Gottfried Benn, and the Defense of the Autonomy of Art in the Late Weimar Republic." HJb 28 (1999): 11-53. Useful but uneven article suggesting that Hindemith's desire to collaborate with Brecht and Benn was motivated by his desire to maintain the artistic autonomy of music against its appropriation by various social agendas (Lehrstück and Lindberghflug as a reaction to the cultural conservatism of the Jugendmusikbewegung; Das Unaufhörliche as a reaction to Brecht's socialism). Hindemith's incomplete understanding of the collaborators' agendas may not have been entirely his fault, as Brecht's thought was undergoing radicalization during and after the collaborations; Benn's nihilism was much less known by the reading public than was his stance on art, and his susceptibility to Nazi ideology apparent only in retrospect. All this is correct up to a point; however, the article falters, as did Hindemith, by failing to acknowledge or challenge the leftist critique that artistic autonomy itself entails a socio-political agenda. Perhaps this explains Fisher's account of Hindemith's attempt to achieve a modus vivendi with the Nazis, which includes the obligatory citations from the Mathis libretto, but is disturbing for being offered (in stark contrast to his analyses of the Brecht and Benn collaborations) almost entirely without commentary, let alone critical evaluation.
This example 3 focuses on methodological questions and usefulness, and in this case the annotation notes that the article's usefulness is for instructors in Family Studies. An annotated bibliography written by a student will typically focus on the usefulness for the research s/he is either hypothetically or actually going to undertake. Once again, the analytical part of the entry is highlighted in bold text. The APA Publication Manual doesn't have any guidelines for annotated bibliographies, but their organization says that the following layout would fit well in a paper otherwise formatted in APA style. It is double-spaced, with hanging indents for the second line of the citation, a space between the citation and the annotation, and a block indented two more spaces for the annotation.
Thompson, L. (1992). Feminist methodology for family studies. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 3-18. Research methodology encompasses agenda, epistemology, ethics, and methods. Thompson illustrates each of these aspects of methodology with feminist examples from family studies. In so doing, she moves the literature of feminist research beyond the debate of qualitative versus quantitative methods. This article can be assigned to students regardless of whether they are using a feminist perspective in order to assist them in clarifying for themselves how they are addressing these aspects of methodology in their own research.
The following excerpt from a student paper 4 annotates a primary source (the text of an original speech). This annotated bibliography was a preliminary step to a thesis researching the history of women and education. The bolded text in the second sentence indicates the writer's analysis of the rhetorical methods used in the primary source, and we can see in the final bolded sentence a suggestion of one of the themes ("the tactics and rhetoric employed by those opposed to equality in educational and professional opportunities") that she may go on to explore in her own thesis. There is a hanging indent after the first line of the citation, and the rest of the annotation continues on with the same hanging indent. Unlike MLA style, there is no double-spacing. Chicago Style has two systems of formatting the actual citation (but not the annotation), depending on whether you use notes (footnotes/endnotes) or the author-date system. Be sure to check the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style or the Learning Commons handout on Chicago referencing style to find out the differences. This example follows Chicago's "notes and bibliography" citation style.
Sedgewick, R. "The Proper Sphere and Influence of Women in Christian Society ." In The Proper Sphere: Woman's Place in Canadian Society, edited by R. Cook and W. Mitchinson, 8–34. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1976. This is the text of a November 1856 speech that Reverend Robert Sedgewick delivered at the Halifax YMCA. Focusing on the biblical debate that women are meant to be the help-meets of men, Sedgewick relies on ridicule, sarcasm and fear-mongering to argue that it is in the best interest of society to restrict women from courses of education that would take them outside of the home. This speech serves as an excellent example of the tactics and rhetoric employed by those opposed to equality in educational and professional opportunities.
• Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Annotated Bibliography Example
1 C. R. Harington, ed., Annotated Bibliography of Quaternary Vertebrates of Northern North America: with Radiocarbon Dates (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 318–19.
2 Luttman, Stephen, Paul Hindemith: A Guide to Research (New York: Routledge, 2005).
3 Humble, Áine M., et al., "Feminism and Mentoring of Graduate Students," Family Relations 55 (January 2006): 2.