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Writing & Citing (APA, MLA etc.)

Self-help for creating citations and references for research papers.

What Is an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of books, articles, or other documents, consisting of a citation followed by a brief evaluation of each work listed.

  • The citation is a description of the essential elements of the work (including author, title, year of publication, publisher, and publication date), listed in a certain style (typically Chicago style for History) with specific capitalization, indentation, and punctuation.
  • The annotation is a short critical review of the work and its author. The annotation may include:
    • Brief summary of the content and usefulness of the item
    • Note of any limitations that the item may have, e.g. level, timeliness etc.
    • Description of what audience the item is intended for
    • Evaluation of the methods of research used
    • Comment on the reliability of the item
    • Description of the author’s background
    • Summary of the author’s conclusions
    • Commentary on how the item may be useful for your research.

An annotated bibliography, like any list of works cited, should be presented in alphabetical order by author's last name.

Why Write an Annotated Bibliography?

Writing an annotated helps you kick-start research for a paper by helping you get a handle on what research is available to support your own thesis. It also illustrates to your professor the scope and quality of your work and will show that you have read and understood the research in your area of study.

It also informs the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

Are Annotations the same as Abstracts and Summaries?

No! A summary, often called an abstract, is simply a short retelling of the work. A summary does not include an interpretive statement about the work. An annotation is a critical analysis and interpretation of the work in relation to one's own research.

A Sample Annotated Bibliography

Duus, Peter, ed. The Japanese Discovery of Ameria: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books,

This book explores the relationship between Japan and the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, focusing on the dramatic differences between the two cultures and the uneasiness, confusion, and misunderstandings that arose from those differences. In a short introductory history, Duus discusses Japanese isolationism, the military and economic factors that led the United States to forcefully open relations with Japan, and the ways in which the Japanese observed and interpreted Americans and their culture. The main body of the text comprises a series of documents, including political pamphlets, autobiographies, eyewitness accounts, broadsheets, and printes. The inclusion of both Japanese and American views of Japan invites a comparison of mutual misunderstandings.

An example from Mary Lynn Rampolla's A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. 3rd. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.  

Ehrenreich, B. Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001. 

In this book of nonfiction based on the journalist's experiential research, Ehrenreich attempts to ascertain whether it is currently: possible for an individual to live on a minimum-wage in America. Taking jobs as a waitress, a maid in a cleaning service, and a Wal-Mart sales employee, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow workers, and her financialstruggles in each situation. An experienced journalist, Ehrenreich is aware of the limitations of her experiment and the ethical implications of her experiential research tactics and reflects on these issues in the text. The author is forthcoming about her methods and supplements her experiences with scholarly research on her places of employment, the economy, and the rising cost of living in America. Ehrenreich’s project is timely, descriptive, and well-researched.

For more examples, go to Purdue Online Writing Lab

The annotation above both summarizes and assesses the book in the citation. After a brief summary, it would be appropriate to assess this source and offer some criticisms of it. Does it seem like a reliable and current source? Why? Is the research biased or objective? Are the facts well documented? Who is the author? Is she qualified in this subject? Is this source scholarly, popular, some of both?

The length of your annotation will depend on the assignment or on the purpose of your annotated bibliography. After summarizing and assessing, you can then reflect on the source. How does it fit into your research? Is this a helpful resource? Too scholarly? Not scholarly enough? Too general/specific? Has this source helped you narrow your topic?

Using a variety of sources can give you a broader picture of what is being said about your topic. You may want to investigate how scholarly sources are treating this topic differently than more popular sources. But again, if your assignment is to only use scholarly sources, then you will probably want to avoid magazines and popular web sites.

If you are writing an annotated bibliography with many sources, it may be helpful to divide the sources into categories. For example, if I were putting together an extensive annotated bibliography for stem cell research, I might divide the sources into categories such as ethical concerns, scholarly analyses, and political ramifications.

Questions to Ask When Writing an Annotation

The following questions can help you with your writing process.  Answer as many of the questions as you can.

  • Who is the author and why should I pay attention to what he/she has to say? Do they have credentials or relevant experience? Why do these credentials or experience give them authority?
  • For whom is the book/article intended? College students? Scholars? Popular readers? Children?
  • What is the focus and scope of the book or article? Is it generalized or does it focus on a specific topic or idea? Are any important ideas missing?
  • What historical research method(s) the author used?
  • Is the author biased in any way?
  • What is the author's thesis statement? What are the author's main ideas?
  • How does this work support or influence your topic? Would you use this work to write a final paper? 

Steps to Write an Annotated Bibliography

  1. Using the library OneSearch or a database, search for citations for books, journal articles, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic
  2. Keep track of citations, consider exporting your citations to RefWorks or Zotero.
  3. Briefly examine and review the actual items. Then choose those works that provide perspectives on your topic
  4. Finalize your list of sources. Then choose a citation style (Chicago Manual Style) and prepare your bibliography. Using a citation manager like Refworks or Zotero can help you with this.
  5. Open your bibliography/list onto Microsoft Word, and check for any errors. Compare to examples from the style manual and Purdue OWL.
  6. Write an annotation for each entry using the questions above.
  7. Use the “Hanging Indentation” Feature in Microsoft Word to follow the Annotated Bibliography Format.

Write an Annotated Bibliography without Reading the Whole Book

To write an effective annotation, you need not necessarily read the entire work. For a book, you should read the introduction and the conclusion. You should also read any notes provided by the author, and look carefully at the table of contents and index to see what topics the author covers. Read the authors credentials and any notes he or she provides about the work. Look also at the sources the author uses to draw conclusions.

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