What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography provides an overview or a brief account of the available research on a given topic. It is a list of research sources that takes the form of a citation for each source, followed by an annotation - a short paragraph sumarising and evaluating the source. An annotated bibliography may be a stand-alone assignment or a component of a larger assignment. 

Purpose of an annotated bibliography

When set as an assignment, an annotated bibliography allows you to get acquainted with the material available on a particular topic.

Depending on your specific assignment, an annotated bibliography might:

  • review the literature of a particular subject;
  • demonstrate the quality and depth of reading that you have done;
  • exemplify the scope of sources available—such as journals, books, web sites and magazine articles;
  • highlight sources that may be of interest to other readers and researchers;
  • explore and organise sources for further research.

What does an annotated bibliography look like?

Each entry in an annotated biliography has two components: 

  1. a bibliographic citation followed by 
  2. a short paragraph (an annotation) that includes concise descriptions and evaluations of each source. 

The annotation usually contains a brief summary of content and a short analysis or evaluation. Depending on your assignment you may be asked to summarise, reflect on, critique, evaluate or analyse each source. While an annotation can be as brief as one sentence, a paragraph is more usual.  An example is provided below.

As with a normal reference list or bibliography, an annotated bibliography is usually arranged alphabetically according to the author’s last name.

An annotated bibliography summary should be about 100 - 200 words per citation—check with your lecturer/tutor as this may vary between faculties and assessments. Please also check with your lecturer about the elements each annotation should include.

Steps to writing an annotated bibliography

  1. Choose your sources - locate and record citations to sources of research that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic.
  2. Review the items that you’ve collected in your search.
  3. Write the citation using the correct style.
  4. Write the annotation. 

Questions to consider when selecting sources

The sources for your annotated bibliography should be carefully selected. Start by reading abstracts or skimming to help you identify and select relevant sources. Also keep in mind that, while annotated bibliographies are often ‘stand alone’ assignments, they can also be preliminary research about a particular topic or issue, and further research or a longer literature review may follow. Try to choose sources which together will present a comprehensive review of the topic.

Keep the following questions in mind to help clarify your choices

  • What topic/ problem am I investigating?
  • What question(s) am I exploring? (Identify the aim of your literature research). 
  • What kind of material am I looking at and why? Am I looking for journal articles, reports, policies or primary data? 
  • Am I being judicious in my selection of sources? Does each one relate to my research topic and assignment requirements?
  • Have I selected a range of sources? Choose those sources that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic
  • What are the essential or key works about my topic? Am I finding them? Are the sources valuable or often referred to in other sources?

Surveying the sources

Take notes on your selected texts as you read. Pay attention to:

  • the author’s theoretical approach.
  • which parts of the topic are covered.
  • main points or findings on the topic.
  • the author’s position or argument. 

Evaluate and ask questions as you read

Record evaluations in your notes and consider:

  • How, and how effectively, does this source address the topic?
  • Does it cover the topic thoroughly or only one aspect of it?
  • Do the research methods seem appropriate?
  • Does the argument seem reasonable?
  • Where does it stand in relation to other studies? Agree with or contradict?

How should I write the annotations?

  • Each annotation should be concise. Do not write too much—annotations should not extend beyond one paragraph (unless assignment guidelines say otherwise). 
  • The summary should be a brief outline of argument(s) and main ideas. Only mention details that are significant or relevant, and only when necessary. 
  • Any information apparent in the title of thesourcel can be omitted from the annotation.
  • Background materials and references to previous work by the same author usually are not included. As you are addressing one text at a time, there is no need to cross reference or use in-text citations to support your annotation.
  • Find out what referencing style you need to use for the bibliographic citations, and use it consistently.
  • In-text citations would usually only be necessary for quotations or to draw attention to information from specific pages.
  • Unless otherwise stipulated, you should write in full sentences using academic vocabulary.

Contents of an annotated bibliography

An annotation may contain all or part of the following elements depending on the word limit and the content of the sources you are examining.

  • Provide the full bibliographic citation.
  • Indicate the background of the author(s).
  • Indicate the content or scope of the text.
  • Outline the main argument.
  • Indicate the intended audience.
  • Identify the research methods if applicable.
  • Identify any conclusions made by the author/s.
  • Discuss the reliability of the text.
  • Highlight any special features of the text that were unique or helpful e.g. charts, graphs etc.
  • Discuss the relevance or usefulness of the text for your research.
  • Point out in what way the text relates to themes or concepts in your course.
  • State the strengths and limitations of the text.
  • Present your view or reaction to the text.

Sample annotation 

The citation goes first and is followed by the annotation. Make sure that you follow your faculty’s preferred citation style. The summary needs to be concise. Please note the following example is entirely fictitious.

In the sample annotation below, each element is numbered (see Key).

(1) Trevor, C.O., Lansford, B. and Black, J.W., 2004, ‘Employee turnover and job performance: monitoring the influences of salary growth and promotion’, Journal of Armchair Psychology, vol 113, no.1, pp. 56-64.

(2) In this article Trevor et al. review the influences of pay and job opportunities in respect to job performance, turnover rates and employee motivation.(3) The authors use data gained through organisational surveys of blue-chip companies in Vancouver, Canada to try to identify the main causes of employee turnover and whether it is linked to salary growth.(4) Their research focuses on assessing a range of pay structures such as pay for performance and organisational reward schemes.(5) The article is useful to my research topic, as Trevor et al. suggest that there are numerous reasons for employee turnover and variances in employee motivation and performance.(6) The main limitation of the article is that the survey sample was restricted to mid-level management,(7) thus the authors indicate that further, more extensive, research needs to be undertaken to develop a more in-depth understanding of employee turnover and job performance.(8) This article will not form the basis of my research; however it will be useful supplementary information for my research on pay structures.


(1) Citation

(2) Introduction 

(3) Aims & Research methods

(4) Scope

(5) Usefulness (to your research/ to a particular topic)

(6) Limitations

(7) Conclusions

(8) Reflection (explain how this work illuminates your topic or how it will fit in with your research)

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