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Write an Annotated Bibliography

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a written assignment (paper, journal article, appendix to a journal article, or complete book) consisting of a series of entries on a single theme, organized either alphabetically, by date, or by topic. Each entry consists of two parts:

  1. the citation information in a proper referencing style (MLA, Chicago, APA, CSE, etc.)
  2. a brief summary (or "annotation") of the source in paragraph form

What is the purpose of an annotated bibliography?

Each annotation enables readers to see the relationship of a number of written works to each other and in the context of the topic studied. Many annotations are both descriptive (telling readers what the source is about) and critical (evaluating the source’s usefulness or importance).

  • To present the reader with a fairly comprehensive, yet focused, review of the scholarly sources on a specific topic or in a specialized field
  • To provide the writer with a more in-depth understanding of a specific topic or specialized field in preparation for conducting future research

What is the difference between a bibliography and an annotated bibliography?

  • A bibliography is an organized list of works consulted when you are doing research on a particular topic, which is placed at the end of a paper, journal article, chapter, or book.
  • An annotated bibliography is a separate paper, journal article, appendix to a journal article, or complete book consisting of a series of entries on a single theme, organized either alphabetically, by date, or by topic. Each entry consists of two parts that together form a single record:
    1. the citation in the proper referencing style
    2. a one-paragraph discussion (or "annotation") of the source listed above

What is the difference between an annotated bibliography and an abstract?

  • An abstract is a descriptive summary of a single longer text, with content summarized in the same order as the original. It is often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles, in periodical indexes, or in electronic databases
  • An annotation enables readers to see the relationship of a number of written works to each other and in the context of the topic studied
  • Although what is required in annotated bibliographies differs from discipline to discipline, many annotations are both descriptive and critical and illustrate the writer's library research skills, summarizing expertise, point of view, analytical ability, and understanding of the field

What are the two types of annotated bibliographies?

In the sciences and some of the more scientific disciplines 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.

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 their potential or imaginary research project.

Summary or descriptive annotated bibliographies:

The summary or descriptive annotated bibliography provides a summary of the main findings in a source with no analysis or evaluation.

Critical annotated bibliographies:

A critical annotation goes beyond a simple summary of the original source.

  • It evaluates the reliability of the information presented, including the authors' credentials, the value of the reference for other scholars, and, if relevant, the appropriateness of the methodologies.
  • It evaluates the conclusions and discusses how successfully the authors achieve their aims. If the annotated bibliography is intended as a first step to a review of literature leading to a major paper, thesis, or dissertation, then it will also evaluate how useful the information and methodological approaches will be for someone doing research on a particular project.
  • It may also indicate your own critical reactions to the sources. This might be done by indicating whether the information presented is similar or different to other authors' findings or approaches to the subject— and hypothesizing why. For example, did the author fail to take important information into consideration? Did the author take a certain approach as the result of a particular theoretical viewpoint?

How is an annotated bibliography organized?

Annotated bibliographies can be organized in three different ways:

  • by author alphabetically
  • by date
  • by subtopics or sections

Most undergraduate-level annotated bibliographies are relatively short and will not need an introductory paragraph and/or separate sections.

Longer annotated bibliographies may necessitate an introductory paragraph, explaining the scope of the selected sources (within certain dates, within geographic parameters, only in a certain discipline, etc.), or noting any other particulars (such as abbreviations, etc.).

How long should an annotated bibliography be?

The specific length of your annotations and the number of sources will vary from assignment to assignment. Check with your professor to find out what length and organizational style is preferred.

The text of an annotation normally ranges from four to ten sentences. This limit forces the writer to focus on the central ideas in the source.

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, but this is rare in undergraduate student papers. Other options for longer annotated bibliographies would be to arrange entries under topic and subtopic headings, or in chronological order.

How can I improve my annotated bibliography?

After you have written a draft,

  • Re-read the assignment instructions carefully to make certain you have included all of the essential components that you need in each annotation. Make a checklist and compare each entry against the list.
  • Evaluate your annotations and assess whether you have included both summaries and critical evaluations for each entry.
  • Check each citation for accuracy and consistency in language and style.
  • Try to avoid the passive voice and use active voice instead (e.g., change "Artistic autonomy was spoken about by the presenter" to "The presenter spoke about artistic autonomy.")
  • Review your work to see if you have used clear and specific verbs such as demonstrates, asserts, speculates.
  • Check your verb tenses. In general, use present tense to describe an author’s ideas and arguments (e.g., Jones argues that…). However, if you are describing an action that was completed in the past, describe it using the past tense (e.g., Smith tested her hypothesis by observing five hamsters…).
  • Make certain that you have avoided using direct quotations, except when the words quoted are important terms that you wish to highlight.
  • Lastly, proof read your document for errors in grammar, punctuation, and style.

Resources to help with citations

Guide: Cite Your SourcesGuide: Manage Your Sources Video: Is this a Scholarly Journal Article

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