How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography

Last Updated: 17 October 2021

annotated bibliography guide with examples

Instructors and professors often assign annotated bibliography assignments either as an independent assignment or as part of another assignment. When given as an independent assignment, you (the student) are expected to write a stand-alone annotated bibliography in the assigned format. Here, you gather and read sources that support your given topic and then annotate each.

However, when assigned as part of an assignment, you first complete the assignment, e.g., case study, research paper, thesis, dissertation, research proposal, essay, or term paper, then write your annotated bibliography just before the references page.

Your professor or instructor might prefer it otherwise, but they should state that in the assignment prompt.

Whichever the case, you are already here probably because you want to learn how to create an annotated bibliography. This article covers the definition of annotated bibliography, examples of the most common annotated bibliography in different formats (APA, MLA, and Chicago), and steps you need to take to write a top-grade annotated bibliography. This article features expert advice from our annotated bibliography writers

What is an annotated bibliography?:Definition

An annotated bibliography refers to a list of or organized sources of reference with a short descriptive text (the annotation) for every source. It is more of a reference list with some short text under each full bibliographic citation of a source.

The annotation is a concise analysis, evaluation, or summary of the content of the source, the authors, and the relevance to the topic.

An annotated bibliography can also be casually referred to as an annotated bib. It recounts the research available on a topic.

Like a reference list, an annotated bibliography has an alphabetical order. It can either describe the sources, evaluate the sources, or describe the importance of the sources in given research or for a given topic of interest.

Depending on the assignment at hand, annotated bibliographies can be meant for reflection, summarizing, critiquing, evaluating, or analyzing the source.

To reiterate, annotated bibliographies culminate into a research paper, essay, term paperdissertation, thesis, or literature review.

Why write an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography has many purposes. First, when assigned as part of a larger assignment, it helps you familiarize yourself with the material available on a given topic. Second, doing so enables you to develop arguments, establish connections, and give examples that help you write a solid paper on the topic.

An annotated bibliography also helps review depth and content in the literature on a subject, which helps develop your thesis and the upcoming paper.

An annotated bib also helps you select high-quality scholarly sources that might be of interest when writing your paper.

It also helps to explore and organize sources for future research. Equally, you can exemplify the scope of the sources such as websites, journal articles, peer-reviewed articles, or books, highlighting their significance to your research.

Still, an annotated bibliography will help you show to your instructor the depth and quality of research and reading you've done on a given topic.

In rare cases, an annotated bibliography can help you develop an outline for your paper. It also helps plan how to write an essay or a literature review, making sense since it gives you a bigger picture.

An annotated bibliography should always cover the most current sources; at most, we recommend using sources within the last five years. Typically, this is because older references can have confusing or outdated information.

Types of Annotated Bibliography

We can classify an annotated bibliography based on the purpose of writing one. There are two major types of annotated bibliographies: descriptive or informative and analytical or critical annotated bibliography.

As the name suggests, the descriptive annotated bibliography provides a summary or an outlook of the source. It does so like an abstract. In this type, always focus on the arguments of the author, the findings, and the conclusions of the study. It further describes how a particular source is helpful for a research topic or question.

An informative annotated bibliography also outlines the chief arguments and conclusions of the author (s) without evaluating the findings. The informative or descriptive annotated bibliography is meant for a layperson or general audience.

The analytical or critical annotated bibliography goes beyond the summary of the source, which entails critically analyzing the source. Its focus is usually on the strengths and limitations of the study in question. They are also the ones where you describe the conclusion of the author and its place in your research.

An analytical annotated bibliography also describes the applicability of the conclusions of the authors (s) to the current research and analyzes what the authors conclude. The audience here is always an expert, knowledgeable people, or your professor/instructor, which means it should be comprehensive.

If your professor does not specify the type of annotated bib, please find a balance between the two types. Having a common ground makes you be in a better position of getting the best grades. However, our analysis concludes that most annotated bibliography assignments require you to write analytical or critical annotations.

Different Types of Annotations

Annotations are written differently depending on the focus and approach of an annotated bibliography. Annotations define the content you will look for in a source. You can determine the type of annotations your instructor wants by looking at the instructions. There are five types of annotation: informative, descriptive, evaluative, reflective, and combination annotation.

Informative Annotation

An informative or summative annotation summarizes the source. However, unlike the descriptive annotation, it presents the actual information, including the thesis, argument or hypothesis, proofs, and results or conclusions about the source.

It does not delve into the relevance of a source to your paper or any critical remarks that evaluate the quality of the source. Instead, it is neutral.

Descriptive Annotation

You will write descriptive annotations or indicative annotations when the assignment is about gathering and summarizing information, establishing the key arguments, and highlighting the methods used by the author (s) for each source.

Like an abstract, the descriptive annotation summarizes the approach and arguments of a specific source objectively without assessing its validity.

It also explicitly summarizes the source or summary of the text. It summarizes the main points and can include chapter titles. Further, it describes the content and states the principal argument of a source.

Evaluative Annotation

Critical, analytical, or evaluative annotation analyzes the source or text. Apart from summarizing the essential ideas, it also provides critical analysis about the quality of the source. When writing this annotation, consider:

In short, apart from summarizing or describing the content of a source, an evaluative annotation goes further to present the validity of the arguments of the source and the relevance of the methods of the source.

Reflective annotations

When the aim of writing an annotated bibliography is to gather sources for a future research project or to evaluate how the sources sit in an already completed project, you will use a reflective annotation.

A reflective annotation, just like the evaluative annotation, describes the content of the source, evaluates the reliability and validity of the arguments and the methods. In addition, however, it evaluates the usefulness of these sources or their relevance to your paper or research.

Below is a sample reflective annotation

Sample Reflective Annotation

Sourced from: UNSW, Sydney

Combination annotation

Most of the scholarly annotated bibliographies assigned in class are a combination of evaluative, informative, and descriptive annotations. They often include one or two sentences that summarize or describes the content and sentences that evaluate the source. As shown before, a critical or analytical annotated bibliography is always a better approach as it comprehensively captures everything about a source.

The contents of an Annotated Bibliography

When writing an annotated bibliography, it is important to consider the word limit set in the assignment rubric. However, each paragraph should be between 100-200 words.

Depending on the length of your annotated bibliography, each annotation must include the elements below:

It is always important that when writing an annotated bibliography; you consider the formatting. Typically, an annotated bibliography can be in MLA, ASA, Harvard, or APA.

The three parts of an annotated Bibliography

As you shall see in the examples we have provided, an annotated bibliography has three essential parts: the title

Power Words to Use in your Annotated Bibliography

When learning how to write an annotated bibliography, some specific vocabulary and strings can strengthen your writing.  These tips are from a trusted annotated bibliography maker. Here are some:

Annotated Bibliography vs. Abstract and Literature Review

Although often confused, there are glaring differences between abstract, annotated bibliography, and literature reviews. When you are a novice academic writer, you need to understand the difference, even as you hunt for an annotated bibliography guide for dummies.

An annotation is a short synopsis of a given scholarly source. A literature review refers to a paper where you review and tie together concepts from previously published research or scholarly sources to support and fortify your thesis. 

A literature review, just like an annotated bibliography, can be an entire paper on its own. The major difference is that a literature review does not have annotations and complete bibliographic references as part of its content.

Mainly, a literature review further suggests the direction of research, attempts to answer a research question, and presents the gaps in the existing literature. In addition, a literature review often helps shape the scope of the paper and the perspective of the writer.

An abstract differs from an annotated bibliography because it is part of a research paper. Abstracts condense a research paper, term paper, proposal, thesis, reports, or dissertations focusing on the topic, problem statement, purpose of research, method, findings, and conclusions. Abstracts help students understand whether a specific source is suitable for their research when selecting sources to use. However, when written, they inform the reader of what to expect.

Abstracts are summaries and not necessarily evaluative as annotated bibliographies. Besides, abstracts do not have citations and annotations. Length-wise, abstracts are between 150 and 250 words long.

Steps when writing an annotated bibliography assignment

Now that we know everything about annotated bibliographies, it is time to cover the steps required to write an annotated bibliography that scores you an A+ grade.

Creating an annotated bibliography needs work, skills, and patience. But, it helps make you a better researcher. As long as you follow the steps recommended by your professor in creating annotations and citations, you get that A grade.

Below are the steps:

First step: Read the assignment prompt

Like any other piece of assignment, it is imperative to read the annotated bibliography instructions provided by your professor or instructors. As stated before, reading the instructions helps you limit the sources you are selecting and determines the type of annotations you will be writing.

Reading instructions also help you to understand the length of each annotation and the preferred format to write your annotated bibliography.

Second Step: Find and select the suitable sources

Having read the instructions, it is now time to find the most suitable sources for your annotated bibliography.

If you are writing an annotated bibliography that is part of a research process culminating into a paper, your sources are the same ones that you will consult as you write your paper. However, if it is an independent assignment, your choice of a topic determines the sources that you will use.

As an annotated bibliography contains lists of references, you must choose quality sources. For this reason, we insist you avoid using annotated bibliography generators because they do not have the discretion of selecting scholarly sources.  Instead, trust experienced academic essay writers to write your papers or write one on your own.

It is also essential to define the scope and extent of your research, which helps in setting the inclusion and exclusion criteria for each source.

Your annotated bibliography should attempt to explain why the sources apply to the current research area or paper.


Here, it is vital to consider the questions the research is seeking to answer. For example, if the annotation is on a stand-alone topic like , The effects of Artificial Intelligence, be sure to frame a question on the topic.

Mostly, you are looking at scholarly sources. These sources should include but are not limited to government publications, peer-reviewed journals, policy statements, annual company reports, CSR reports, Newspaper articles from the trusted press, and primary historical.

Always choose the studies that align well with the topic or research question.

With a clearly defined topic, consider the keywords that apply to your annotated bib. You can then list variants of the applicable terms and use them as keywords to search for sources from scholarly databases such as JSTOR, Google Scholar, PubMed, or Project Muse. Your sources can include journals, books, periodicals, thesis, dissertations, websites, magazine articles, and other scholarly sources that pass the CRAAP test or RAVEN source analysis tool.

Third Step: Organize, Read, and evaluate the sources

Once you have selected the best sources, organize the sources using an online bibliography tool or citation management tool. The tool helps to organize the bibliography in alphabetical order, which makes writing and formatting easier.

Once the organization is done, read through your sources, take notes on each, and mark major points to write your annotations seamlessly. If you are keen enough, you can write the annotations as you go, which ensures that you write fresh ideas for each annotation.

Remember to determine the type of annotation based on the instructions. Then, once you understand the purpose of your assignment, you can pick an annotation approach that befits the current annotated bib assignment.

Fourth Step: Write your annotations

For every source, write a complete reference with the author, title, date, and other relevant information per the preferred citation style. It should be a citation as would appear in a reference list, reference page, or bibliography page. The most common styles include MLA, APA, Harvard, and Chicago formats.

Write annotations of between 100 and 200 words in length. However, the length is bound to vary depending on the word count of your annotated bibliography assignment, the length specified by the instructor, or the importance of various sources as well as the number of sources. Choose an annotation approach that befits the purpose of the assignment.

Fifth Step: Format your annotated bibliography

Each annotation in an annotated bibliography should be from 150-200 words or 4-6 sentences long. This means that each should be concise and well-written. However, if you have longer than 200-word annotations, you are allowed to divide them into paragraphs. Some annotations can also be shorter, especially if they are written in Chicago format style.

An annotated bibliography has three major parts: The main title of the entire annotated bibliography,  the citation information ( the full bibliographic reference in APA, MLA, Harvard, or Chicago format) for each source, the annotation (150-200 words), and the reference list. If asked to do so, you can include a reference list or leave it out because the citation for each annotation stands as a reference list.

In most cases, annotated bibliographies are formatted in MLA, APA, Harvard, or Chicago. However, you can also be assigned to write an annotated bibliography in ASA, AMA, CSE, and other formats.