Literature Review vs. Annotated Bibliography (A Quick Guide)

Last Updated: 08 February 2023

A literature review is somewhat similar to annotated bibliography in the sense that both require providing a summary of research on a particular topic. This similarity has resulted in some students confusing the two totally different research paper elements. If you count yourself among the students that confuse the two elements, you are in the right place.

In this post, you will discover the major differences between a literature review and annotated bibliography. What you are about to learn will help you to understand both research paper elements totally and to erase all the confusion you have about them.

Let’s start.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integral part of a college research paper. It is usually written just after the introduction to demonstrate the author’s understanding of the scholarly literature available on the topic they are about to research and discuss.

A well-written literature review will clearly highlight the available body of literature, critically analyze it, and put it in context with regard to the current research.

The best way to write a literature review is to summarize existing research, identify & analyze key theories and conclusions, identify & analyze contested arguments, and highlight gaps existing in the research.   

Generally, a literature review is a chapter. All the different scholarly sources identified are discussed in the same chapter.

What is an annotated bibliography?

While a literature review is an integral part of a research paper, an annotated bibliography is not. An annotated bibliography, aka AB, is simply an alphabetical list of scholarly sources used in academic work. Most professors/schools do not ask for it, but some do.

A well-written AB will include a citation to each scholarly source used in academic work, plus a brief summary of the source. The summary is usually under 200 words long.

The best way to write an AB is to cite all the sources used correctly and provide a descriptive and evaluative summary of each source immediately under it.

The summary (annotation) should highlight the source’s quality, relevance, and accuracy.

The number of sources determines the length of an AB. The more sources, the longer it will be. 

The differences between a Literature Review and Annotated bibliography

Here are the key differences between the literature review and AB

1. Purpose

The biggest difference between a literature review and an annotated bibliography is in the purpose. The purpose of a literature review is to provide the reader with a comprehensive overview of a topic. This is why a typical literature review comes just after the introduction to seek to tell the reader everything they need to know about the topic as per the existing research. In addition to providing the reader with an overview of the topic, a typical literature review will evaluate the sources and their strong points and weak points.

In contrast, the purpose of an annotated bibliography is to provide the reader with a list of citations plus a brief overview of each citation right new to it. An annotated bibliography is basically an explained or elaborated bibliography – a list of references with a brief summary of each just under it. Generally, an annotated bibliography is not part of a research paper. It comes at the end (the references part). Sometimes professors ask for it; other times, they do not ask for it (they ask for a regular references list).

2. Structure

The second biggest difference between a literature review and an annotated bibliography is in the structure. The structure of a literature review is usually in prose. The different sources identified by the author are discussed in paragraphs. There is usually no specific order in describing the different sources identified through research. Nonetheless, literature reviews are usually written by discussing the sources from the most significant one to the least significant one.

In contrast, the structure of an AB is usually more methodical. The sources are often arranged in alphabetical order as normally arranged in a regular reference list. Then just below each source, there is a small paragraph giving a summary of the source and its relevance to the work, research paper, or assignment. Generally, there is not a lot of discussion or analysis under each source; just a concise summary of the source is considered sufficient in most cases.

3. Referencing

There is a very notable difference in the way a literature review is referenced and in the way an AB is referenced. On the one hand, when referencing a literature review, you will typically only focus on adding the necessary in-text citations as per the citation style requested by your professor. This is often enough.

On the other hand, when referencing an annotated bibliography, you have to write the full reference or citation first and then your summary of it. Typically, an AB does not have in-text citations because they are simply a summary or a source.

4.  Writing

There is a significant difference between the way a literature review is written and the way an annotated bibliography is written. When writing a literature review, you will generally talk about the body of literature as a whole. In other words, you will talk about the sources in general and mention them specifically. You can even recall or refer to a source you have discussed later in your literature review.

The case is not very similar when writing an AB. A typical AB has to be written with military precision. You have to write the full citation first, then it’s summary beneath it, and you have to continue in this manner until you get to the last one. There is no mixing of sources or citations or annotations.

Annotated Bibliography vs. Literature Reviews (Comparison Table)


A comparison table for Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography


Literature Review

Annotated Bibliography


  • An organized discussion or topic.
  • Focuses on the thesis, research question, or research hypothesis.
  • Explores what other authors have written about the subject or topic under discussion or study. It focuses on the significant use of the sources in a field.
  • An ordered list of sources is arranged alphabetically.
  • Brief explanation and evaluation (critical analysis or synthesis) of the sources.
  • Focuses on the content within each source and its relevance to the topic.


  •  It is written in prose format and organized like a mini-research paper.
  • The sources are integrated into connected and flowing paragraphs.
  • It reveals the relationships, applications, and gaps among the selected scholarly articles.
  • Organized like a reference page.
  • Each full citation is followed by an annotation beneath it. Annotations are about 150-200 words long.
  • Every source is addressed in isolation. Focuses on the relevance of the source to the current study.
  • Can be done before a literature review to check whether a source is suitable for inclusion in the literature review.


  • Comprises an introduction paragraph that explains the topic.
  • Has body paragraphs that synthesize the sources.
  • Has a conclusion paragraph that summarizes the background of the topic.
  • Has a full formal citation at the beginning.
  • Has a summary and evaluation annotation.
  • Has no conclusion or introduction.

Location of Citations

  • The citations are attached on a different page if it is a stand-alone literature review or chapter or within the reference page if it is a research paper.
  • The full citation comes before each entry or annotation.

6 Steps to Creating the Perfect Literature Review

If you are assigned to write a literature review, below is a quick guide. You can access the full literature review writing guide in our blog section.

1. Search for the literature

There is no way you can write a decent literature review without first searching for the literature. You need to conduct thorough research on existing sources to create the perfect literature review.

The right way to conduct thorough research is to identify keywords related to your paper’s research question and to search these keywords in scholarly databases. Examples of scholarly databases where you can search keywords to reveal articles or scholarly sources include Inspec, EconLit, Medline, Project Muse, JSTOR, EBSCO, and Google Scholar.

Review all the sources you find by looking at the abstract. All the sources that have relevant information to the research question need to be set aside for step 2 below.

2. Analyze the sources set aside

After setting aside sources with relevant information based on the abstract, you should analyze the remaining sources. Read the content inside to find out the most relevant sources among your sources.

The most relevant sources for you will be the ones that mention and discuss the topic of your current paper.

3. Identify the main themes

Upon finding out the most relevant sources for your paper and your literature review, you should read them carefully to identify the main themes and patterns. Themes and patterns in the literature are the concepts or ideas that occur repeatedly across the literature. Identify them.

In addition to identifying themes and patterns, you should identify the debates in content. Debates in literature are the points where the sources disagree. You should also identify the gaps in the literature. Gaps are the things that are missing in the sources, aka the literature.

4. Outline your literature

Once you know the patterns in the body of literature, proceed to outline your literature review. Your outline should be strong and effective; it should capture paragraph starters and the main themes you want to explore in your essay.

You can outline the literature in a chronological manner, a thematic manner, a methodological manner, or a theoretical manner. Organizing your points in a chronological manner will help you to ensure your literature review is direct and easy to understand.

5. Write your review

Upon outlining your review, the only thing remaining to do is to write it. Follow your outline closely to ensure your essay has a good flow. Also, whenever you feel like you are stuck, refer back to your outline to find out what to write next.

When you start writing your review, push yourself to write to the end. The purpose of doing this is to enable you to write everything quickly. Do not care about making your review perfect at this stage. That is an issue for the next step.

6. Revise your literature review

At this point, your review is ready, but it is like a rough diamond. Nobody will see its value until you polish it. Read it twice or thrice to identify mistakes, errors, gaps, and problematic sentences and eliminate them.

Once you eliminate all the errors and mistakes, your literature review will be ready.

The Steps to Creating the Perfect Annotated Bibliography

If you are assigned to write an annotated bibliography but do not know where to begin, below is a quick guide. You can read through our blog section to access our comprehensive annotated bibliography guide and examples.

1. Find Relevant Sources for Your Topic

When you are asked to create an AB, your first goal should be to find relevant sources for your topic. Relevant sources are all the sources that have got information closely related to your topic.

Possible places to look for topics include your class notes, your physical university library, your online university library, Google Scholar, and recommended readings.

2. Analyze The Literature

Once you find relevant sources for your AB, analyze the literature. Read the literature slowly and nicely to identify the most relevant literature for your topic. As you read the literature, note down the things that stand out to you in the literature, including the main arguments, the theoretical approach, and any debates/controversies.

After analyzing the literature, eliminate the literature that is not very relevant to your topic.

3. Look at How the Literature Addresses Your Topic

In this step, you must read your identified literature again to notice how each source addresses your topic. Note down how well each source addresses the topic, the theories used, the research methods used, the strongest points, and whether it agrees with similar sources or studies.

The information you gather at this stage will be very useful for the next step.

4. Create A Bibliography Plus Annotations

At this stage, you have everything you need to create a bibliography plus annotations. Go ahead and do it. Write down the full citation for each remaining source or literature item. After doing this, organize the citations alphabetically to create a formal reference list.

Then under each reference list, provide a nice and concise summary of it based on your notes. The summary should ideally leave the reader having a good idea of what the literature item is all about and how it is relevant to the topic.

5. Format Your Work

An annotated bibliography is basically a reference list. It should be properly formatted to be complete. If not, you will not lose points for poor formatting and end up with an average grade or a poor grade in the related course.

When formatting your work, stick to the formatting style requested by your professor. Do not go beyond the scope of what they are asking for. Do not also leave any stone unturned in making your AB perfect.

6. Proofread and Submit

After creating your AB and formatting it, the only thing remaining is to proofread it. Do this slowly to notice all the errors and mistakes. Then proceed to eliminate the identified errors and mistakes.

As you Exit this Page, …

While literature reviews and ABs are somewhat similar, they are very different concepts. In this post, we revealed all the differences. We also revealed how to write a literature review and how to write an AB.

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If, for any reason, you want a literature review or your annotated bibliography help, do not hesitate to order it from us. We have competent research paper helpers who are capable of handling any academic assignment.