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The Research Process :: Step by Step

The quality and usefulness of your bibliography will depend on your selection of sources. Define the scope of your research carefully so that you can make sound judgments about what to include and exclude.

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents that follows the appropriate style format for the discipline (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc). Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 word) descriptive and evaluative paragraph -- the annotation. Unlike abstracts, which are purely descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes, annotations are descriptive and critical. 

The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources citedThe annotation exposes the author's point of view, clarity and appropriateness of expression, and authority.

How do I create an annotated bibliography?

  1. Locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that contain useful information and ideas on your topic.
  2. Review the items. Choose those sources that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.
  3. Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style. 
  4. Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the item.

Include one or more sentences that:

o    evaluate the authority or background of the author, 

o    comment on the intended audience, 

o    compare or contrast this work with another you have cited, or 

o    explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic.

The annotation should include most, if not all, of the following elements:

  • Explanation of the main purpose and scope of the cited work;
  • Brief description of the work's format and content;
  • Theoretical basis and currency of the author's argument; 
  • Author's intellectual / academic credentials; 
  • Work's intended audience;
  • Value and significance of the work as a contribution to the subject under consideration;
  • Possible shortcomings or bias in the work;
  • Any significant special features of the work (e.g., glossary, appendices, particularly good index);
  • Your own brief impression of the work.

An annotated bibliography is an original work created by you for a wider audience, usually faculty and colleagues. Copying any of the above elements from the source and including it in your annotated bibliography is plagiarism and intellectual dishonesty.

SAMPLE ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY ENTRY FOR A JOURNAL ARTICLE

The following example uses APA style (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition, 2010) for the journal citation.

Waite, L. J., Goldschneider, F. K., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review, 51, 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

This example uses MLA style (MLA Handbook, 8th edition, 2016) for the journal citation.

Waite, Linda J., et al. "Nonfamily Living and the Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults." American Sociological Review, vol. 51, no. 4, 1986, pp. 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.