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What is an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of scholarly resources for anyone who wishes to research a particular subject. It contains all the information necessary for someone else to find a copy of that material and a bit of commentary to explain why it is useful or why it should be avoided.

The exact format varies, but most bibliographers model their own versions on the Works Cited or Bibliography page from a style guide such as APA or MLA. Usually, the researcher provides all the information necessary to track down the listed books such as publication data or library call numbers. Typically, the entries are listed in alphabetical order by author's last name, though in the case of particularly long bibliographies, it may be useful to subdivide the entries according to subcategories. Following the general publication information, the researcher provides a short note (hence "annotation") explaining what's useful to know about that source. The annotation might only be a sentence or two long, or it might be a short paragraph or two at most. Frequently the annotation lists information such as:

  • A brief summary of what the book covers, or a brief summary of the author's argument.
  • How easy it is to obtain the book (Is it still in print, is it available at local libraries or bookstores? Is it only available through Orbis or Interlibrary loan?, etc.)
  • How up to date the book or article is (Sometimes, a book printed in 2001 may simply be a reprint of a book written in 1901, check the copyright history inside the book's first few pages.)
  • It notes if any chapter or section in particular looks especially useful (especially if only one chapter or section deals with the subject, and the rest of the book deals with something else)
  • Whether or not the book has its own bibliography in the back, and how extensive that bibliography is.
  • How long or short the book or article is (A 450 page book? A short one-page article?)
  • A discussion of what this book argues or offers for readers which similar books disagree about or do not include.
  • Any other practical advice or warnings the reader should know (The book weighs 200 pounds; it can't be removed from the library; is written only in Italian; has great photos or charts; it is written by a world-renowned expert; every other author thinks this particular writer is insane, etc.)

You need not always read the entire book to include it in your annotated bibliography. Sometimes by skimming the introduction, conclusion, and table of contents, you can quickly get the gist of what it contains or what the author argues. If you come across a source that looks useful, but you don't get a chance to examine it firsthand, go ahead and include it in your annotated bibliography and insert one of these phrases in brackets:

[Not Yet Examined]


That bracketed phrase falls in the section where the annotation normally appears. It is a standard warning to let the reader know this particular book hasn't been examined, but it might be pertinent as further research.

Click here for examples of annotated bibliography entries.


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Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2017. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated January 11, 2018. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.