The Four Step Process Needed to Write an Annotated Bibliography

The Four Step Process Needed to Write an Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

A good annotated bibliography strives to:

  • encourage you to think critically about the content of the work you are using, including their place within a field of study, and their relation to your own research & ideas.
  • provide proof that you have read and understand your sources.
  • establish you as a competent researcher and your work as a valid source.
  • situate your study and topic within a continuing professional conversation.
  • provide a way for others to make their own decisions about whether a source will be helpful to their research if they read it.
  • help researchers determine whether they are interested in a topic by providing background information and an idea of the kind of work in a field.

Types of annotated bibliographies

There are two major types of annotated bibliographies (descriptive/informative, analytical/critical). A descriptive or informative annotated bibliography describes or summarizes a source as does an abstract, it describes why the source is useful for researching a particular topic or question. In addition, this type of annotated bibliography describes the author’s main arguments and conclusions without evaluating what the author says or concludes. An analytical or critical annotation not only summarizes the material, but it also analyzes the information presented. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of what is presented as well as describing the applicability of the author’s conclusions to the research and broader field.

Annotation vs. Abstract

It should be noted that you (the researcher) are writing the annotation for each source that you add to your bibliography. As you review your list of publications, you’ll come across abstracts for each piece. Abstracts are the descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or periodical indexes. Annotations are meant to be descriptive and critical. They should describe the author’s point of view, authority, or clarity and appropriateness of expression.

An annotation is more than just your brief summary of an article, book, web site, or other type of publication. An annotation should give enough information to make other readers decide whether to read the complete work. In other words, if the reader were exploring the same topic as you, would this material be useful? If so, why would it be useful?

The four step process

Creating an annotated bibliography calls for the application of a variety of intellectual skills. This work will require that you conduct informed library research while providing concise exposition and succinct analysis. This process begins with you choosing and downloading all of your sources. From that point, it is a repeating process of reviewing, citing, annotating for each source you have identified.

Choose your sources. First, locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic. You can use Google Scholar to get you started. Briefly examine and review the actual items. Then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic. When possible, download the PDF for the article. If you’re reviewing webpages, you can use a use a tool like Hypothesis to save the location of your work and annotate it later.

Review your items. Second, review the items that you’ve collected in your search. I find that it is easier to skim through your materials once as you acquire them to understand general themes. This also helps you understand if you need to continue searching for other topics or themes. After this initial review, you should read and annotate each source in your collection. If you are using Google Drive to save all of your PDFs, you can use MetaPDF to annotate and mark up your sources. I find that it is easier to highlight text on the sources and leave comments in the PDF. I find that it is easier to review an item (read/annotate/comment), and then write the citation & annotation…before coming back to this step and repeating the process.

Write the citation. Third, as you reviewing each source, cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style on a Google Doc. I use a Google Doc to save and share my work. You can easily start up a new Google Doc and use that to write your annotated bibliography. You’ll need to check with the publication to see what style they demand for your publication. If this is an assignment, you’ll receive this information from your instructor. You can learn more about APA and MLA from Purdue OWL.

Write the annotation. Fourth, write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. Include one or more sentences that (a) evaluate the authority or background of the author, (b) comment on the intended audience, (c) compare or contrast this work with another you have cited, (d) explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic, (e) identify and special or unique features or quotes from the material, (f) describe any strengths, weaknesses, or biases in the content.

The finishing touches

As previously stated, I prefer to quickly skim and possibly take notes as I choose my sources and download them. After this initial selection and review process, I’ll review, cite, and annotate each source. I usually work with multiple tabs across two screens as I work. Use your annotations and comments to write your annotation. Repeat the process (review, cite, annotate) for each new source.

Take time to review your completed product. Annotated bibliographies may be arranged alphabetically or chronologically. You will determine this organization depending on your research goals, or the preference of the instructor. Use this guide or this guide to see what the final product may look like.

After you have processed all of your sources, look back through your work to identify themes or patterns in your data. Do you have remaining questions, or possible holes in the research? What larger questions do you know have after you have completed this work?

Final notes

Annotated bibliographies are a series of organized steps used to methodically conduct a review of the field in a given area. They require attention to detail as you develop this understanding of the scope of research and publications you’re reviewing. This is important as you develop your own understanding of a field, or decide to conduct further research.

An annotated bibliography is usually a starting point to further investigation. This scholarly work is a valuable resource for other researchers and learners that may follow your steps. You should share out your work online to allow others to learn and grow from your expertise. You may also use this work to write a literature review and fully synthesize what you’ve learned. You may also decide to use this annotated bibliography to guide you as you conduct further research.

Hopefully this guide is of value to you. If so, you should also subscribe to my weekly newsletter. You’re the type of person that likes to be the expert. My newsletter will help you get there. 🙂


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