Annotated bibliography

Some courses require you to produce annotated bibliographies either as an independent assignment or as preparation for a larger piece of writing, such as an essay. Part of the reason for setting this kind of assignment is so that you have a chance to show how well you have understood a text and its relevance to your field of study. While the words ‘annotated bibliography’ sound intimidating, it is really little more than a summary of an article and a line or two of evaluation or critique. We explain the format and structure below.

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a very short summary of an article, book or book chapter that you have read. They are usually done for peer-reviewed journal articles. There are two kinds of annotated bibliographies:

  • Descriptive annotation: This summarises the main points of an article in no more than a single paragraph.
  • Analytical annotation: This summarises the main points of an article in no more than a single paragraph and includes a line or two of critique about the article.

A critique is a balanced evaluative appraisal about the positive and negative points about the article, i.e., it is not necessarily negative.

A formal part of an annotated bibliography is a full citation of the article you have read. This precedes any descriptive or analytical annotation. An annotated bibliography entry is therefore a combination of the two elements,  i.e.,  bibliographic information on a specific source and a paragraph summarising and—in the case of an analytical annotationevaluating the content of the source.

Here’s an example of a descriptive annotation:

Waite, L. J., Goldschneider, F. K., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Non-family living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review, 51(4), 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 non-family 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 non-family living.

That’s it! Short and sweet.

Writing an annotated bibliography entry requires you to be extremely succinct and clear. You must read the article carefully and ensure that you have articulated the author’s main points, research findings, evidence adduced and conclusions reached.

This is not as easy as it sounds!

Why write one?

Occasionally you might be asked to produce a single annotated bibliography entry, however, usually multiple entries are required. For example, you may be asked to produce 6-10 annotated bibliography entries on hand sanitation procedures in Nursing. This task helps you get a sense of the research literature within a narrow field of study.

Annotated bibliography entries are written to:

  • review the literature of a particular subject
  • demonstrate how effectively and widely you have read
  • highlight sources that may be of interest to other readers and researchers
  • explore and organise sources for further research (e.g., in preparation for an essay or a literature review).

When set as an assignment, an annotated bibliography task allows you to become more familiar with material published on a particular topic. This helps you become aware of a specific field of research. This is useful for many reasons, not least of which is preparation for later higher degree studies at university. When writing annotated bibliographies you are beginning to review literature.

What to include

Some annotated bibliography tasks require a formal structured approach. When this is stipulated there are generally contains five parts you have to cover in your annotation:

  1. A full citation of the source (using a referencing style relevant to your course, e.g. APA, MLA)
  2. A general statement about the author’s purpose for writing the source
  3. A short summary of the content
  4. An evaluation of the content
  5. Reflection on the usefulness of the source

When this is required ensure you cover each section. Normally only a sentence or two for each section is required. An example is provided below. NB: The reference details are usually required to have a hanging indent; check with your lecturer to confirm their preference.

Trevor, C.O., Lansford, B. and Black, J.W. (2004). Employee turnover and job performance: Monitoring the influences of salary growth and promotion. Journal of Armchair Psychology, 113(1), 56-64.

In this article, Trevor et al. review the influences of pay and job opportunities in respect to job performance, turnover rates and employee motivation.  The authors use data gained through organisational surveys of blue-chip companies in Vancouver, Canada to try to identify the main causes of employee turnover and whether it is linked to salary growth. Their research focuses on assessing a range of pay structures such as pay for performance and organisational reward schemes.  The article is useful to my research topic, as Trevor et al. suggest that there are numerous reasons for employee turnover and variances in employee motivation and performance. The main limitation of the article is that the survey sample was restricted to mid-level management, thus the authors indicate that further, more extensive, research needs to be undertaken to develop a more in-depth understanding of employee turnover and job performance. This article will not form the basis of my research; however it will be useful supplementary information for my research on pay structures.


Citation in APA style

Short statement of authors’ viewpoint/purpose

Short summary of the research

Evaluative comment on the usefulness to your particular topic and / or limitations

Reflective comment showing how it will fit into your research

(adapted from UNSW, 2012)

Suggestions for sentence starters

The parts of an annotated bibliography Sentence starter examples
  1. The citation information is in the same format as it would be in the reference list – leave a line below the citation
Griffiths, T. (1996). Hunters and collectors: The antiquarian imagination in Australia. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press.
  1. A short statement of the author’s viewpoint or purpose
  • Summarise briefly the author’s purpose for writing.
  • In this book, Griffiths reviews
  • This book examines …
  • The author describes ….
  • The author’s purpose is to challenge …
  1. A short summary of the theory, research findings or argument
  • If it is a study, describe the participants, methods, results and any relevant data.
  • You can use the structure of the source you are reviewing to help you structure your annotation
  • The main ideas expressed are …
  • Support for these claims are documented …
  • Griffith has conducted a thorough investigation of…
  • The author’s research focuses on …
  1. Evaluation: Comments on the usefulness and/or limitations of the text for your research or the discipline
  • Critique the source for objectivity, validity and reliability
  • Evaluate the evidence the author has used to support the ideas
  • The author provides a strong theoretical …
  • The writing style considers a range of audiences …
  • Theories are supported by well-known researchers in this field, such as …
  • There is a lack of supporting evidence on the area of …
  • The main limitation of the study is …
  1. Reflection: Comment reflectively on the work showing how it will fit into your research on your topic.
  • How useful was this source?
  • Did this add to my understanding of this topic?
  • How helpful is this source for others in this field?
  • This article is useful for my research topic …
  • As the information is up-to-date and from a reliable source …
  • It is relevant to my essay because …
  • In particular, this article will assist ….

(adapted from UNE, 2013)

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