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Cite Your Sources: Annotated Bibliography

Tools for creating bibliographies in MLA, APA, Chicago, and other styles.

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography - APA Style (7th Edition)

Basic APA bibliography formatting and rules.

  • Natural and social sciences, such as psychology, nursing, sociology, and social work, use APA documentation. It is also used in economics, business, and criminology. These annotations are often succinct summaries.
  • Annotated bibliographies for APA format do not require a special title. Use the usual “References” designation.
  • Like MLA, APA uses a hanging indent: the first line is set flush with the left margin, and all other lines are indented four spaces (you may ask your instructor if it’s okay to tab over instead of using four spaces).
  • After the bibliographic citation, drop down to the next line to begin the annotation, but don’t skip an extra line.
  • The entire annotation is indented an additional two spaces, so that means each of its lines will be six spaces from the margin (if your instructor has said that it’s okay to tab over instead of using the four spaces rule, indent the annotation two more spaces in from that point).

What is an annotation?

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

How is an annotation different from an abstract?

While an abstract also summarizes an article, book, web site, or other type of publication, it is purely descriptive. Although annotations can be descriptive, they also include distinctive features about an item. Annotations can be evaluative and critical as we will see when we look at the two major types of annotations.

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is an organized list of sources (like a reference list). It differs from a straightforward bibliography in that each reference is followed by a paragraph length annotation, usually 100–200 words in length.

Depending on the assignment, an annotated bibliography might have different purposes:

  • Provide a literature review on a particular subject
  • Help to formulate a thesis on a subject
  • Demonstrate the research you have performed on a particular subject
  • Provide examples of major sources of information available on a topic
  • Describe items that other researchers may find of interest on a topic

Types of APA annotated bibliographies

There are two major types of annotated bibliographies:

  1. Descriptive or informative
  2. Analytical or critical

Descriptive or informative

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 and its distinctive features. In addition, it describes the author's main arguments and conclusions without evaluating what the author says or concludes.

For example:

McKinnon, A. (2019). Lessons learned in year one of business. Journal of Legal Nurse Consulting30(4), 26–28.

This article describes some of the difficulties many nurses experience when transitioning from nursing to a legal nurse consulting business. Pointing out issues of work-life balance, as well as the differences of working for someone else versus working for yourself, the author offers their personal experience as a learning tool. The process of becoming an entrepreneur is not often discussed in relation to nursing, and rarely delves into only the first year of starting a new business. Time management, maintaining an existing job, decision-making, and knowing yourself in order to market yourself are discussed with some detail. The author goes on to describe how important both the nursing professional community will be to a new business, and the importance of mentorship as both the mentee and mentor in individual success that can be found through professional connections. The article’s focus on practical advice for nurses seeking to start their own business does not detract from the advice about universal struggles of entrepreneurship makes this an article of interest to a wide-ranging audience.

Analytical or critical

An analytical or critical annotation not only summarizes the material, it analyzes what is being said. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of what is presented as well as describing the applicability of the author's conclusions to the research being conducted.

Analytical or critical annotations will most likely be required when writing for a college-level course.

For example:

McKinnon, A. (2019). Lessons learned in year one of business. Journal of Legal Nurse Consulting30(4), 26–28.

This article describes some of the difficulty many nurses experience when transitioning from nursing to a nurse consulting business. While the article focuses on issues of work-life balance, the differences of working for someone else versus working for yourself, marketing, and other business issues the author’s offer of only their personal experience is brief with few or no alternative solutions provided. There is no mention throughout the article of making use of other research about starting a new business and being successful. While relying on the anecdotal advice for their list of issues, the author does reference other business resources such as the Small Business Administration to help with business planning and professional organizations that can help with mentorships. The article is a good resource for those wanting to start their own legal nurse consulting business, a good first advice article even. However, entrepreneurs should also use more business research studies focused on starting a new business, with strategies against known or expected pitfalls and issues new businesses face, and for help on topics the author did not touch in this abbreviated list of lessons learned.

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography - MLA Style

Basic MLA bibliography formatting and rules

  • MLA documentation is generally used for disciplines in the humanities, such as English, languages, film, and cultural studies or other theoretical studies. These annotations are often summary or analytical annotations.
  • Title your annotated bibliography “Annotated Bibliography” or “Annotated List of Works Cited.”
  • Following MLA format, use a hanging indent for your bibliographic information. This means the first line is not indented and all the other lines are indented four spaces (you may ask your instructor if it’s okay to tab over instead of using four spaces).
  • Begin your annotation immediately after the bibliographic information of the source ends; don’t skip a line down unless you have been told to do so by your instructor.

Parts of an Annotated Bibliography

​All annotated bibliographies include full citations of the sources you have gathered.  

​An annotation may include some or all of these parts:   

  • Your summary of each source in your own words
  • Your assessment of the author's purpose or scope of the work
  • Your explanation of how each source is relevant to your research question
  • Your explanation of how the authors did the research or developed the knowledge that is covered in each source
  • Your review of the relevant topics covered by the source
  • Your summary of the source's findings or conclusions
  • Your evaluation of the quality of each source, including evidence to support your decision to trust each source
  • Your assessment of the intended target audience and/or the source's reading level
  • Your assessment of the bias or standpoint of author(s)
  • Your assessment of the source's relationship to other works in the field
  • Your appraisal of the format/special features
  • The relevance to your own research

Types of Annotated Bibliographies

Below are the most common types of annotated bibliographies:

  • Indicative:  Provides general information about the scope of the work and topics covered.
  • Informative: Provides a summary of the work.
  • Evaluative / Critical: Critically evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the source and/or its author. Explains how the source may be useful to a particular field of study or personal research.
  • Combination: Uses a combination of some or all of the types mentioned above.
London, Herbert. "Five Myths of the Television Age." Television Quarterly 10.1     
    (1982): 81-89. Herbert London, the Dean of Journalism at New York 
    University and author of several books and articles, explains how television  
    contradicts five commonly believed ideas. He uses specific examples of 
    events seen on television, such as the assassination of John Kennedy, to 
    illustrate his points. His examples have been selected to contradict such 
    truisms as: "seeing is believing"; "a picture is worth a thousand words"; and 
    "satisfaction is its own reward." London uses logical arguments to support his 
    ideas, which are his personal opinion. He doesn't refer to any previous works 
    on the topic. London's style and vocabulary would make the article of interest 
    to any reader. 

Griffin, C. Williams, ed. Teaching Writing in All Disciplines.  San 
    Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1982. Ten essays on writing-across-the-curriculum 
    programs, teaching writing in disciplines other than English, and teaching 
    techniques for using writing as learning.  Essays include Toby Fulwiler,    
    "Writing:  An Act of Cognition"; Barbara King, "Using Writing in the 
    Mathematics Class:  Theory and Practice"; Dean Drenk, "Teaching Finance 
    Through Writing"; Elaine P. Mairnon, "Writing Across the Curriculum:  Past, 
    Present, and Future."

Gurko, Leo. Ernest Hemingway and the Pursuit of Heroism. New York: Crowell, 
    1968. This book is part of a series called "Twentieth Century American 
    Writers": a Brief Introduction to the Man and his Work. After fifty pages of 
    straight biography, Gurko discussed Hemingway's writing, novel by novel.  
    There's an index and a short bibliography, but no notes. The biographical part 
    is clear and easy to read, but it sounds too much like a summary.

Doll, Susan and Greg Faller. "Blade Runner and Genre: Film Noir and Science  
    Fiction."  Literature Film Quarterly 14.2 (1986): 89-100.  Doll and Faller assert 
    that Ridley Scott's film, Blade Runner, exhibits elements of two distinct pulp 
    genres, film noir and science fiction. The genre cross-pollination is a reflection  
    of Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, upon which 
    the movie is based. After a useful discussion of genre, the authors go on to 
    effectively discuss defining characteristics of both noir and sci-fi, despite the 
    difficulties of such a project. Through the course of accessible discussion and 
    useful examples from the film, the complexities involved in the combination of 
    genres are revealed. In addition, the article also examines the ways that noir 
    and sci-fi in fact complement each other, noir providing a distinct style and sci-   
    fi a distinct narrative direction. Both genres are also concerned with many of   
    the same issues, especially social constructs, ethics, and the state of being