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Annotated Bibliographies: Overview

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and other documents used for research. Each citation is followed by a brief description (usually about 150-250 words) and/or evaluative paragraph, the annotation.


The primary purpose of bibliographic citations is to assist the reader in finding the sources used in the writing of a work. Depending on the assignment, an annotated bibliography might have different purposes:

  • show that you understand each source cited
  • demonstrate the quality of research you have done
  • provide a literature review on a particular subject
  • help formulate a thesis on a subject
  • describe other items on a topic that may be of interest to the reader

Types of Annotations

There are 2 common types of annotations - descriptive (abstracts) and critical or evaluative (annotations):

A Descriptive annotation may summarize:

  • The main purpose or idea of the work
  • The contents of the work
  • The author’s conclusions
  • The intended audience
  • The author’s research methods
  • Special features of the work such as illustrations, maps, tables, etc.

A Critical annotation includes the same information as a descriptive annotation, but will also include value judgments or comments on the effectiveness of the work. [In this context, critical means evaluative and may include both positive and negative comments.] When writing a critical annotation, include some of the these features:

  • The work’s contribution to the literature of the subject
  • Comparison with other works on the topic
  • The author’s qualifications for writing the work
  • The author’s bias or tone
  • The accuracy of the information in the source
  • Limitations or significant omissions

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Published Annotated Bibliographies