Annotated bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources with brief annotations that summarise, evaluate and state the relevance of the sources. An annotated bibliography/references list takes the same form as a regular bibliography/reference list, but includes extra information that shows you have critically evaluated your sources. The length of annotations may vary as well as the level of detail.

Why write an annotated bibliography?

Annotated bibliographies are used in a variety of situations. They may be assigned as a separate assessment task, particularly early in the semester or course to familiarise you with some of the texts. When conducting research projects, writing and maintaining an annotated bibliography is essential because it enables you to record how you have engaged critically with the current scholarship in your research field. Annotated bibliographies enable you to be assessed on your ability to review the primary literature on a particular subject, to demonstrate your familiarity with the sources available in your discipline, or to indicate how your sources were significant to your purposes in writing up your research.

Description and content

In terms of describing the source, the annotations summarise the content of the source and outline, among other things, the author's argument, methodology and conclusions. In terms of appraising the source, the annotations may focus on the persuasiveness of the author's argument, the reliability of the evidence presented, the relationship of the source to other critics, or the usefulness of its contribution to the discipline's field of inquiry. Based on the description and critical evaluation, you are now in a position to critically assess the value of the source for an essay that you're researching.

When evaluating the reading, focus on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the work, its argument, its theory/methodology, its place within or contribution to the field, and its overall significance. For example, you may comment on the evidence, the data, case studies or examples used. When thinking about what to critique, the following questions may be helpful in helping you decide what to include:

  • Audience: For whom is this text intended?
  • Use: What could this information be used for?
  • Significance: Why is this text important? What does or could it add to discussions in your field?
  • Value: Does this text offer a particularly intelligent and complex argument, a useful update to earlier editions, or an exceptionally clear, detailed, or comprehensive treatment of its subject? Why or why not?
  • Reliability: Is this an original source, an accurate testimony, a well-researched and logical argument, etc.?
  • Theory: Does this text use - or is it influenced by - a particular theory? What are its underlying assumptions? What methodology does it use?

Because annotated bibliographies are brief, you need to be selective in terms of the information you provide. They tend to take the following format:

  • Citation: The annotation begins with a full citation of the text in the chosen referencing style (see more here on Referencing).
  • Summary: Depending on the nature of the assignment, the annotations could contain information on the purpose and scope of the work, the author's argument and main conclusions, the concepts and methods used by the author, and the potential audience for the work.
  • Critical evaluation: In terms of evaluating the source, the annotations can focus on the persuasiveness of the author's argument, the theory/methodology used, the reliability of the evidence presented, the relationship of the source to other critics, or the usefulness of its contribution to the discipline's field of inquiry and its overall significance.
  • Relevance: In terms of appraising the source, you should critically assess the value of the source for your essay. How will you use it and why.

Annotated bibliographies list the sources in alphabetical order by author surname.