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Citing Sources: Annotated Bibliography

Guide of why and how to cite properly, including tools for creating citations in various formats (MLA, APA, Chicago etc).

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What Is an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually arround 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.

Annotations versus Abstracts

Abstracts are the purely descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes. Annotations are descriptive and critical; they expose the author's point of view, clarity and appropriateness of expression, and authority.

Arrangement of Entries

An annotated bibliography can be put in alphabetical order or may be broken down into different research media or genres (books, journal articles, magazine articles, Web documents). Alternatively, it may be arranged by subject matter (Irish literature, Irish history), by period (American Civil War, Reconstruction era of the United States, Spanish–American War), or by area (Egyptian mythology, Greek mythology, Norse mythology).

The Process

Creating an annotated bibliography calls for the application of a variety of intellectual skills: concise exposition, succinct analysis, and informed library research.

First, locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic. Briefly examine and review the actual items. Then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.

Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style (such as MLA, APA or Chicago/Turabian).

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, or (d) explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic.

Critically Appraising the Book, Article, or Document

Consider questions such as: Is the source current or out-of-date for your topic? What type of audience is the author addressing? Is the information covered based on fact, opinion, or propaganda? Is the author's point of view objective and impartial? Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it questionable and unsupported by evidence? Is the publication organized logically? Are the main points clearly presented?

Choosing the Correct Format for the Citations

Check with your instructor to find out which style is preferred for your class. Check the other tabs in this guide for online citation guides for the Modern Language Association (MLA), the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Chicago/Turabian styles.

For more details, please consult one of the following official style manuals:

• Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 6th ed. (R 808.027 Am35p6)

• MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 8th ed. (R 808.027 M72m8)

• The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed. (R 808.027 C432m16). 

 

*Adapted with permission from Olin Library Reference, Research & Learning Services, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA.  

Sample MLA Annotation

Sample MLA Annotation


Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anchor Books, 1995.

 Lamott's book offers honest advice on the nature of a writing life, complete with its insecurities and failures. Taking a humorous approach to the realities of being a writer, the chapters in Lamott's book are wry and anecdotal and offer advice on everything from plot development to jealousy, from perfectionism to struggling with one's own internal critic. In the process, Lamott includes writing exercises designed to be both productive and fun.

 Lamott offers sane advice for those struggling with the anxieties of writing, but her main project seems to be offering the reader a reality check regarding writing, publishing, and struggling with one's own imperfect humanity in the process. Rather than a practical handbook to producing and/or publishing, this text is indispensable because of its honest perspective, its down-to-earth humor, and its encouraging approach.

 Chapters in this text could easily be included in the curriculum for a writing class. Several of the chapters in Part 1 address the writing process and would serve to generate discussion on students' own drafting and revising processes. Some of the writing exercises would also be appropriate for generating classroom writing exercises. Students should find Lamott's style both engaging and enjoyable.


In the sample annotation above, the writer includes three paragraphs: a summary, an evaluation of the text, and a reflection on its applicability to his/her own research, respectively.

(Source: OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab)

Sample APA Annotation

Sample APA Annotation


Ehrenreich, B. (2001). Nickel and dimed: On (not) getting by in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

In this book of nonfiction based on the journalist's experiential research, Ehrenreich attempts to ascertain whether it is currently possible for an individual to live on a minimum-wage in America. Taking jobs as a waitress, a maid in a cleaning service, and a Walmart sales employee, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow workers, and her financial struggles in each situation.

An experienced journalist, Ehrenreich is aware of the limitations of her experiment and the ethical implications of her experiential research tactics and reflects on these issues in the text. The author is forthcoming about her methods and supplements her experiences with scholarly research on her places of employment, the economy, and the rising cost of living in America. Ehrenreich’s project is timely, descriptive, and well-researched.


The annotation above both summarizes and assesses the book in the citation. The first paragraph provides a brief summary of the author's project in the book, covering the main points of the work. The second paragraph points out the project’s strengths and evaluates its methods and presentation. This particular annotation does not reflect on the source’s potential importance or usefulness for this person’s own research.

(Source: OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab)

Sample Chicago Annotation

Sample Chicago Manual Style Annotation


Davidson, Hilda Ellis. Roles of the Northern Goddess. London: Routledge, 1998.

 Davidson's book provides a thorough examination of the major roles filled by the numerous pagan goddesses of Northern Europe in everyday life, including their roles in hunting, agriculture, domestic arts like weaving, the household, and death. The author discusses relevant archaeological evidence, patterns of symbol and ritual, and previous research. The book includes a number of black and white photographs of relevant artifacts.


This annotation includes only one paragraph, a summary of the book. It provides a concise description of the project and the book's project and its major features.

(Source: OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab)

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