How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

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At the mention of it, annotated bibliographies sound like an abstract thing. However, if you know how to write a reference page or works cited page, then writing an annotated bibliography will be an easy task. An annotated bibliography is simply a list of citations to:

  • Books
  • Articles
  • Documents

With each list, a brief paragraph follows. This paragraph (the annotation) serves to describe and evaluate the citations and is usually short (about 150 words).

Why Write an Annotated Bibliography?

The main purpose of writing an annotated bibliography is to give the reader an informative description as to the accuracy, relevance, and quality of the sources that have been cited. They are critical and often describe the stand of the author.

The annotation aids the reader to decide on whether to read the whole work. They help in the formulation of a thesis on the subject matter.

The annotated bibliography also has the purpose of:

  • Demonstrating the extent of research done by the writer on the subject
  • Provide a list of major sources available on the subject
  • Give items that may be of interest to other researchers relating to the subject
  • Provide a literature review on the subject

Annotations vs. Abstracts

By now, you might have started drawing parallels between an annotation and an abstract. Abstracts are the descriptions that are found at the beginning of scholarly articles or periodical indexes. The two have similarities in terms of being descriptive and providing a summary of what an article, book or document is about. However, an annotation goes further to give distinctive features while also evaluating and criticizing. It quite authoritative and appropriately expresses a stand given by the writer.

In light of the above, this article will give a step by step process of how to write an annotated bibliography.

There are two types of annotated bibliographies:


Descriptive

It describes why a source is useful for purposes of research on a particular subject. It gives the distinctive features and posits the author’s main arguments and conclusions. However, it doesn’t evaluate the position of the author.

Critical

It is also referred to as the analytical annotation. It not only summarizes the material but also analyzes what’s said. A thorough and in-depth examination is done to point out the strengths and weaknesses of what is being presented. The applicability of the author’s position to the research at hand is also described. This is the most popular annotated bibliography.

Getting Started on Writing an Annotated Bibliography

With the above knowledge of the types of annotated bibliographies, the next step is to get started on writing one.

Select Your Sources

This is done at the onset of writing the bibliography. It requires one to research widely to find records to materials that revolve around your topic.

While selecting your sources, it is important to know that the quality and utility of your bibliography will depend greatly on this selection. Therefore, you ought to define the scope of your research to enable you to know what to include and exclude. Well defined boundaries should be done.

Review Your Findings

Once you’ve gathered some records, review each to select those that have a wider perspective in relation to your topic. To aid you in this process, make use of the abstracts of the articles. It is easier and much objective.

Writing Citations and Annotations

When you write an annotated bibliography, the complete citation comes first before the annotation. The following should be included:

  • The purpose of work
  • Summary of Content
  • Type of audience
  • Relevance to the main topic
  • Special features
  • Any strengths, points of weaknesses or biases in the material

Most annotated bibliographies are arranged alphabetically or chronologically. Your instructor should let you know the preferred arrangement.

Elements of an Annotation

Authors’ qualifications; for example: “Francis B. Smith, Professor of Psychology at ABC University…”

Scope; “sets out to place Renee Descartes of 16th century England to elaborate the development of his philosophy in relation to contemporary moral philosophy.”

Audience and reading difficulty. “Francis addresses moral agents in the professional world, and his position will be clear to any educated layman.

Bias and authors stand. “Renee focuses his study on scientific aspects rather than moral aspects present in that time period.”

Parallels to other Works in the field. “Renee departs from Immanuel Kant (Kantian ethics) who developed the deontological moral theory and is convinced that moral obligation and duty should be the guiding factor when judging moral actions.”

Conclusions. This will usually comprise of findings and results.

Formats. This includes:

  • The bibliography
  • Glossary
  • Index
  • Testing instruments
  • Survey tools

Structure of an Annotation

When writing annotations, there is a prescribed structure that should be followed. The following structure shows how to write an annotated bibliography:

Length

The prescribed length is normally a paragraph of 100-200 words. It should be written concisely.

Person

It is most appropriate to write in the third person. However, the first person may be considered for certain types of annotations.

Language and Vocabulary

It is recommended that one uses the language of the author to a greater extent. This aids in conveying the ideas and conclusions of the author. Your sentence structures should be varied to avoid repletion of phrases.

Sentence Format

Annotations work well with whole sentences. Even so, phrases and lists may be used. Vivid descriptions may be given by use of single descriptive words.

Paragraph Format

As mentioned earlier, there should only be one paragraph. It should have the statement of the work’s thesis; then other sentences can develop from it.

Assessing the Value and Relevance of Your Sources

Judging from the nature of your project, an assessment should be made on the value of the particular sources at hand. If you’re doing a research project, you need to ascertain how you’re going to use the source and also why you need you need it. For independent projects, the contribution of the source to your research on the subject should be given preference.

Here’s a guideline on what to assess:

  • How a source frames the research question
  • How a source answers a research question
  • How a source makes new connections to the subject
  • How a source uses theoretical frameworks and key concepts
  • If a source gathers and analyzes specific evidence that you intend to use
  • The bearing of a source’s conclusions to your own findings

To effectively determine how you will use a certain source, the following aspects should be considered:

  • Its value proposition
  • The quality of its arguments
  • It’s limitations as a source
  • The effectiveness of its chosen method of investigation
  • The plausibility of its evidence
  • If you will draw the same conclusions from the given evidence

While doing this assessment, always bear in mind the context of your project. In addition, keep in line with how the material at hand is assessed in the respective discipline and the models available for assessing arguments.

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography (Sample Annotations)

Annotations come in various formats such as MLA, APA, and Chicago style.

Sample Chicago Style Annotation

Richardson, Davis Elliot. Moral Philosophy. London: Routledge, 1999.

Richardson’s book gives a thorough analysis of the moral philosophies in the modern day world. This analysis traverses the various cultural divides. The author fronts relevant patterns and evidence backed by research. The book draws parallels to other works of philosophers and their contributions to modern day moral philosophy.

A closer look at this annotated bibliography shows the various elements discussed previously. It consists of one paragraph, and it gives a summary of the book. The project has also been described briefly giving the main highlights.

Sample APA Annotation

Bruce, A. (2002). The development of professional ethics. New Jersey: Scotts Company.

This book is based on the empirical research. Bruce traces the underpinnings of professional ethics and follows the long trail to the period when it was being developed in America. He attempts to trace how each discipline and career field has developed its own set of professional ethics. He goes further to show the distinctive features of various professions and the ethics they observe drawing points of convergence and divergence. The author gives his methods of research and supplements it with scholarly research. The ethical bearings are also laid bare, and limitations of his research are also evident. The research is descriptive and well-articulated.

The above annotation has assessed the book and given a succinct summary. The author’s points of strength and limitation are also described. An evaluation has also been given on the presentation and methods of research.

Sample MLA Annotation

Vivian, Jane. The Rollercoaster of Writing: The Life of a Writer. Goodman Publications, 2002.

In this book, Vivian offers a glimpse into the life of a writer. She goes further to give all the high and low points of being a writer. She uses a humorous approach to describe the reality of being a writer and gives vivid anecdotal examples of the struggles that writers undergo to come up with an almost perfect write-up. Vivian advises upcoming writers using an encouraging tone and approach. The book can be an excellent resource for student writers.

The above annotation has given a summary of the book. It has also given a reflection of real life experiences of the author. An evaluation has also been done on the text and the approach that the author uses.

Conclusion

Writing an annotated bibliography should come as easy if you follow the step by step process given above. Utilize the examples given above when writing your own annotated bibliography.