You’ve chosen a topic for your big research paper and have started doing some research. Now your professor is asking you to write an annotated bibliography of that research, but you’re not exactly sure what that is or what should go in it. Before you panic, read on!
What is an annotated bibliography?
An annotated bibliography is exactly what it sounds like—a bibliography with annotations! It looks like a bibliography with some extra notes after each entry.
When do I write an annotated bibliography?
An annotated bibliography usually comes somewhat near the beginning of the writing process. You generally already have a topic, research question(s) and a thesis by the time you are writing an annotated bibliography. You’ve also done some amount of research—otherwise there wouldn’t be anything to write about!
What are the components of an annotated bibliography?
The “bibliography” section is simply your end-of-text citations (formatted according to your field or professor’s style guide), while the “annotations” are in your own words.
Format these according to the style guide in your field. Most departments/degrees at Georgetown SCS use APA, but some do use Chicago/Turabian or MLA. You can create these manually by checking the official style guide booklet (available at the Georgetown SCS library) or have the computer manually create them for you by using software like Refworks.
This is the part that you do in your own words. The annotations are typically short—but the exact length may depend on your specific project or professor. Annotations typically have 3 parts, depending on the exact purpose of your annotated bibliography (keep in mind, though, that these parts are not labeled in the annotation itself—you’d just write it all in 2-3 narrative paragraphs).
Annotations begin with a brief summary of the work. If you’re using a particularly long source (like a book, for example), you might give a couple of sentences with the general idea or argument of the overall source, but then spend most of your time looking at the parts that are directly related to you and your research. Keep in mind that summaries do not need to include every detail—you can generally skip over the specific statistics and stick to the main idea(s) only.
Here you will assess the usability of the source. Does it make a valid argument? Are there any holes in its argument or anything missing in its conclusions? Keep in mind that while no research is perfect, you shouldn’t include a source with a lot of weaknesses unless you have an express reason to do so (to disprove common faulty thinking, for example).
This is the portion of the annotation where you will discuss how the source will be useful to you and your research. Does it include statistics or other “proof” to help support your argument? Does it have a particularly strong research methodology that you’d like to emulate? Does it supply a framework to help you conceptualize the components of your argument? Think about how and why you are choosing to include this source in your research and justify it here.
Why do we write annotated bibliographies?
Annotated bibliographies help you think about your topic and be aware of what’s already been researched or said about it. In writing your annotations, you may begin to see connections between sources—something that will help you when it comes time to write an outline or literature review. It also helps other researchers (or your professor) understand the existing research without having to start their own research from scratch.
To read more about annotated bibliographies, the Purdue OWL has a nice description with tips, while Walden University has a great example with explanations.
If you have any questions about annotated bibliographies, please feel free to contact the Writing Lab at email@example.com. You can also schedule a tutoring appointment to get feedback on your annotated bibliography.