Annotated bibliography


We all know what a bibliography is. And we have crafted plenty of them as we have produced research essays and papers - a listing of all resources that have been used as those essays and papers were crafted. There are format styles that must be used, depending on the specifications of an instructor, but, in general, the information is pretty standard.

Then there is this thing called an “annotated bibliography.” It is a different “animal” indeed, and if you are asked to prepare an annotated bibliography, you have to understand what this animal is and how you construct one.

This guide should give you exactly what you need to complete an annotated bibliography. Read through it carefully and follow the steps outlined below. You’ll end up with a solid piece.

Steps to Follow

The annotated bibliography is an extended version of a standard one. It begins with the normal citation in the format style that is required. It is then followed by a short paragraph, called the annotation, that provides a description of the work and usually an evaluative sentence or two speaking to its value as a resource on the topic.

The purpose of the annotation is to provide readers and/or researchers with enough information about the resource so that they can decide if it is one that would be useful for their own research on the same topic.

Generally, an annotation should be between 150-200 words.

  1. Why Students Struggle with Annotations

There are a few reasons for student difficulty with annotated bibliographies:

  • They have never written one before and, like everything new, there is a learning curve.

  • They have trouble condensing an entire resource work into a one-paragraph description

  • They don’t have a process for creating an annotation

We’re going to take care of reason #3 right now, by giving you a guide for crafting a solid annotation. Practice will take care of the first two issues, along with spending some time studying annotations that others have written.

  1. Understand the Purpose

There are three types of annotations – the descriptive/informative, the critical and evaluative, and that which is a combination of the two. Make certain that you understand the type of annotation your instructor wants.

  1. Writing the Descriptive/Informative Annotation

This type is primarily a very short synopsis of the work, also stating why it was suitable for your research topic. You may list the author’s arguments/points, but you will not be evaluating their credibility. Suppose, for example, that you have written a paper on the causes of the U.S. Civil War. One author’ thesis is that there was only one cause – the battle between states’ rights and federal power. You will obviously state that this is his thesis and his evidence, but you will not express your opinion.

  1. Writing the Analytical/Critical Annotation

This annotation will focus more on an evaluation of the author’s arguments or points, as opposed to providing a descriptive. Was the work valuable to your research? Do you believe that the author’s points are valid?

  1. The Combined Annotation

This one will combine the elements of the descriptive and the critical/evaluative annotations. This may be a bit tricky, because you have to maintain the same short paragraph length

Once you are firm about the type of annotation you are producing, there are key steps you should take.

  1. Put together an outline for the annotation

It does not have to be elaborate, but it should cover the required points. For example, if you are writing a combination type, a simple template would be as follows:

  • Purpose of the Work (This is like a thesis statement for an essay. What is the main point the author is making)
  • Summary of Content – This must be really “tight” – you only have a sentence or two.
  • Statement of the audience for whom the work was written
  • Was the work relevant to your research/topic?
  • Strength/Weakness of the author’s points/opinions
  • Write the first draft without concern for length

Go back to each of your template points and see how you can condense, consolidate, remove phrases and words, etc., continuing to reduce your word count until you have the correct length. Make sure that the actual citation is listed first. Then, put a space between it and the beginning of your annotation.

Points to Think About

  • Be certain that you know which type of annotation your instructor wants.

  • Read annotations from a variety of other research papers related to your topic. Try modeling yours after those. Eventually, you will be creating your own easily.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • The biggest mistake students make when writing annotations is leaving out critical information that is a “must,” because they cannot get the right word count.

  • Another common mistake is to “copy” an annotation on the same work that has been written by someone else. This is plagiarism, no matter how small.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Follow your outline template, so that you don’t leave anything out
  • Write a first draft without concern for word count. The idea is to get your thoughts on paper, before reducing and refining
  • Skip over any important information or analysis, as it might have a negative effect on your paper
  • Forget to include the level of value the resource is for the topic

Remember this: annotations are difficult to write. But the more you write, the better you will get at them.  Do not get discouraged, and ask for help if you need it.

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