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Annotated Bibliographies: Getting Started

Guidelines for creating annotated bibliographies.

Understanding an Annotated Bibliography

What is an annotated bibliography? 

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to sources, such as books and articles. Each citation is followed by an annotation, a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph, about 150 words long, that analyzes the source. An annotated bibliography usually looks like any other bibliography with alphabetized citations of sources, except that here each source is followed by an explanatory paragraph. This work can form the basis of a literature review later in the writing process. The purpose of the annotation is to inform on the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

What isn't an annotated bibliography? 

An annotation is not only a summary of the source in question. It should be a short but critical analysis as to why and how the source fits into the larger research question. An abstract functions as a summary, an annotation should be contextual to the specific topic at hand. It should be both descriptive and evaluative. 

Types of annotations: 

  • Descriptive: states the topic of the source only
  • Evaluative: evaluates the source, which may include placing the work in context of other research or evaluating its usefulness. This is the type expected for most research assignments. 
  • Summary: summarizes the source but does not take a stance or make an argument about the source.

What About Formatting?

Most of the major citation styles call for a hanging first line on annotated bibliographies. This means the first line of the citation will align with the left margin of the page, and all subsequent lines of the citation and annotation will indent to the right. 

Example in Chicago: 

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 

From the same publisher as the Chicago Manual of Style, this guide offers practical advice on developing a research practice. This includes engaging with a variety of sources, choosing a topic, refining a research question, considering an audience, creating a well-developed argument, drafting and revising content, and communicating effectively in writing. This book is an excellent handbook for undergraduate and graduate researchers, and can be used as a teaching text or general guide to advance the research and writing process. 

Depending on your device and browser, the proper hanging first line may or may not be visible here. To create this format in Word:

  • Open Format > Paragraph

  • Alternatively, highlight the text, right-click and select Paragraph.

  • Under Indentation, there is a drop down menu for Special options. This includes the Hanging First Line

Creating an Annotated Bibliography


1. Select Topic

Your topic should be neither too broad nor too narrow, but engage with a specific research question. You may not have a thesis yet, but will form one in the course of reading sources. Consider some strategies for selecting and refining a topic. 

2. Locate Sources 

This is a time-consuming process when writing an annotated bibliography. You are looking for sources that work together to support or refute your research question, not just the first few sources available. You should also consider a variety of sources, including books, articles, primary sources, and reference materials. Check the Research Guide in your discipline for suggestions. 

3. Read and Evaluate Sources 

Evaluating a source is about more than reading the abstract. As part of the annotation, you should provide the following information: a summary of the source, the intended audience, a critical evaluation of the argument, and a contextual analysis of how it fits in your own research. 


1. Create Citations 

The citation is the first piece of information a reader will see, and should conform to one of the major citation style guides. Most guides require a "hanging first line," whereby the first line of the citation sits further to the right on the page with subsequent lines indented. This is a special indentation feature offered in the paragraph formatting section of Word (or other word-processing software). You should not attempt to indent by hand, you will only confuse the system. 

2. Write Annotations 

Each annotation immediately follows the citation, and consists of a short, evaluative paragraph. It can include a very brief summary of the source, along with information about the author(s) and intended audience, followed by a critical analysis of the source in relation to your topic and research question. 


1. Content

Ask yourself: Does it cover my topic? Is it a good representation of the sources available on the topic?  An annotated bibliography isn't only a list of sources, the annotations should indicate some relationship between the sources and how they work together in the context of your research. 

2. Style and Format 

As a final check, be sure all the citation are correct and in accordance with your chosen style guide. Also make sure the overall organization of the bibliography makes sense in the context of the research question. 


Online Resources