What is an Annotated Bibliography?

1 Apr

What is an Annotated Bibliography? What is its purpose? How do I complete it? These are questions students often ask when tasked with completing an annotated bibliography for the first time. While it can be strange and even challenging to complete your first annotated bibliography, a better understanding of what it is and how to complete it can shed light on this useful practice.

If we break the term down into two different words, we can easily identify what it is. First, we know that a bibliography is typically a collection of our references. It may be called a Works Cited in MLA, or a References page in APA, but a bibliography is a “list of source materials that are used or consulted in the preparation of a work“. When we begin collecting sources for a research paper or literature review, we are essentially compiling a bibliography. Now, to annotate means “to supply with critical or explanatory notes“. When we combine these two terms togther to make an annotated bibliography we are simply compiling a list of source materials that we could or will use in the completion of a larger project and we are annotating – or taking notes – on each source to show what information it contains and how we can use it.

This can be very helpful for a number of reasons. First, when taking on a longer research project, you may come across many different sources. An annotated bibliography can help you keep the different sources straight while also allowing you to keep track of the information contained in each source and your plan for using it. Your annotations can tell you if the source will work well for your project, if it should be eliminated, or if you have many sources that say the same thing. This can also help you structure and support your project, as you will make a plan of where and how to use the different sources, which can make it easier to eliminate unnecessary or repetative sources.

Okay, so now that we know what an annotated bibliography is, we need to know how to complete it. The first step in completing our annotated bibliography is conducting our research. As our annotated bibliography directly involves our research and dealing with our source information, we must first research our topic and compile a list of possible sources. Remember,  your annotated bibliography can identify sources that you may choose not to use in your final project – and that’s okay! After we have collected our source material, we need to complete full citations for each of our sources. These citations will likely appear in either MLA or APA style; it depends on the course and instructor’s specifications. Once we have completed our citations, then we need to summarize each source and address how we will use it on our project. 

MLA Style Annotated Bibliography Entry:  


APA Style Annotated Bibliography Entry:



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