Writing and Formatting your Annotated Bibliography

author By Mary Boies

An annotated bibliography assignment tests various intellectual skills, including critical analysis, informed library search, organization, and concise exposition. You are assigned to write an annotated bib assignment either as a standalone assignment or part of a research writing series.

When preparing an annotation, your primary purpose is to inform the reader about the quality, validity, accuracy, and relevance of the sources cited.

Unlike an abstract, which is a descriptive summary located at the beginning of scholarly journal papers, term papers, or other long essays, an annotated bibliography offers a critical, detailed, and in-depth analysis of a given reference/source.

The latter can entail a description of the point of view or perspective, the authority, clarity of the author, and the appropriateness of the source to a given thesis-driven research topic.

The process of creating an annotated bibliography entails multiple steps. In this guide, we cover all these steps and share some valuable tips you can use to format your qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-method research annotated bibliography.

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

Like a typical references page, an annotated bibliography (AB) is a list of references or sources such as books, journals, websites, periodicals, or company material used for researching a topic. The most significant difference between a references page (Bibliography, works cited, or reference page) and an annotated bibliography is that each source/reference in an annotated bibliography has a summary below it. In contrast, the bibliography only contains bibliographic information.

The summary below each source in an annotated bibliography is known as an annotation. It is where the annotated bibliography gets its name from. A bibliography simply means a list of sources used to organize academic writing tasks such as essays, research papers, and dissertations. Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and sometimes an evaluation of each source.

So how long are the annotations? Annotations typically range between 200 and 400 words. The information captured in each typically includes a summary of the source, a brief evaluation, and its relevance to the topic under research.

Professors usually ask for an AB as a standalone academic task or as part of a larger academic research project such as a thesis, research paper, dissertation, literature review, or project capstone. And when they ask for an AB, they often insist on recent sources (sources published in the last five years). Again, this is because they do not want students to consider outdated information or knowledge.

Why write an annotated bibliography?

There are several reasons why you should write an annotated bibliography.

First, writing an annotated bibliography gives the reader a detailed overview of your sources. They can then provide input if you are writing your AB as part of a larger research project. In this case, annotations can be used to summarize the sources, including the main arguments, the thesis of the author, whether the topics are well covered, and the organization of the article, book, or chapter.

Second, writing an annotated bibliography helps you as a researcher to formulate your hypothesis. This is because it helps you to look closely at different sources to identify patterns and trends related to the topic.

Third, writing an annotated bibliography enables you to understand how to evaluate sources for relevant information. It also helps you to show your reader that you know how to evaluate literature.

Lastly, writing an annotated bibliography helps you gain more knowledge on a particular topic. This can help you gain a deeper understanding of a particular area of your course.

Annotated Bibliography vs. Literature Review

An annotated bibliography and a literature review are quite similar. They are quite similar because they both involve reading and reviewing sources on a particular topic. However, the two are also quite different. The biggest difference is in the format.

When writing an AB, you simply need to write a reference/citation and follow it with an annotation. That is all you have to do for each reference to the end. In contrast, when writing a literature review, you must summarize each source and juxtapose it with the others. There is no need to juxtapose sources when writing an AB.

Another difference between an AB and a literature review is in-text citations. A typical AB will not include in-text citations, while a typical literature review certainly will.

Components of an Annotated Bibliography

components/parts of annotated bibliography

The typical annotated bibliography will have three key components - source citation, source summary, and source evaluation for each citation or reference used.

1. Source citation

A typical AB will have several sources. Each source included in the AB is first cited, then summarized, and finally evaluated. The citation must be done per the required referencing style (APA, MLA, or Chicago) and must be complete. If the referencing style is not indicated, ask your peers or your professor.

2. Source summary

As mentioned above, each source is first cited and then summarized. The summary must be done cleverly to ensure it is brief, yet it captures everything the source is about. A properly written source summary in an AB will include the main idea, the type of source, and the author's targeted audience.

3. Source evaluation

The last thing you have to do for every source you include in your AB is the evaluation of the source. Since each annotation is usually just a paragraph long. You should use the first half of the paragraph to summarize the annotation and the second to write the evaluation. The evaluation typically includes information about how the source relates to the AB's topic. You should ask yourself how the source fits into your research. Is the source helpful? Does the source help shape your argument? Has the source changed your perspective, attitude, and approach to the topic?

Types of Annotated Bibliography

There are four main types of annotated bibliography, descriptive annotated bibliography, analytical annotated bibliography, indicative annotated bibliography, and combination annotated bibliography.

1. Descriptive annotated bibliography

A descriptive annotated bibliography is one that basically summarizes the sources used. It is also known as an informative AB. A typical annotation in a descriptive AB looks just like an abstract. It summarizes the source sufficiently, covering everything vital about it. It also provides a brief explanation of why the source is important to the topic or research question.

The thing that makes descriptive annotated bibliographies stand out is that they simply summarize the main idea(s) and conclusion(s) in each source. Descriptive ABs do not include an analysis of what the author in each source is saying. A simple summary of each source is considered enough in each informative AB.

Because of how straightforward they are, descriptive ABs are also known as summary annotations. So if you are asked to write a descriptive annotated bibliography, you should simply write a surface description of the sources you find during your research. And follow each description with an explanation of the importance of the source to the topic or thesis under consideration.

2. Analytical annotated bibliography

An analytical annotated bibliography is also known as a critical annotated bibliography. Analytical AB is the exact opposite of descriptive AB. It is the exact opposite in that while descriptive ABs simply entails the surface description of sources, analytical ABs entail going deeper beyond the surface description of sources.

Each annotation in a typical analytical annotated bibliography will first include an evaluation of the research, its strengths, weaknesses, and its relevance to the topic. In other words, each annotation in an analytical AB provides more than a summary. It provides an assessment of the quality and relevance of the source it is based on.

Analytical annotated bibliography is also referred to as evaluative annotation sometimes because it critically assesses the quality and relevance of each source. Most professors and researchers prefer analytical ABs over other types of ABs. The reason why is that analytical ABs show critical thinking and provide more useful annotations than other types of ABs.

3. Indicative annotative bibliography

An indicative annotative bibliography does not really offer any useful information from its sources. It rather offers general information picked from the source. When writing an indicative AB, you should not try to relate data or information in the research/source with your research question or topic.

4. Combination Annotated Bibliography

A combination annotated bibliography is a type of annotated bibliography that mixes various kinds of annotated bibliography. A typical combination annotated bibliography annotation will start with a summary of the source and then a summary of the relevance, usefulness, and credibility of the source. It normally ends with an excellent conclusion wrapping up information about the source.

Steps to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Follow the steps below to write an excellent annotated bibliography.

1. Choose a topic

If you want to write an annotated bibliography of your own volition, you must choose a topic. Make sure you choose a topic that is interesting and exciting to you. If you do this, you will make it easier for yourself to research the topic and annotate the sources.

If you have been asked to write an annotated bibliography by your professor, you simply need to read and re-read the topic at this stage to understand it completely. You also need to read all the accompanying instructions to ensure you comprehend what is needed of you.

2. Familiarize with the topic

After choosing your topic or reading and understanding the topic your professor has given you, the next thing you need to do is to familiarize yourself with the topic. The easiest way to do this is simply to Google the topic and review the information you find. Of course, you should only review the information you find on credible websites, journals, and other sources.

Another way to familiarize yourself with the topic is to search for the topic in a topical encyclopedia or a reference library. Getting to understand the topic and what it is all about before doing the actual research is the key to acing an AB academic assignment.

3. Create a thesis statement

Once you have familiarized yourself with the topic, create a thesis statement. A thesis statement is one of the crucial parts of an excellent annotated bibliography. Your AB will be incomplete if it doesn't have one.

Therefore, you should create a thesis statement after familiarizing yourself with the topic. Ensure your thesis statement is strong, direct, and argumentative. A strong thesis statement will help you get a good grade in your AB.

4. Find credible sources

After creating a solid thesis statement for your AB, find credible sources that you can use to support your thesis statement. Credible sources are reliable sources. To find reliable sources, check your college's online databases.

If you don't find credible sources in your college's online databases, try Google Scholar. Google Scholar usually has reliable sources that you can use to create a brilliant annotated bibliography.

5. Evaluate the sources

After identifying several relevant sources with information you can use to support your thesis, you should evaluate the sources. Evaluating the references will help you decide which ones you should include in your AB. For the evaluation, you can use the RADAR framework.

When evaluating each source, you must consider its purpose, accuracy, authority, relevance, and currency. Only include sources that have an academic purpose, are accurate, are written by credible authors, are relevant, and have current information.

Usually, five to six excellent sources are enough. However, in many cases, the assignment prompt usually has instructions on how many sources you should include. For example, if your assignment prompt requires four sources, include four sources only. If it requires seven sources, include seven sources.

6. Write the annotations

After evaluating the sources and trimming them to only good ones, it is time to write the annotations. Each source will need an annotation. The correct way to write an annotation is to begin by citing the source you want to annotate, followed by a brief summary of the information in the source and then an evaluation/analysis of the source.

An annotation is usually just one paragraph long. However, it can be as short as 200 words long or as long as 400 words long. The second half of this paragraph is usually the most important part because it is where you have to write the evaluation/analysis of the source.

Your evaluation/analysis should include any strengths or weaknesses you note in the source and how the source relates to your thesis/topic. If the author has any special qualifications, you can also mention them in your evaluation.

7. Organize your work

After writing an annotation for each source, you should organize your work to make your annotated bibliography complete. You should organize the annotations logically - from the most relevant to the least relevant.

Next, you should use a citation style guide to ensure correct citations (references). This should be followed by ensuring the pages are correctly structured and formatted as per the citation style you were asked to follow.

8. Proofread and edit

Many people do not proofread and edit their annotations. However, you should if you want to get an excellent grade on your AB assignment. Proofreading will help you ensure your annotations are spot on and have all the right pieces of information they need. It will also help you to catch and eliminate grammar and punctuation errors.

Once you are done proofreading and editing, your AB assignment will be ready for submission.

Related Reading: How to write a dissertation literature Review.

Formatting an Annotated Bibliography

Professors frequently ask for an AB formatted in APA style or MLA style.

1. APA style Formatting

If you are studying a technical subject, a health science, or social science, and you are asked to write an AB, you will most likely be asked to format it in APA style. Writing a well-formatted APA style AB requires a bit of practice. However, it can be done even the first time.

The annotations in an APA style AB are written the same way as the annotations in an MLA style AB. The only difference is in the citation format. Therefore, it is best to familiarize yourself with how to format an APA-style annotated bibliography before starting to write one. Use the template or example below to format an APA-style annotated bibliography.

APA formatted annotated bibliography

2. MLA style Formatting

If you are studying a humanities course and are asked to write an AB, you will probably be asked to format it in MLA style. The MLA style is quite different from the APA style.

The biggest thing to remember when formatting an MLA style AB is that the works cited page is always arranged alphabetically.

Use the format listed in the example below to format an MLA-style annotated bibliography.

MLA annotated bibliography Example

Tips for Formatting an AB (Annotated Bibliography)

When you are eventually done with writing the annotations, ensure that you use these tips:

Phrases to use in an annotated bibliography

Summarizing and evaluating multiple sources is not an as easy task for most students. However, if you ever get stuck when writing an AB, here are some verbs you can use to refer to ideas and texts in your sources.



Account for







Refer to





















Final Take!

The format remains the same whether you are writing an annotated bibliography for nursing, business, management, social work, history, or medicine and health coursework. It has to address the three main components we have discussed above.

Annotated bibliographies can sometimes be challenging to write. This is because they often involve both the research and evaluation/analysis of sources. However, whether you have already started writing your annotated bibliography or not, you can get bibliography writing help from us right away.

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We have gathered the questions that most people have been asking us. Here are some short responses that can come in handy. Use them to learn more about how to do an annotated bibliography assignment.

Where to find sources for your annotated bibliography?

You can find excellent sources in your university�s online database or Google Scholar. If you cannot locate sources on your own, ask your librarian for help locating scholarly articles. Look at online databases such as EBSCOhost, CINAHL, JSTOR, Google Scholar, PubMed, ERIC, ScienceDirect, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), ProQuest, Cochrane, PsychINFO, NHS Evidence, and Scopus, among others.

Should an annotated bibliography be double-spaced?

Yes, they should be. ABs are double-spaced from the title to the last sentence. The title can remain �Annotated Bibliography� but should be center aligned. The space between the title and the first annotation should also be double-spaced.

How should I indent my annotations?

Yes, you should use the first-line indentation feature of Microsoft Word. Indenting the body of the annotation makes it easier for readers to read through the annotations. As for the bibliographic information, ensure they are formatted in hanging indent. This means you should flush each bibliographic citation to the left margin and indent it if it runs more than one line.

Must you bold the bibliographic in an annotated bibliography?

It is not a must. But it helps stay clear about each annotation.

What are the three parts of an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography's three most important parts are source citation, source summary, and source evaluation.

How many sources should be in an annotated bibliography?

As many as stated in the assignment prompt, you should go for at least five sources.

Do you have to paraphrase in an annotated bibliography?

Yes, you have to paraphrase to make the work your own. If you don�t, you will copy texts directly, resulting in a high-similarity plagiarism report when your professor checks your assignment.

Can I write an annotated bibliography based on the abstract?

You can, but it will not include all the information you need to include in a typical AB annotation. Therefore, you must access the source to read and summarize it correctly for your AB.

How long should an annotated bibliography be?

The typical annotation in an AB should be between 150 and 400 words long. If you can, keep the word count below 200 per annotation.

Must an annotated bibliography paper include a references page?

It is not a must.

Should an annotated bibliography have an introduction?

No, it should not. The typical annotated bibliography does not have an introduction. This is because it is not an essay but an enhanced references page. It is meant to demonstrate that you have researched and understood what other researchers/scholars are saying about your specific topic.

What goes into my annotated bibliography?

Institutions, instructors, and professors have their preferences when it comes to writing annotated bib assignments. Nevertheless, if you are not given a scope, ensure that your annotated bibliography includes a full bibliographic citation, background of the author (s), scope of the source, main arguments of the author (s), the target audience, methodology, reliability, validity, and relevance of the source, conclusion, and reflection.

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