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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

Annotated Bibliographies

Start with a bibliographical citation.

Are in alphabetical order.

Summarize the source.

Tell how you will use the source in your paper.

Writing a college research paper goes easier if you do the annotated bibliography first.

Writing a college research paper goes easier if you do the annotated bibliography first.

9 Steps in Writing

You gather sources for an annotated bibliography in order to get ready to write a research paper. Here are the steps to get started:

1. Decide on your topic idea by thinking about topics you are interested in researching, then narrow that topic by finding a specific question that your paper will answer. For examples of good questions see "100 Argument or Position Essay Topics with Sample Essays."

2. Choose search terms which will help you. Consider search terms which will help both in proving ideas about your question, and your answer to that question. Ask a librarian for help if you can't find search terms. Google can actually help you too. Type your search term ideas into Google and see what suggestions they have for similar searches. Try Google Scholar for peer-reviewed sources you can use in your essay.

3. Gather sources for your topic from the internet and library that you think will help you answer the question. Since not all the sources may actually work out for your topic, you either need to skim over them as you go or pick more than you will need, so you can choose the best.

4. Read your sources carefully and annotate them, which means that you take notes and underline so that you:

  • Know the main points of the paper.
  • Analyze whether the arguments and evidence are strong or weak.
  • Decide what ideas in the source could be useful in your own paper.

5. Make a correct bibliographical entry for your article. Hint: Many online sources may have a bibliographical citation for you at the end of the paper. If they don't, see my steps for writing an MLA bibliography for help in writing your own and links to some online reference tools that can make the bibliography for you.

6. Write out your own summary of each article. Remember that your summary should not include quotes and that the words you use should be your own and not the author you are quoting.

7. Write a response to the article which indicates what you think about the ideas and arguments.

8. Write how you will use this article in your research paper. Thinking about how you can put this source into your paper is the most important part of this process. Deciding how you will use this information can help you write your outline and also help you to figure out which part of your essay needs more information and research.

9. Put your bibliography together. The annotated bibliography is a single document with the sources put together in alphabetical order based on the last name of the author (or the title of the source if there is no author). The format of each source is:

  • Bibliographical citation
  • Summary
  • Your response, or what you think about this source
  • How you can use this source in your paper.

Note: Check the instructions for your paper. Not all assignments will include writing a response and how you will use it in your paper, although you might want to make these notes to help you remember what you thought when you begin to write.

How to Format Using Word

Are people really smarter than computers?

Are people really smarter than computers?

Sample Bibliography

The following annotated bibliography includes a summary, response and indication of how the source will be used on a paper about the Meals on Wheels program. I ask my students to write a 250-word annotation for each source (about one page). This annotation is 292 words. Some instructors may want shorter summaries, so check with your assignment or ask your instructor about the length of your annotations.

Qualls, Sara. Aging Families and Caregiving. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009. Print.

Summary: In explaining the problem of caregiving in America, Qualls gives the example of a family with a great-grandmother who has just turned 92. The author explains how the family has gradually had to take on more responsibility for helping her as she has gotten older. Although the family is glad to surround their loved one with love and care, Qualls also explains how the amount of time it takes to care for the financial, physical, and emotional needs of elderly family members takes a large toll on caregivers who often are working and caring for their own families at the same time. Qualls describes the benefits and problems of the two main public programs that assist the elderly and their caregivers: Medicare and Medicaid.

Qualls also explains the main things which help the elderly live better lives. The most important factor is having good relationships and an active social network. Because so many older adults live alone, they are often lonely and that can affect their health. Families are often stretched to provide for the increasing emotional needs of their elderly loved ones as well as having to take care of many daily tasks, such as providing meals, doing laundry, taking them shopping, going with them to the doctor, and helping them pay bills.

Response: This source is helpful in explaining the many burdens a family takes on in caring for their elderly. I did not realize how many different tasks a caregiver needs to do in order to keep a family member at home. I will use this in my paper to explain the physical and emotional toll of caregiving, as well as to compare the costs of keeping an elderly person at home with the costs of assisted living and nursing care.

APA Format Annotated Bibliography

Writing your annotated bibliography

Writing your annotated bibliography

Why Annotate?

The simple answer is that it makes it easier to write your research paper. It also teaches you how to go through the process of writing using research. An annotated bibliography makes you stop and carefully read the sources you've found. That way, you can decide if you really have the information you need to write your paper.

Makes Your Research Paper Better: Very frequently, students find that as they research, their topic changes. You may narrow your topic to something more interesting to you, or more specific and interesting. Generally, you will end up with a much better final research paper if you've given yourself time to go through the research process, learning and changing your ideas as you discover new things.

Gets You Ready to Write: In addition, by finding your sources first, you are going to be prepared to just sit down and write when it comes to doing your research paper. By doing an annotated bibliography, you are forced to actually read the sources as you find them so that you make sure they really are helping you on your topic. There is nothing worse than finding at the last minute that none of your sources really say what you want them to! For my course, this is a separate assignment, but some instructors may have this as a part of the final research paper.

Example of Student Bibliography

See an example of an annotated bibliography paper by a student. This paper is on the topic of senior hunger and the sample includes MLA style, as well as links and videos describing APA and Chicago styles for bibliography.

How to Do an Annotated Bibliography: Step by Step


Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on June 20, 2017:

Hi, Zie! So glad my tutorials are helpful to you. I hope you will share them with friends and classmates. I have over 100 articles about writing and almost 200 on other subjects. Check my profile to see more!

Zie Mental Art on June 20, 2017:

Hello Virginia, Your how-to's are so helpful. They are clear, concise, and have all the necessary detailed instructions, and examples a student would want. They are supplementing my understanding of class material and lectures on how to write essays. I am so grateful. Thank you.

Angelique from Bergen on October 25, 2013:

Thank you for this article. It was very useful and I wish I had received that kind of information when I was a student.

Xin Ping from Beijing, China on January 15, 2012:

This is a very useful article and tutorial for me to learn how to write a research essay survey. I will follow you and write more hubs.