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Organizing Academic Research Papers: Annotated Bibliography

  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
  • Executive Summary
  • Background Information
  • The Research Problem/Question
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  • Citation Tracking
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  • Evaluating Sources
  • Primary Sources
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  • Using Non-Textual Elements
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Footnotes or Endnotes?
  • Further Readings
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Dealing with Nervousness
  • Using Visual Aids
  • Grading Someone Else's Paper
  • How to Manage Group Projects
  • Multiple Book Review Essay
  • Reviewing Collected Essays
  • About Informed Consent
  • Writing Field Notes
  • Writing a Policy Memo
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Acknowledgements

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations related to a particular subject area or theme that include a brief descriptive and/or evaluative summary. The annotated bibliography can be arranged chronologically by date of publication or alphabetically by author, with citations to print and/or digital materials, such as, books, newspaper articles, journal articles, dissertations, government documents, pamphlets, web sites, etc., and multimedia sources like films and audio recordings.

Importance of a Good Annotated Bibliography

In lieu of writing a formal research paper, your professor may ask you to develop an annotated bibliography. You may be assigned this for a number of reasons, including to show that you understand the literature underpinning the research problem, to demonstrate that you can conduct an effective review of pertinent literature, or to share sources among your classmates so that, collectively, everyone in the class obtains a comprehensive understanding of key research on the subject. Think of an annotated bibliography as a more deliberate, in-depth review of the literature than what is normally conducted for a research paper.

On a broader level, writing an annotated bibliography can be excellent preparation for conducting a larger research project by allowing you to evaluate what research has already been done and where your proposed study may fit within it. By reading and responding to a variety of sources associated with a research problem, you can begin to see what the issues are and gain a better perspective on what scholars are saying about your topic. As a result, you are better prepared to develop your own point of view and contributions to the literature.

In summary, a good annotated bibliography...

  • Encourages you to think critically about the content of the works you are using, their place within the broader field of study, and their relation to your own research, assumptions, and ideas;
  • Provides evidence that you have read and understood your sources;
  • Establishes validity for the research you have done and you as a researcher;
  • Gives you an opportunity to consider and include key digital, multimedia, or archival materials among your review of the literature;
  • Situates your study and topic in a continuing professional conversation;
  • Provides an opportunity for others to decide whether a source will be helpful for their research; and,
  • Could help interested researchers determine whether they are interested in a topic by providing background information and an idea of the kind of scholarly investigations that have been conducted in a particular area of study.

Annotated Bibliographies . The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Annotated Bibliographies. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Types

  • Descriptive : This type of annotation describes the source without summarizing the actual argument, hypothesis, or message in the content. Like an abstract, it describes what the source addresses, what issues are investigated, and any special features, such as appendices or bibliographies that are used to supplement the main text. What it does not include is any evaluation or criticism of the content. This type of annotation seeks to answer the question: Does this source cover or address the topic I am researching?
  • Informative/Summative : This type of annotation summarizes what the content, message, or argument of the source is. It generally contains the hypothesis, methodology, and conclusion or findings, but like the descriptive type, you are not offering your own evaluative comments about such content. This type of annotation seeks to answer these types of questions: What are the author's main arguments? What conclusions did the author draw?  
  • Evaluative/Critical/Analytical : This type of annotation includes your evaluative statements about the content of a source and is the most common type of annotation your professor will ask you to write. Your critique may focus on describing a source's the strengths and weaknesses or it may describe the applicability of the conclusions to the research problem you are studying. This type of annotation seeks to answer these types of questions: Is the reasoning sound? Is the methodology sound? Does this source address all the relevant issues? How does this source compare to other sources on this topic?

II.  Choosing Sources for Your Bibliography

A good strategy to help build your bibliography is to identify several key scholarly sources and review the sources cited by the author(s); often, this will lead you quickly to related sources about the topic. Note that this strategy only helps identify prior research, so look for the most recent scholarly materials on the topic of your annotated bibliography.

Appropriate sources to include can be anything that has value in regards to understanding the research problem, including non-textual sources, such as, films, maps, photographs, and audio recordings, or, archival materials and primary source materials, such as, diaries, government documents, collections of personal correspondence, meeting minutes, or official memorandums.

Your method for selecting which sources to annotate depends upon the purpose of the assignment and the research problem you select. For example, if the research problem is to compare the social factors that led to protests in Egypt with the social factors that led to protests against the government of the Philippines in  the 1980's, you will have to include non-U.S. and historical sources in your bibliography.

III. Strategies to Define the Scope of your Bibliography

It is important that the sources cited and described in your bibliography are well-defined and sufficiently narrow in scope to ensure that you're not overwhelmed by the volume of items you could possibly include. Many of the general strategies you can use to narrow a topic for a research paper are the same you can use to define what to include in your bibliography. These are:

  • Aspect -- choose one lens through which to view your topic, or look at just one facet of your topic [e.g., rather than writing a bibliography of sources about the role of food in religious rituals; create a bibliography on the role of food in Hindu ceremonies].
  • Time -- the shorter the time period, the more narrow the focus.
  • Geography -- the smaller the region of analysis, the more narrow the focus [e.g., rather than cite sources about trade relations in West Africa, include only sources that examine trade relations between Niger and Cameroon].
  • Relationship -- focus your review sources that examine how two or more different topics relate to one another? [e.g., cause/effect, compare/contrast, etc.]
  • Type -- focus on your bibliography in terms of a specific type or class of people or things [e.g., research on health care provided to elderly men in Japan].
  • Source -- your bibliography includes specific types of materials [e.g., only books, only scholarly journal articles, only films, etc.]. However, be sure to describe why only one type of source is appropriate.
  • Combination -- use two or more of the above strategies to focus your bibliography very narrowly or to broaden coverage of a very specific research problem.

IV.  Assessing the Relevance and Value of Sources All the items you include in your bibliography should reflect the source's contribution to the research problem or overall issue being addressed. In order to determine how you will use the source or define its contribution, you will need to assess the quality of the central argument within the source. Specific elements to assess include the source’s value, limitations, effectiveness in defining the research problem, the methodology, quality of the evidence in relation to addressing the research problem, and the author’s conclusions and/or recommendations. With this in mind, determining whether a source should be included in your bibliography depends on how you think about and answer the following questions:

  • Are you interested in the way the source frames its research question or in the way it goes about answering it [the method]?
  • Does it make new connections or promote new ways of understanding a problem?
  • Are you interested in the way the source uses a theoretical framework or a key concept?
  • Does the source gather and analyze a particular body of evidence that you want to cite?
  • How do the source's conclusions bear on your overall investigation of the topic?

V.  Format and Content

The format of an annotated bibliography can differ depending on its purpose and the nature of the assignment. It may be arranged alphabetically by author or chronologically by publication date. Ask your professor for specific guidelines in terms of length, focus, and the type of annotation you are to write [see above].

Introduction Your bibliography should include a brief introductory paragraph that explains the rationale for selecting the sources and note, if appropriate, what sources were excluded and the reasons why. Citation This first part of your entry contains the bibliographic information written in a standard documentation style, such as, MLA, Chicago, or APA. Ask your professor what style is most appropriate and, be consistent! Annotation The second part should summarize, in paragraph form, the material contained in the source. What you say about the source is dictated by the type of annotation you are asked to write. In most cases, though, your annotation should provide critical commentary that evaluates the source and its usefulness for your topic and for your paper. Things to think about when writing include: Does the source offer a good introduction on the issue? Does the source effectively address the issue? Would novices find the work accessible or is it intended for an audience already familiar with the topic? What limitations does the source have [reading level, timeliness, reliability, etc.]? What is your overall reaction to the source? Length Annotations can vary significantly in length, from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages. However, they are normally about 300 words. The length will depend on the purpose. If you're just writing summaries of your sources, the annotations may not be very long. However, if you are writing an extensive analysis of each source, you'll need to devote more space.

Annotated Bibliographies . The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Annotated Bibliographies . The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Annotated Bibliography . The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Annotated Bibliography . Writing Center. Walden University; Engle, Michael et al. How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography . Olin Reference, Research and Learning Services. Cornell University Library; Guidelines for Preparing an Annotated Bibliography. Writing Center at Campus Library. University of Washington, Bothell; How to Write an Annotated Bibliography. Information and Library Services. University of Maryland; Knott, Deborah. Writing an Annotated Bibliography . The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing from Sources: Writing an Annotated Bibliography . The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College.

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Sacred Heart University


Writing an Annotated Bibliography for a Paper

Providing an Overview of Research Published on a Given Topic

  • Writing Research Papers
  • Writing Essays
  • English Grammar
  • M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
  • B.A., History, Armstrong State University

An annotated bibliography  is an expanded version of a regular  bibliography —those lists of sources you find at the end of a research paper or book. The difference is that an annotated bibliography contains an added feature: a paragraph or annotation under each bibliographical entry.

The purpose of the annotated bibliography is to provide the reader with a complete overview of the articles and books that have been written about a certain subject. Learning some background about annotated bibliographies—as well as a few key steps to writing one—will help you to quickly create an effective annotated bibliography for your assignment or research paper.

Annotated Bibliography Features

The annotated bibliography gives your readers a glimpse of the work a professional researcher would do. Every published article provides statements about prior research on the topic at hand.

A teacher may require that you write an annotated bibliography as the first step of a big research assignment. You would most likely write an annotated bibliography first and then follow with a research paper using the sources you've found.

But you may find that your annotated bibliography is an assignment on its own: It can also stand alone as a research project, and some annotated bibliographies are published. A stand-alone annotated bibliography (one that is not followed by a research paper assignment) would most likely be longer than a first-step version.

How It Should Look

Write the annotated bibliography just like a normal bibliography, but add between one and five concise sentences under each bibliographical entry. Your sentences should summarize the source content and explain how or why the source is important. Things you might mention include whether the:

  • Thesis  of the source is one you support or don't support
  • Author has a unique experience or point of view related to your topic
  • Source provides a sound basis for a paper you intend to write, leaves some questions unanswered, or has a political bias

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Find a few good sources for your research, and then expand by consulting the bibliographies of those sources. They will lead you to additional sources. The number of sources will depend on the depth of your research.

Determine how deeply you need to read each of these sources. Sometime you'll be expected to read each source carefully before putting it into your annotated bibliography; in other cases, skimming the source will be sufficient.

When you are doing an initial investigation of all of the sources available, your teacher may not expect you to read each source thoroughly. Instead, you likely will be expected to read parts of the sources to learn the essence of the content. Before beginning, check with your teacher to determine whether you have to read every word of every source that you plan to include.

Alphabetize your entries, just as you would in a normal bibliography.

  • Abstract Writing for Sociology
  • Bibliography: Definition and Examples
  • How to Develop a Research Paper Timeline
  • Finding Trustworthy Sources
  • What Is a Bibliography?
  • How to Write a Research Paper That Earns an A
  • What Is a Research Paper?
  • How to Write a Solid Thesis Statement
  • What Is an Annotated Bibliography?
  • Writing a Paper about an Environmental Issue
  • Research Note Cards
  • How to Write a Bibliography For a Science Fair Project
  • How to Find Trustworthy Sources
  • How to Write an Abstract for a Scientific Paper
  • Finding Sources for Death Penalty Research
  • How to Write a News Article That's Effective

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Annotated Bibliographies

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This handout provides information about annotated bibliographies in MLA, APA, and CMS.


A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, Web sites, periodicals, etc.) one has used for researching a topic. Bibliographies are sometimes called "References" or "Works Cited" depending on the style format you are using. A bibliography usually just includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher, etc.).

An annotation is a summary and/or evaluation. Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of each of the sources. Depending on your project or the assignment, your annotations may do one or more of the following.

For more help, see our handout on paraphrasing sources.

For more help, see our handouts on evaluating resources .

  • Reflect : Once you've summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How does it help you shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?

Your annotated bibliography may include some of these, all of these, or even others. If you're doing this for a class, you should get specific guidelines from your instructor.

Why should I write an annotated bibliography?

To learn about your topic : Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project. Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when you have to write annotations for each source, you're forced to read each source more carefully. You begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information. At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow you to see what has been done in the literature and where your own research or scholarship can fit. To help you formulate a thesis: Every good research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to state and support a thesis. So, a very important part of research is developing a thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current. Writing an annotated bibliography can help you gain a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, you'll start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and you'll then be able to develop your own point of view.

To help other researchers : Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published. They provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic. You may not ever get your annotated bibliography published, but as a researcher, you might want to look for one that has been published about your topic.

The format of an annotated bibliography can vary, so if you're doing one for a class, it's important to ask for specific guidelines.

The bibliographic information : Generally, though, the bibliographic information of the source (the title, author, publisher, date, etc.) is written in either MLA or APA format. For more help with formatting, see our MLA handout . For APA, go here: APA handout .

The annotations: The annotations for each source are written in paragraph form. The lengths of the annotations can vary significantly from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages. The length will depend on the purpose. If you're just writing summaries of your sources, the annotations may not be very long. However, if you are writing an extensive analysis of each source, you'll need more space.

You can focus your annotations for your own needs. A few sentences of general summary followed by several sentences of how you can fit the work into your larger paper or project can serve you well when you go to draft.


Citation Guides and Style Manuals

  • General Citation Guides
  • Data Citation
  • Citing Generative AI
  • Student Papers
  • Professional Papers
  • Annotated Bibliographies
  • Cite Articles
  • Cite Websites
  • Parts of a Citation

What is an annotated bibliography?

  • An Annotated Bibliography is somewhat like a "research paper without the paper." It is a targeted list of relevant, high-quality, accurate sources on a topic, with a brief description (annotation) following each source. Annotations briefly describe the source and often evaluate it and add your reactions/reflections.
  • An Annotated Bibliography looks   like  an APA References List plus   annotations (brief paragraph follows each reference describing/evaluating it   in your own words )   Source: Publication Manual, 9.51, p.  307. Each reference should give complete information so that readers can find the sources .
  • Don't copy annotations from article, abstract, Amazon, etc. Use your own words and ideas. 
  • Sample Annotated Bibliography in   Publication Manual Figure 9.3, p. 308. 
  • Your Course instructor sets format for APA 7th bibliography, including type/number of references, length/structure of annotations.  Look at assignment rubric and ask instructor to post examples on Blackboard. 
  • An Annotated Bibliography, unlike "regular" APA research papers, has no in-text citations.  Include an in-text citation only if you're mentioning another item on the list.

Steps in Preparing an Annotated Bibliography

  • Find sources related to topic . Course instructor can help with topic selection.
  • Critically read and evaluate sources, and choose best to include.
  • Create  APA 7th citation for each source . Each source double-spaced and has a 0.5" hanging indent.
  • Open a Word document and list sources alphabetically . Suggested title: Annotated Bibliography: Subject of Paper (bolded and centered)
  • Type an annotation for each source . Each annotation is a double-spaced paragraph under the source, indented 0.5" to line up with the hanging indent of the source they follow.
  • Proofread . Do you have enough sources of each type, and are APA citations correct? Did you put annotations in your own words, and not copy and paste?

Where do I find sources for my annotated bibliography?

  • Types of Scholarly Sources
  • Finding Scholarly Journal Articles
  • Finding Scholarly Books
  • Finding Reputable Websites

There are no set  APA rules about number of references or length of annotations. Follow your assignment rubric. Usually you will need scholarly resources, including:

(1) Scholarly/peer-reviewed journals

(2) Scholarly books

(3) Reputable websites

( 1) Peer-reviewed (scholarly) articles: find in One-Search, Databases, or Library Research Guides Databases tab . Read the entire article, not just the abstract (summary). Usually a hyperlink will open the full article in another window.

One-Search  (WKU Libraries' catalog and more) gets you started finding peer-reviewed articles. Here is a guide  to using One-Search.

Look for this symbol 

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

Under "Tweak your Results," click [peer reviewed] and [apply filters] to find just peer-reviewed:


Databases  are your second go-to for scholarly journal articles. WKU Libraries' YouTube channel has brief database videos . Most databases let you limit to peer-reviewed:

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

Library Research Guides

Library Research Guides  are a third place to find  scholarly articles. Select subject, then [Articles and Databases].  Example below is from Public Health, and lists good databases to search.

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

  • Find books at  WKU Libraries  or other source. Here's how to search   our online catalog, called One-Search. Get the entire book -- an Amazon listing is not enough.

Example: book on Tigers from WKU Libraries. Location highlighted. [Citation] helps format citation (check against Publication Manual ):

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

Example Two: Ebook at WKU Libraries. Click and sign in with WKU NetID/password to view online:

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

Reputable websites , especially those of governments, universities, professional organizations, or nonprofit groups (.org, .gov., .edu) . You can use a Web browser such as Google. Evaluate carefully:

  • Currency: Do links work? When was last update? Does website link to latest information?
  • Coverage: Focused on my research topic? Good scope and depth? Accessible without payment or special software?
  • Authority: Who wrote the content and what are their qualifications? Can I contact them?
  • Accuracy: Is content truthful and without obvious bias?
  • Purpose: Why was this content created? Is there an "About Us" tab? What is the domain? Are they selling/promoting something?

How to Find Websites:

(1) Use a Web browser such as Google.

(2)  Library Research Guides also help find websites. Look for the [ Websites ] tab:

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

(3) Your course textbook . often lists good subject websites.

Putting Citations in APA 7th Format

  • Putting sources in APA 7th format
  • Library Database Cite buttons
  • Other Citation Help

Create an APA 7th citation for each source in your Annotated Bibliography and list them alphabetically.   

How do i put my sources in apa 7th format.

Publication Manual , Chapter 10, p. 315-352, is authoritative source for APA. Full guide is print-only.

APA Style   APA online source with reference examples.

WKU Libraries has APA 7th citation examples for articles , books and Internet sources .

Several other sources can help put citations in APA 7th format. Click on tabs above to see more resources.  Always double-check for accuracy. 

  • One-Search, Library Databases, and Google Scholar have a [cite] button
  • Internet help sites
  • Citation formatters
  • Reference manager such as Zotero or Endnote. Integrates with Word.

Example One: One-Search Cite button

Click [...] at upper right:

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

Then click the Cite " button:

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

Select [APA] and copy and paste your APA citation. Note that One-Search still uses 6th edition. Proofread carefully: capital letters, elements of citation correct, hanging indent, and DOI (if any):

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

Example Two: EBSCOhost cite button

Click title hyperlink to display full record:

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

Click [Cite] on right of full EBSCOhost record:

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

Then scroll to see APA citation:

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

Now use your critical thinking skills ... does this APA citation include the author, date, title, and source, formatted exactly like the examples from the Publication Manual and APA Style ?  Could your reader follow the URL or DOI (if any) to find this source?

Always check the APA template to make sure citation is correct . Our database has incorrectly added "" to the DOI. This is incorrect because someone not at WKU couldn't follow this link. Test by copying/pasting into a Web browser.

Here is corrected citation :

Tarnopolsky, A., Fletcher, N., Hollenberg, L., Lange, B., Smith, J., & Wolfe, J. (2005). Acoustics: The vocal tract and the sound of a didgeridoo.  Nature ,  436 (7047), 39.

  • Zotero Free reference manager. Collects and stores your research resources. Integrates with Word to insert properly-formatted citations into your paper. You can download references from library databases or insert them manually. There is a learning curve, but Zotero can save you time if you do a lot of scholarly writing.
  • Endnote Basic Free reference manager, integrates with Web of Science. Somewhat greater learning curve than Zotero. The fee-based version, Endnote Desktop, is widely used in the sciences.
  • Purdue Owl Introduction to APA Style Purdue Owl is a widely-used site with examples of citations/papers and formatting help.. Accepts advertising.
  • Scribbr: APA 7th Edition: Most Notable Changes Based in Amsterdam, Scribbr is a helpful site compiled by an international team of youthful editors committed to "helping students graduate."
  • EasyBib EasyBib is one of many free, standalone citation generators/citation formatters. If you use these, always double- check :)

Annotated Bibliographies -- Further Information/Examples

  • Purdue Owl: Annotated Bibliiographies Includes example of APA annotated. Site has advertising.
  • Simon Fraser University Library. How to Write an Annotated Bibliography
  • English 300. Annotated Bibliography
  • Social Work 620 Annotated Bibliography

Zotero Annotated Bibliography Style

If you'd like to use Zotero to create an annotated bibliography in APA or Chicago style, you can use a custom citation style designed specifically to output annotations.

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What is An Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources (books, articles, websites, etc.) with short paragraph about each source. An annotated bibliography is sometimes a useful step before drafting a research paper, or it can stand alone as an overview of the research available on a topic.

Each source in the annotated bibliography has a citation - the information a reader needs to find the original source, in a consistent format to make that easier. These consistent formats are called citation styles.  The most common citation styles are MLA (Modern Language Association) for humanities, and APA (American Psychological Association) for social sciences.

Annotations are about 4 to 6 sentences long (roughly 150 words), and address:

  •     Main focus or purpose of the work
  •     Usefulness or relevance to your research topic 
  •     Special features of the work that were unique or helpful
  •     Background and credibility of the author
  •     Conclusions or observations reached by the author
  •     Conclusions or observations reached by you

Annotations versus Abstracts

Many scholarly articles start with an abstract, which is the author's summary of the article to help you decide whether you should read the entire article.  This abstract is not the same thing as an annotation.  The annotation needs to be in your own words, to explain the relevance of the source to your particular assignment or research question.

Annotated Bibliography video

MLA 9th Annotated Bibliography Examples

Ontiveros, Randy J.  In the Spirit of a New People: The Cultural Politics of the Chicano Movement . New York UP, 2014.

This book analyzes the journalism, visual arts, theater, and novels of the Chicano movement from 1960 to the present as articulations of personal and collective values. Chapter 3 grounds the theater of El Teatro Campesino in the labor and immigrant organizing of the period, while Chapter 4 situates Sandra Cisneros’s novel  Caramelo  in the struggles of Chicana feminists to be heard in the traditional and nationalist elements of the Chicano movement. Ontiveros provides a powerful and illuminating historical context for the literary and political texts of the movement.

Journal article

Alvarez, Nadia, and Jack Mearns. “The Benefits of Writing and Performing in the Spoken Word Poetry Community.”  The Arts in Psychotherapy , vol. 41, no. 3, July 2014, pp. 263-268.  ScienceDirect , .

Spoken word poetry is distinctive because it is written to be performed out loud, in person, by the poet. The ten poets interviewed by these authors describe “a reciprocal relationship between the audience and the poet” created by that practice of performance. To build community, spoken word poets keep metaphor and diction relatively simple and accessible. Richness is instead built through fragmented stories that coalesce into emotional narratives about personal and community concerns.  This understanding of poets’ intentions illuminates their recorded performances.

*Note, citations have a .5 hanging indent and the annotations have a 1 inch indent. 

  • MLA 9th Sample Annotated Bibliography

MLA 8th Annotated Bibliography Examples

Ontiveros, Randy J. In the Spirit of a New People: The Cultural Politics of the Chicano Movement . New York UP, 2014. This book analyzes the journalism, visual arts, theater, and novels of the Chicano movement from 1960 to the present as articulations of personal and collective values. Chapter 3 grounds the theater of El Teatro Campesino in the labor and immigrant organizing of the period, while Chapter 4 situates Sandra Cisneros’s novel Caramelo in the struggles of Chicana feminists to be heard in the traditional and nationalist elements of the Chicano movement. Ontiveros provides a powerful and illuminating historical context for the literary and political texts of the movement.

Alvarez, Nadia, and Jack Mearns. “The Benefits of Writing and Performing in the Spoken Word Poetry Community.” The Arts in Psychotherapy , vol. 41, no. 3, July 2014, pp. 263-268. ScienceDirect , doi:10.1016/j.aip.2014.03.004 . Spoken word poetry is distinctive because it is written to be performed out loud, in person, by the poet. The ten poets interviewed by these authors describe “a reciprocal relationship between the audience and the poet” created by that practice of performance. To build community, spoken word poets keep metaphor and diction relatively simple and accessible. Richness is instead built through fragmented stories that coalesce into emotional narratives about personal and community concerns.  This understanding of poets’ intentions illuminates their recorded performances.

  • MLA 8th Sample Annotated Bibliography

APA 7th Annotated Bibliography Examples

Alvarez, N. & Mearns, J. (2014). The benefits of writing and performing in the spoken word poetry community.  The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41 (3), 263-268. Prior research has shown narrative writing to help with making meaning out of trauma. This article uses grounded theory to analyze semi-structured interviews with ten spoken word poets.  Because spoken word poetry is performed live, it creates personal and community connections that enhance the emotional development and resolution offered by the practice of writing. The findings are limited by the small, nonrandom sample (all the participants were from the same community).

  • APA 7th Sample Annotated Bibliography
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Using and Incorporating Sources

The purpose of an annotated bibliography, why should i write an annotated bibliography.

To learn about your topic:

  • Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project.
  • Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when you have to write annotations for each source, you’re forced to read each source more carefully. You begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information.
  • At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow you to see what has been done or explored by other scholars and where your own research or scholarship can fit into the field.
  • Writing an annotated bibliography can help you gain a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, you’ll start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and where/how you can develop your own point of view.
  • Formulating a thesis helps you to base your research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to state and support a thesis. So a very important part of research is developing a thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current.

To help other researchers:

  • Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published.
  • Annotated bibliographies provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic.
  • Annotating Sources. Authored by : Claire Mischker and Rachel Johnson. Provided by : University of Mississippi. Project : WRIT 250 Committee OER Project. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

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Annotated Bibliography

What is an annotated bibliography.

An annotated bibliography provides an overview or a brief account of the available research on a given topic. It is a list of research sources that takes the form of a citation for each source, followed by an annotation - a short paragraph sumarising and evaluating the source. An annotated bibliography may be a stand-alone assignment or a component of a larger assignment. 

Purpose of an annotated bibliography

When set as an assignment, an annotated bibliography allows you to get acquainted with the material available on a particular topic.

Depending on your specific assignment, an annotated bibliography might:

  • review the literature of a particular subject;
  • demonstrate the quality and depth of reading that you have done;
  • exemplify the scope of sources available—such as journals, books, web sites and magazine articles;
  • highlight sources that may be of interest to other readers and researchers;
  • explore and organise sources for further research.

What does an annotated bibliography look like?

Each entry in an annotated biliography has two components: 

  • a bibliographic citation followed by 
  • a short paragraph (an annotation) that includes concise descriptions and evaluations of each source. 

The annotation usually contains a brief summary of content and a short analysis or evaluation. Depending on your assignment you may be asked to summarise, reflect on, critique, evaluate or analyse each source. While an annotation can be as brief as one sentence, a paragraph is more usual.  An example is provided below.

As with a normal reference list or bibliography, an annotated bibliography is usually arranged alphabetically according to the author’s last name.

An annotated bibliography summary should be about 100 - 200 words per citation—check with your lecturer/tutor as this may vary between faculties and assessments. Please also check with your lecturer about the elements each annotation should include.

Steps to writing an annotated bibliography

  • Choose your sources - locate and record citations to sources of research that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic.
  • Review the items that you’ve collected in your search.
  • Write the citation using the correct style.
  • Write the annotation. 

Questions to consider when selecting sources

The sources for your annotated bibliography should be carefully selected. Start by reading abstracts or skimming to help you identify and select relevant sources. Also keep in mind that, while annotated bibliographies are often ‘stand alone’ assignments, they can also be preliminary research about a particular topic or issue, and further research or a longer literature review may follow. Try to choose sources which together will present a comprehensive review of the topic.

Keep the following questions in mind to help clarify your choices

  • What topic/ problem am I investigating?
  • What question(s) am I exploring? (Identify the aim of your literature research). 
  • What kind of material am I looking at and why? Am I looking for journal articles, reports, policies or primary data? 
  • Am I being judicious in my selection of sources? Does each one relate to my research topic and assignment requirements?
  • Have I selected a range of sources? Choose those sources that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic
  • What are the essential or key works about my topic? Am I finding them? Are the sources valuable or often referred to in other sources?

Surveying the sources

Take notes on your selected texts as you read. Pay attention to:

  • the author’s theoretical approach.
  • which parts of the topic are covered.
  • main points or findings on the topic.
  • the author’s position or argument. 

Evaluate and ask questions as you read

Record evaluations in your notes and consider:

  • How, and how effectively, does this source address the topic?
  • Does it cover the topic thoroughly or only one aspect of it?
  • Do the research methods seem appropriate?
  • Does the argument seem reasonable?
  • Where does it stand in relation to other studies? Agree with or contradict?

How should I write the annotations?

  • Each annotation should be concise. Do not write too much—annotations should not extend beyond one paragraph (unless assignment guidelines say otherwise). 
  • The summary should be a brief outline of argument(s) and main ideas. Only mention details that are significant or relevant, and only when necessary. 
  • Any information apparent in the title of thesourcel can be omitted from the annotation.
  • Background materials and references to previous work by the same author usually are not included. As you are addressing one text at a time, there is no need to cross reference or use in-text citations to support your annotation.
  • Find out what referencing style you need to use for the bibliographic citations, and use it consistently.
  • In-text citations would usually only be necessary for quotations or to draw attention to information from specific pages.
  • Unless otherwise stipulated, you should write in full sentences using academic vocabulary.

Contents of an annotated bibliography

An annotation may contain all or part of the following elements depending on the word limit and the content of the sources you are examining.

  • Provide the full bibliographic citation.
  • Indicate the background of the author(s).
  • Indicate the content or scope of the text.
  • Outline the main argument.
  • Indicate the intended audience.
  • Identify the research methods if applicable.
  • Identify any conclusions made by the author/s.
  • Discuss the reliability of the text.
  • Highlight any special features of the text that were unique or helpful e.g. charts, graphs etc.
  • Discuss the relevance or usefulness of the text for your research.
  • Point out in what way the text relates to themes or concepts in your course.
  • State the strengths and limitations of the text.
  • Present your view or reaction to the text.

Sample annotation 

The citation goes first and is followed by the annotation. Make sure that you follow your faculty’s preferred citation style. The summary needs to be concise. Please note the following example is entirely fictitious.

In the sample annotation below, each element is numbered (see Key).

Essay and assignment writing guide

  • Essay writing basics
  • Essay and assignment planning
  • Answering assignment questions
  • Editing checklist
  • Writing a critical review
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Reflective writing
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UNSW's Education Festival 2023 Published:  6 Nov 2023

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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography


Writing your first research paper can be a challenge. Learning how to find and use sources, and then cite them properly, is an endeavor that many new students find overwhelming. Some professors like to add to this stress even more by requiring not just a research paper but an accompanying annotated bibliography. Since most students have never encountered the term annotated bibliography before entering post-secondary education, this added requirement tends to leave students everywhere scratching their heads and wondering why they ever thought pursuing a degree was a good idea.

If you're just starting to acquire research skills, you probably don't even know how to create a bibliography , let alone how to write an annotated bibliography. What the heck is an annotated bibliography, anyway, and why is your professor so intent upon your learning to create one? Haven't you acquired enough skills writing the darn paper? What does this teacher want from you? Where does it end?

The madness! The audacity of this professor! It's enough to make you want to give up.

Do not despair, dear student. For, like many things in the academic world, the term annotated bibliography is much less complicated than it sounds. Here, we present to you a simple guide on how to write an annotated bibliography. We've even included a short rationale to explain your professor's reason for making you undertake this pesky extra task in the first place.

What is an annotation?

An annotation is essentially a short summary of a source's content and argument, as well as an explanation of how that source fits the argument you are making in your paper. Annotations are typically written directly after the reference list entry for a source, and they usually should not exceed 150 words. Short and concise is the goal. Be sure to check your professor's guidelines, as he or she may have different expectations for length.

Annotations should not be confused with abstracts . Although both are short summaries of particular works, an abstract accompanies an article in a journal, providing a brief description of the article's contents. An annotation further provides an evaluation of the book, article, or resource in question.

When should I write my annotations?

The basic sequence for creating an annotated bibliography should go like this:

  • Decide on your thesis .
  • Find sources to support your thesis, altering your thesis if necessary.
  • Keep track of those sources, including what information you are taking from them, so that you can cite them properly within your paper.
  • Write your paper, citations included.
  • Using the information you collected during the research process, create a bibliography with annotated entries.

So, you basically want to gather the information required to write each annotation as you are writing your actual paper. You have to keep track of what you are taking from each source anyway, so this really isn't extra work. The tricky part of how to write an annotated bibliography isn't collecting the proper information—rather, it is stating that information as concisely as possible.

Breaking it down: The anatomy of an annotation

Now that you (hopefully) get the idea, here's an example of an annotated reference. This example has been taken from a paper that argued that purple is the best color because it is a combination of blue and red. Keep in mind that the example citation is written according to APA style; the formatting, particularly of the citation, is differs among the style guides, but the basic information contained in the annotation generally remains the same.

In the following example, the orange text states what the paper is about, the purple explains what makes it a credible source, the green outlines the findings of the paper, and the blue describes how the argument in the paper applies to the author's own paper.

Annotated Bibliography Example

Why do you have to learn how to write an annotated bibliography, anyway?

If you've been working on the same paper for ages, the last thing you want to do is spend more time on that paper. It may seem as if your professor is simply trying to irritate you, but rest assured, there is a reason your instructor wants you to know how to write an annotated bibliography.

The reason is that creating a list that shows exactly how you've used each source demonstrates two things. First, it shows that you read and understood the research you have cited in your work. This basically ensures that you've actually learned how to properly write a research paper , which is a major goal of undergraduate classes. Second, creating an annotated bibliography helps you better develop your own thesis and support. When you think actively about how your argument is being supported, you are more capable of seeing where your reasoning or support may be falling short. That's right—creating an annotated bibliography can actually help you write a better paper!

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does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

does a research paper need a annotated bibliography

1 Annotated Bibliography

Virginia Costello

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to do the following:

  • Understand the rhetorical basis of the annotated bibliography genre
  • Conduct academic research drawing from multiple sources in multiple media
  • Write paragraphs that describe, evaluate, and/or summarize sources
  • Choose discipline-appropriate citation styles and citation managers

I. Introduction

The annotated bibliography comes in various forms and serves a variety of purposes. Thus, authors might include an annotated bibliography at the end of their text to offer further reading. Advanced students might be required to produce an extended annotated bibliography before they begin their dissertation. Professionals, such as those from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs and the U.S. Department of Labor, for example, might create an annotated bibliography to inform other scholars, policy-makers, and the general public :   Addressing Labor Rights in Colombia . Or, more importantly for the purposes of this chapter, students might create an annotated bibliography at the preliminary stage of their research, as it serves as a foundation for a larger project, like a college-level research paper.

Writing an annotated bibliography helps researchers organize their sources and gain perspective on the larger conversation about their topic . It is a list of sources (or a bibliography) divided into two parts: The first part, the citation, contains basic information about the source, such as the author’s name, the title of the work, and the date of publication. The second part contains individual paragraphs that describe, evaluate, or summarize each source.

As you will notice in the examples in this chapter, the number and type of sources (e.g., books, scholarly articles, government websites) required for an annotated bibliography vary, as do the requirements for each paragraph. If your wider goal is to create an annotated bibliography for your dissertation committee, you may need eighty scholarly sources (e.g., peer-reviewed articles, books on theory related to your topic, or recent studies that evaluate data), each followed by an evaluative paragraph. If, however, you are a first-year college student enrolled in an introductory research class, your instructor may require you to find, say, seven specific types of sources: four scholarly articles, two primary sources, and a chapter in a book. Your instructor might ask you to write a simple summary paragraph for each source and then add a sentence about how you plan to use the source in a final research paper.

If you have written a research paper before, then, in all likelihood, you have also created a list of the sources you referenced in the paper. Depending on the style of citation required (e.g., MLA, APA, CMS), that list might have been called Works Cited, R eferences, Endnotes, or, perhaps, Bibliography. Similar to these pages, citations in the annotated bibliography are often listed in alphabetical order according to the author’s last name. Although the order of the information about the source varies depending on which citation style you use, most of the basic information required, such as the author’s name, the title of work, and the date of publication, does not. Unlike those pages that only list sources, in the annotated bibliography, each citation is followed by a paragraph.

Example 1.1: Selection from a student paper in MLA format (8th Edition)

Prison Reform: Annotated Bibliography

Høidal, Are. “Prisoners’ Association as an Alternative to Solitary Confinement—Lessons Learned from a Norwegian High-Security Prison.”  Solitary Confinement. Effects, Practices, and Pathways toward Reform , Eds. Jules Lobel and Peter S. Smith. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2020, pp. 297–309.

In his piece about the effects of solitary confinement, Høidal draws attention to the 17th Section of the Norwegian Penal Code. This section of the code states that all inmates should be allowed to work with others during daytime hours. Norway, the inspiration for many modern-day prison reformations, is globally recognized for taking excellent care of its prisoners, as opposed to other countries, such as the United States. In this chapter, Høidal discusses and evaluates Norway’s idea that prisoners should have access to the community both within and outside the prison system during daytime hours. He mentions that Norway offers educational programs for prisoners because it aligns with what Norway views as the purpose of prisons and Section 17 of the Norwegian Penal Code: to rehabilitate. Inmates are nourished both physically and mentally so that upon their release, they can return as functioning members of society. This nourishment, Høidal concludes, also lessens the likelihood of re-conviction.

Tønseth, Christin, and Ragnhild Bergsland. “Prison Education in Norway – the Importance for Work and Life After Release.” Cogent Education. vol. 6, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1-13,

Tønseth and Bergsland delve into the complexity of Norway’s prison education system. Norwegian prisons have introduced a transformative learning theory, one that argues that providing education can promote change in the learner. After enabling inmates to obtain an education, researchers noticed an increase in self-determination, an increase in self-esteem, and several social benefits. Tønseth and Bergsland show that learning, especially in the prison system, is more than merely obtaining knowledge. A new, mentally stimulating environment is associated with learning in prisons, which promotes self-growth, something that is very important to the people running the Norwegian Prison System. Research on the effects of different methods of rehabilitation on inmates is still being conducted; however, according to the authors, there is already a promising trajectory.

In the example above, the student’s paragraphs include each source’s main points, some context, and an occasional evaluative adjective or sentence. Before you begin your assignment, carefully read or reread the assignment prompt from your instructor .  If your assignment calls for descriptive and evaluative paragraphs, that means that you should discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your sources’ arguments. You might also complete basic background information on the author and then discuss the author’s credibility. Some assignments may ask you to discuss the source’s relevance in the larger conversation of that particular discipline and/or to discuss the types of sources the author references.

If your assignment calls for summary paragraphs, you should identify the main points of each source and write those points in your own words, employing transitions to help create a unified paragraph (rather than a list of ideas). Summary paragraphs do not include your own opinion or quotations from the text. Whether you are writing descriptive, evaluative, or summary paragraphs, the main purpose is to provide enough information about the source so that readers can determine if they want to read the original. After reading and annotating your sources and writing your paragraphs, you will have a clearer understanding of the arguments other scholars are making about your topic. This understanding will help you situate or contextualize your own argument in your research paper. (See section VI. Writing Strategies in this chapter for detailed examples.)

Many students think that research is a linear process: choose a topic, research the topic, write the research paper. But it can be more helpful and productive to think of the process in a much less linear and restrictive way. The sources you include in your annotated bibliography, the first stage of your research, may not be the same as those you include in your final paper. In fact, as you narrow your focus, read more sources and allow your ideas to change, you will find yourself eliminating sources that are too broad, too narrow, or tangential to your focus. Your search for new sources should continue throughout the writing process. In other words, as mentioned in the introduction, and as you will see in this and other chapters of this text, the research process is complicated (and interesting) and, at some stages, nearly cyclical: the research you do informs the research you are going to do and re-situates the research you have completed.

“What we think we need to get started: a perfect map of the future. What we actually need: A general direction.”

Practical Guidelines and Considerations

Once you have a general understanding of the purpose and format of the final product, the annotated bibliography, you should thoughtfully choose your topic within the parameters of your assignment; choosing your topic is the beginning of your research.

Here is a simplified list of steps for developing your annotated bibliography, with names of sections in this chapter that provide more detail.

  • Choose a topic and, if your instructor requires it at this stage, develop a research question. (In this section, below)
  • Briefly consider the purpose and style of the assignment ( II. Rhetorical Considerations )
  • Create keywords and plug them into library databases or other search engines. ( IV. Research Strategies )
  • Choose appropriate sources from the database/search engine results. Read and annotate those sources. ( IV. Research Strategies and V. Reading Strategies )
  • Use your annotations on your sources to write evaluative, descriptive, or summary paragraphs. ( VI. Writing Strategies )
  • Choose a citation manager, identify an appropriate citation style, and alphabetize citations and paragraphs. ( III. The Annotated Bibliography Genre Across Disciplines )

Introductory research classes often offer a theme and require students to narrow their focus by choosing a topic within that theme. If your class offers a theme, you might narrow your focus by thinking about the topic through the lens of your major. Thus, for example, if your class has a theme such as prison reform and your major is architecture, you may wonder what architects consider as they build new prisons, or you might compare prison architecture in different countries, like the U.S. and Norway.

North Carolina State University Libraries offers this video, which might help you choose a topic.

Library Referral: Topic Development and Your Personal Angle

(by Annie R. Armstrong)

It might be tempting to ask someone, “What’s a good research topic?” While discussing possible topics with your classmates is a good idea, in the end, you should be the one providing that answer. Your personal investment in a topic can propel you through the thorniness of the research process. If your course has a set theme (e.g., sustainability, stand-up comedy, censorship, prison reform), consider your personal angle: what passions, interests, or causes excite you, and how might they be related to this theme?

Even if you say “cats,” or “video games,” you’ll be able to make a connection to the course theme that intrigues both you and your reader. There are always larger questions you can ask about these interests. For example, if you love cats: are you more broadly concerned with animal welfare? If your passion is video games: to what degree do you think they help or hinder the social lives of teens? Think about how you can “zoom in” or “zoom out,” to focus on both broad and narrow aspects of your topic.

Discuss your topic with a librarian to unearth new ideas and connections, and watch the video One Perfect Source? for an explanation of how to find sources for a topic.

Developing a Research Question

Some instructors may ask you to develop a research question before you begin your annotated bibliography. Others may instruct you to develop it in the proposal stage (see Chapter 3 ). In either case, at some point in the early stages of research, you will need to write a question that guides your research. It should be one that is focused, complex, and genuinely interests you. Writing the research question will help you narrow your focus and create keywords. The more time and thought you put into creating this question now, the easier it will be to complete your research and write the paper later.

Example 1.2 Here are a few student examples of research questions.

  • In what ways might the U.S. look to the Norwegian prison system as a model for prisoner rehabilitation?
  • To what extent can the U.S. incarceration system be reformed to be more cost-effective while at the same time helping prisoners undergo significant rehabilitation?
  • How has the reintroduction of wolves into the Yellowstone region affected the livelihood of cattle ranchers in the region?

Notice that these questions avoid a simple either/or binary (e.g., either we look to Norway for answers or we don’t). Language such as “in what ways” and “to what extent” open up the possibility of a range of answers.

While the answers to these questions will include factual, verifiable evidence (e.g., the kinds of rehabilitation programs the U.S. offers, the number of prisons in the U.S.), the questions themselves do not for ask for simple, factual answers. A factual question does not make a solid research question because it doesn’t present information upon which reasonable people might disagree, and it is easily answered. (Here is an example of a factual question, not a research question: How much does it cost to maintain the U.S. prison system? The question asks for a number, not a thoughtful argument.)

One way to begin writing the research question is with a timed writing exercise like the one below.

Write or type your topic at the top of a piece of paper or document. Set a timer for exactly six minutes. Once the timer begins, allow yourself to write every question that comes to mind about your topic, even if it might seem somewhat off-topic, mundane or simplistic. In other words, don’t censor yourself, and don’t worry about spelling or typos.   When you think about your topic, what aspect of it makes you curious? You might start with  how  or  why questions. Turn whatever comes into your head into a question. Continue writing for the entire time, even when your mind wanders and gives you a sentence like, “I don’t know what to write.” Turn it into a question: “I don’t know what to write?” Doing so keeps your mind moving and your handwriting. More importantly, it often helps you move on to a new idea.

When the time is up, read and categorize your questions. First, underline the factual questions. You may want to find the answers to those questions, but they are not research questions. Second, strike through the mind-wandering questions. Examine what you have left. Any question strike you? Can you develop a research question by combining the simple questions and adding, “to what extent,” or, “in what ways”? Remember that this is a draft research question and that you may revise it as you find more information about your topic. 

In general, your research question should guide your exploration of your topic rather than lead you to a preconceived answer or a belief you already hold. For example, if your topic is prison reform and you think private prisons are morally or ethically problematic, consider sources that take a variety of positions, not simply ones that point to what you already believe. Leave your mind open to finding sources that explain the complexities of the prison system, including reasons that states have relied on private prisons (such as relieving overcrowding issues). In other words, don’t avoid sources that seem to contradict or complicate your current position. When you read arguments that you find problematic and consider evidence that might not support your original ideas, you develop a wider understanding of your topic. Grappling with arguments that challenge your own ideas expands your ability to understand, address, and perhaps refute points and shows that you understand the larger conversation about your topic.

In short, let the research inform your position.

Note that this doesn’t mean you should suddenly change your position. It does mean that just as you do in a reasonable conversation, you should consider views and values other than your own. Then you reevaluate, modify, and/or fortify your original position.

More Resources 1.1: Research Questions

Here’s a link with more tips about How to Write a Research Question .

II. Rhetorical Considerations: Purpose and Style

Whether you are writing an annotated bibliography for a biology or anthropology class, a grant application, or a section at the end of a book, you will want to consider the purpose and style of your work.  If you are writing your annotated bibliography for a class, identify the parameters of the assignment and consider a few questions:

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • How many and what kind of sources do you need? (e.g., scholarly articles, books, government websites)
  • What citation style will you use? (e.g., AMA, APA, CMS, MLA)
  • What types of paragraphs should you write? (e.g., evaluative, descriptive, summary, or some combination)

In answering the last question, remember that some instructors will ask you to simply summarize each source. Others may want a summary and a sentence about how you will use each source, or a sentence that explains how each source will help you answer your research question. Still other instructors will ask for descriptive or evaluative information about your sources. You can find examples and further discussion of these types of paragraphs in the VI. Writing Strategies section of this chapter.

III. The Annotated Bibliography Genre Across Disciplines

Briefly examine the following annotated bibliographies written by academics and other professionals. These examples will provide you with a greater understanding of how your work in the classroom translates to the work in the profession. The first example, written by Professor Sue C. Patrick and published on the American Historical Association website, centers on primary sources and is part of a larger project: Annotated Bibliography of Primary Sources | AHA .

Primary sources, which will be discussed in greater detail in the IV. Research Strategies section of this chapter, are those from a first-person perspective or a direct piece of evidence (e.g., constitutions, eyewitness accounts, diaries, letters, raw data). After each citation, Patrick provides an explanation of how she used the source as a part of a writing project for her students. If you navigate to the contents page of Patrick’s original project, you will see that this annotated bibliography is one small part of her project. The larger project offers a wide range of information for history instructors: Teaching Difficult Legal or Political Concepts: Using Online Primary Sources in Writing Assignments | AHA .

The second example, Parental Incarceration and Child Wellbeing: An Annotated Bibliography , focuses on quantitative research, which means that it centers around secondary sources. The author, Christopher Wildeman, professor of Policy Analysis and Management (and Sociology) at Cornell University, categorizes and summarizes studies that address the effects of paternal and maternal incarceration on children. In his summary paragraphs, Wildeman includes the data and final results of each study. Notice that he does not evaluate the information. Notice, too, that rather than listing all sources in alphabetical order, as students are generally required to do for their annotated bibliography, this author divides his annotated bibliography into sections, and each of those sections are in alphabetical order.

Example 1.3: Academic and Professional Examples

In order to provide context and to help you make connections between the work you complete in your classes and the work professionals do, examine a few more annotated bibliographies i n this  Box Folder . You will notice these annotated bibliographies include a wide range of citation styles, sources, and summary, description, or evaluation paragraphs.

These examples are meant to show you how this genre looks in other disciplines and professions. Make sure to follow the requirements for your own class, or seek out specific examples from your instructor in order to address the needs of your own assignment. 

Citation Styles

You may have noticed that in the annotated bibliographies linked above, the authors organized their source citations differently. The following video offers an introduction to citation styles.

Academic disciplines use different conventions for the style, placement, and format of their citations. You will find a few examples in the purple box below. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the citation style that professionals in your discipline use. For example, if you are premed, you may want to read the American Medical Association or AMA style guidelines. (Note that in-text citations which appear in the text of a research paper itself—rather than as a list—will be covered in Chapter 4 .)

Example 1.4: Examine the following examples of two sources cited in four different styles. What do you notice about the similarities and difference between these styles? What does your comparison tell you about the priorities of those who developed these styles?

AMA (American Medical Association)

Black B. The character of the self in ancient India : Priests, kings, and women in the early Upanisads. Ithaca: State University of New York Press; 2007.

Costello JF & Fisher SJ. The Placenta – Fast, Loose, and in Control. N Engl J Med . 2021; 385(1):87-89. doi:10.1056/NEJMcibr2106321

APA (American Psychological Association)

Black, B. (2007). The character of the self in ancient India : Priests, kings, and women in the early Upanisads . Ithaca: State University of New York Press. Retrieved from

Costello, J. F., & Fisher, S. J. (2021). The placenta — fast, loose, and in control. The New England Journal of Medicine, 385 (1), 87-89. doi:10.1056/NEJMcibr2106321

CMS (Chicago Manual of Style)

Black, Brian. 2007. The Character of the Self in Ancient India : Priests, Kings, and Women in the Early Upanisads . Ithaca: State University of New York Press.

Costello, Joseph F., and Susan J. Fisher. 2021. “The Placenta — Fast, Loose, and in Control.” The New England Journal of Medicine 385 (1): 87-89. doi:10.1056/NEJMcibr2106321

MLA (Modern Language Association)

Black, Brian. The Character of the Self in Ancient India : Priests, Kings, and Women in the Early Upanisads. State University of New York Press, Ithaca, 2007,

Costello, Joseph F., and Susan J. Fisher. “The Placenta — Fast, Loose, and in Control.” The New England Journal of Medicine , vol. 385, no. 1, 2021, pp. 87-89, doi:10.1056/NEJMcibr2106321.

Behind each style of citation is a logic that is connected to the discipline. Professional groups from each discipline create these styles that reflect the values of that discipline.

AMA , for example, emphasizes collaboration among researchers, and so articles are often discussed with and written by more than one scholar. The titles of the journals are abbreviated, as readers are expected to know those names. Here are general guidelines for AMA General Style.

APA style citation begins with the author’s last name and first initial, followed by the year of publication in parenthesis. APA professionals are social scientists, and thus emphasize the date of publication because it is more important when something is published than, say, where it was published. When readers skim a list of citations in APA style, they can quickly see how the focus of the research has changed over the years. Here are general guidelines for APA General Format .

CMS incorporates two systems. Purdue OWL describes these as “the Notes-Bibliography System (NB), which is used by those working in literature, history, and the arts. The other documentation style, the Author-Date System, is nearly identical in content but slightly different in form and is preferred by those working in the social sciences.” Here are general guidelines for CMS General Format .

MLA is more often used in the humanities; it emphasizes the full name of the author and thus the creativity or individuality of the writer. The date of publication appears toward the end of the citation. Here are general guidelines for MLA Format and Style .

Although we are only addressing styles of citations for the purpose of creating an annotated bibliography, these styles also require a specific document format. So, for example, if you are writing a research paper in APA style, you may use section headings, place page numbers in the upper righthand corner of every page, and title your citations page “References.” MLA style requires a header with your last name, a space and the page number on every page (except the first), and the citation page is called “Works Cited.”

Citation Management Tools

Citation management tools help keep your research organized and create individual citations as well as bibliographies in the proper style for your discipline. Your library may offer programs such as RefWorks or EndNote or provide links to open-source programs such as Zotero . If you want help deciding which tool is best for your project, click here: How to Choose a Citation Manager.

These tools are useful, but you will still want to understand the basic conventions of the citation style that you are using so that you can spot errors. Proofread carefully. Stick to one style of citation and do your best not to confuse it with another style—something that is easy to do if, for example, you are reading articles that use APA style, but you are writing in MLA style. Note also that the styles change with each new handbook edition. So for example, the most recent MLA Handbook (9 th edition) was updated in 2021. Fortunately, Zotero and other citation mangers will offer you an option of not only style, but also edition (e.g., MLA 8 th or 9 th edition).

IV. Research Strategies: Finding, Identifying, and Using Sources

Before you begin your library research, list at least seven keywords or phrases. These are words that describe your topic. Your list might begin with the most basic nouns (e.g., prison, mental health) and then become more personalized and specific (e.g., mass incarceration, schizophrenia). If you have written a research question, identify the keywords in that question. List the nouns and verbs and then find synonyms.

More Resources 1.2: Search Strategies

The following video offers suggestions on how to use keywords in your research question to create more keywords: Savvy Search Strategy

Here’s another short video on searching databases using Boolean logic: How Should I Search in a Database?

Types of Sources

Your instructor might require you to find sources from general categories, like primary or secondary sources. Alternatively, she might outline something more specific, such as peer-reviewed articles, ebooks, interviews, or book reviews. A few categories worth recognizing at the onset of your research include primary vs. secondary sources, popular vs. scholarly sources, and peer-reviewed journals and articles. Whatever your requirements, you should be choosy about your sources; do not simply settle for the first ones you find. Skim or read the sources before you count on them to help you develop your argument. Don’t be afraid to reject a few. Research is a process, and not every search will yield good results. Furthermore, if you simply accept all the sources you find on your first keyword search, you may have problems tying things together later.

Primary sources are those that offer firsthand accounts, like witness statements from an accident or crime, diaries, personal letters, interviews, photographs like the one of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and her son Charles, or flyers like the one that lists lectures Emma Goldman gave in Portland in 1915 (see Figure 1.2 and Figure 1.3 below).

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, with her son Charles Aked Barnett, circa 1917-1919.

A secondary source analyzes a primary source or other secondary sources. The image of the campaign card in Figure 1.4 is a primary source, but when a scholar writes and publishes an analysis of this source and refers to other sources that, say, describe the Republican Party principles as outlined in 1928 and why Wells-Barnett wanted to be a part of the party, then that analysis (the scholar’s work) becomes a secondary source.

Campaign card of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, activist, journalist, teacher, and anti-lynching crusader. Support for her candidacy is requested as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri, June 1928. Credit: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf1-08621, Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

When you are trying to determine if a source is primary or secondary, pay attention to the author’s language. For example, examine Jessica Dillard-Wright’s abstract below .

Screenshot of a scholarly journal abstract

Here’s the text for the entire abstract:

In the middle of the paragraph, she states, “I draw on anarchist, abolitionist, posthuman, Black feminist, new materialist and other big ideas to plant seeds of generative insurrection and creative resistance.” In this sentence, the writer points out how she builds her argument and analysis on the work of others, meaning that it is a secondary source. Another clear indication that this is a secondary source lies in the bibliography. Here’s a selection from the first page of Dillard-Wright’s citations.

Ashley, J. A. (1980). Power in structured misogyny: Implications for the politics of care. Advances in Nursing Science , 2(3), 2–22.

Benjamin, R. (2018). Black afterlives matter: Cultivating kinfulness as reproductive justice. In A. Clarke, &amp; D. Haraway (Eds.), Making kin not population (pp. 41–66). Prickly Paradigm Press.

Benjamin, R. (2020). Black skin, white masks: Racism, vulnerability, and refuting blackpathology. Department of African American Studies.

Braidotti, R. (2020). “We” are in this together, but we are not one and the same. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry , 17(4), 465–469.

Butler, J. (2002). Is kinship always already heterosexual? Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studie s, 13(1), 14–44.

Chinn, P. (2020, May 21). Nursing in the Anthropocene. Advances in Nursing Science Blo g.

Choy, C. (2003). Empire of care: Nursing and migration in Filipino American history . Duke University Press.

Connolly, C. A. (2010). “I am a trained nurse”: The nursing identity of anarchist and radical Emma Goldman. Nursing History Revie w, 18, 84–99.

Davis, A. Y. (2020, October 6). Why arguments against abolition inevitably fail. Medium .

Although the difference between primary and secondary sources may seem obvious now, consider this complication. On one hand, a recent article from a newspaper may be considered a secondary source, as the reporter might have talked to witnesses or other people involved. On the other hand, a newspaper article from 1920 might be considered a primary source because it provides a historical perspective.

Popular vs. Scholarly Sources

A scholarly source employs technical or discipline-specific language, is written for a narrow audience (specific scholars), and always includes a bibliography or list of sources. A popular source is one that employs more accessible language, appeals to a wider audience, and often includes photos or images.

Most instructors will require you to use library databases to find sources, but may allow you to use search engines such as Google or Google Scholar later in the course, when you have a clearer understanding of the wider conversation around your topic and how you might use these sources. Academics (and the greater educated world) consider sources found in the library databases or through the library search box as reliable and credible. They also recognize that rather than a simple line between reliable and unreliable sources, there is a spectrum, which simply means that some sources are more credible than others.

For example, some academics consider peer-reviewed journals such as The Prison Journal more credible than popular sources such as Psychology Today , both of which are available through many academic library databases. Articles published in The Prison Journal undergo a rigorous peer review process, which means that a variety of experts in the field read and comment on a draft of the article. Often, the writer has to revise and resubmit the draft before the editor approves it and the final article is published. Articles published in Psychology Today are written by authorities on a particular subject but do not go through a peer-review process. Generally, editors are the only ones that read submissions to determine if they are worthy of publication. Although the process of publication is different, both types of articles offer valuable and useful research.

In general, we accept that sources found through library search engines and databases are reliable; they are worthy of thoughtful consideration and analysis. There are many sources found outside the library that are reliable, too, but determining the reliability of the source becomes more of a challenge. Here are questions to consider when evaluating the reliability of a source:

  • What’s the writer’s purpose in creating the source? Is the source meant to entertain, provide news, or both? Is it meant to educate, persuade, scandalize, or sell a product or service, or does it have a different purpose altogether?
  • Is the source built on credible sources? (Check the credibility of the sources in the bibliography.)
  • Is the author an authority on the subject? Does the author refer to other authorities? (Check the author’s background and experience.)
  • Does the source provide verifiable evidence and facts to support claims?

More Resources 1.3: Questions for Analyzing Sources

Library Referral: Searching is Experimental

Think of searching library databases and catalogs as an experiment rather than a linear process. It may get messy and lead you in unexpected directions. The databases can’t interpret natural language, so you’ll need to boil your topic down to a few keywords. See the Choosing Keywords video for a full illustration of this process.

Your first search won’t be your last! Experiment with different keywords and gather more sources than you think you’ll actually need. Once you start reading and learning more about your topic, you may discover that some of your sources are only tangentially connected to the direction in which you want to take your topic.

The focus of your research changes as you become more knowledgeable about the topic.

Searching a variety of research databases and catalogs will open the door to a broader range of viewpoints from different academic disciplines and publication types (think books, book chapters, scholarly/peer-reviewed journals, newspapers, and popular/mainstream magazines).

Library Databases

Once you know what kind of sources you need for your assignment (e.g., primary or secondary, popular or scholarly) and you have a list of keywords, examine library databases. Libraries buy subscriptions to two basic types of databases: general or multidisciplinary (e.g., JSTOR, Academic Search Complete, ProQuest) and subject-specific (e.g., Psycinfo, AccessAnesthesiology, Embase, Excerpta Medica). Unlike Web-based searches, library databases offer quality controls. Articles have been reviewed by professional editors and fact-checked before they are published in academic journals. Database companies, like JSTOR, buy subscriptions to these journals, organize, and categorize them.

For introductory research courses, you will want to start with the general and multidisciplinary databases. Plug your keywords into the database search box. Skim the titles for appropriate sources. As you progress and find more information on your topic, you may want to use the subject-specific databases.

As you are researching your topic, pay attention to the types of sources you find. If your source is from the New York Times, for example, is it a news story or an opinion piece? If it’s a video, is it a documentary or a TED Talk? What difference does the type of source make? The answer to this question depends, in part, on how you will use the source. Will you use a source as background information or evidence to support your argument? Will you use the source to present a claim that opposes your argument and then refute that claim by providing factual or authoritative evidence? You may not know how you will use a source when you first find it, but it’s worth thinking about the different ways a source can be put to use. See Chapter 4 for more about how to use sources once you start writing your research essay.

Finding More Keywords

After you type the keywords in library search boxes or databases, you may need to narrow or expand your search, depending on your results. If your topic is prison reform, for example, you will need to choose an angle. Start by asking questions about your topic, and think about choosing a lens through which to view your topic. Even if it seems obvious, start with the basics: What do you know about your topic? Can you use something you already know about or have an intense interest in as a lens through which to view your topic?

For example, if architecture students are interested in this topic, they might ask questions about what the architecture of U.S. prisons tells us about how we understand punishment and rehabilitation. When you find a scholarly article worth reading, examine the list of words under the headings Keywords, Subject, or Author’s Key Terms and look for more words to add to your own list.

Abstract page of a scholarly journal article highlighting the Keywords section, including the keyword phrase "carceral geography"

In the example above, the list of keywords appears below the abstract: “ethical prison architecture, prison design, carceral geography, environmental psychology, prisoner wellbeing, prison climate.” While architecture students may have searched databases with keywords like “prison architecture” or “prison design,” they may not have thought of “carceral geography,” a phrase worthy of another database search.

Beyond the Library: Sources on the Web

Thus far, we focused on finding sources through academic or public library databases. For a wider search that includes reliable sources which may not be available through the library, such as an organization’s website (e.g., The Marshall Project which collects articles published about the prison system), use common search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, or Bing. These search engines use algorithms based on popularity, previous searches, commercial investment, location, and relevance, rather than on keywords and combinations of keywords, like library databases. This means that you will want to approach these sources with a healthy dose of skepticism: Double-check facts (see links to fact checkers in the last part of this section) and ask questions about the people, organizations, corporations, or businesses behind the sources you find using common search engines.

Generally, .com or commercial sites do not consistently offer information suitable in length, breadth, or reliability to be referenced in a research paper. The major exception to this rule is reliable newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The  Guardian . Reliable news outlets may report on a groundbreaking discovery from NASA and will explain that discovery in terms a non-expert will understand, but they will also provide a link to the study so that an expert (or a researcher like you) can examine the original.

If you want to save yourself the frustration of sifting through many .com sites, try searching domains that end in .edu. In the Google search box, type Site:edu and then add a keyword or phrase, like “prison reform.” Thus, you would write, Site:edu prison reform . You can also use this formula for sites ending in .gov or .org. These three domains tend to offer more credible information than .com, but, again, you should critically analyze the websites rather than simply accepting the information as accurate. Evaluate the source by asking questions like those listed in the previous section.

If you want to go in a different direction, search for websites that professionals in your discipline use and search the bibliographies posted there. For example, professionals in the life sciences use bioRxiv , a free online archive and distribution service for unpublished manuscripts. It’s a place where professionals deposit their papers for comments before they submit them to journals for publication.

Social Media

While you would not want to use information on social media to support an argument you are making in an academic research paper, the effect and use of these outlets might be worthy of note. Thus, for example, you might ask about the patterns of use of social media like Twitter. Tweets offer fragments of ideas, and they are not particularly useful when you are writing a research paper, but if social scientists collect these primary sources, they might notice patterns that tell us something about politics and culture. More generally, they might study tweets and their influence on how and what people think. The Pew Research Center ( , a nonpartisan, non-advocacy group, collects and analyzes tweets.

Checking for Accuracy: Here’s the Principle

That Beyoncé tweeted something in particular is easily certifiable by finding the tweet in which she made the claim. However, consider a separate question: Is what Beyoncé said true? This is the more difficult question to answer, as you need to find verifiable evidence. You will need to look for evidence that is an authoritative confirmation of a claim. Authoritative confirmation means that someone, or better yet several someones, in authority on the subject support the claim and perhaps offer data, statistics, or facts.

Beyoncé may have millions of followers, and thus what she tweets influences what her followers think, but does that make what she says accurate or factual? No, of course not. She may be an expert in making music, but she is not an expert in all things. She clearly influences people, and that is worthy of note if your research question asks something about how social media influencers gain popularity.

If you come across information that you are not sure is accurate, whether you found it in a scholarly source or on a website, use a reliable fact checker, like the ones listed below, and find out what the experts say.

  • Center for Disease Control
  • Fact Checker – The Washington Post
  • Reuters Fact Check

More Resources 1.4: Assessing Sources

V. Reading Strategies: Skim, Annotate, Summarize, and Evaluate

When you find a source that looks interesting, skim, don’t read it (yet). Because we are wary of the message it sends to students, some instructors hesitate to admit that skimming is a valid reading and research tool. Skimming allows you to search through many resources in a short amount of time and is a generally acceptable method of determining whether a source is appropriate for your project.

When you are searching for sources on the library databases, skim article abstracts, as they offer a short summary of the argument in the paper. Also skim introductions, headings, conclusions, and citation pages. Skimming is not, of course, a substitute for thoughtfully reading your sources before you begin writing your final paper. Here’s a helpful video on how to read a scholarly article:

More Resources 1.5: Reading Scholarly Articles

Notice that the scholars interviewed in “How to Read a Scholarly Article” all start by skimming the abstract and then, if the source seems appealing and appropriate, they read the abstract but also still skim (or skip altogether) other sections of the article.

Some instructors will expect you to have read and annotated all of your sources before you draft your annotated bibliography assignment. Annotating, in this context, means marking up the text by underlining or paraphrasing important points, commenting on claims the author makes, or asking questions of the text. The word “annotated” that modifies the word “bibliography” refers to the paragraphs that are written based on the comments or annotations you made on each source.

Examine the annotations below. You may want to use the standard pen-and-paper method and write on the text itself (Figure 1.7), or you may want to use programs or apps such as Adobe, Diigo, or Notability to annotate a text electronically (Figure 1.8). ​​

A sample annotated text. A few written paragraphs are marked up by a reader who underlines key words and phrases, then writes observations and questions about the text in the margins, such as "How do governments rest on violence?" and "So is poverty the greatest evil?"

Annotating Video and Visual Sources

Traditionally, students annotate documentaries by simply taking notes with pen and paper. They keep track of important points and the times when those points occur. So, for example, in the video   Anatomy of a Scholarly Article | NC State University Libraries mentioned in the previous section, you might pause the video and note the time that the important point occurs. For example, at 1:32 (one minute and thirty-two seconds from the beginning of the video), the speaker defines an abstract of article, so your notes might look like this:

1:32: An abstract is a summary of the article, usually under 150 words

More recent and sophisticated ways of annotating videos include downloading software programs that allow you to take notes directly on a video—a TED Talk video posted on YouTube, for example. Some programs allow you to use a split screen to watch the video, take notes on a document, and link those notes to specific parts of the video. Others, like YiNote and Transnote, allow you to take time-stamped notes while watching videos.

VI. Writing Strategies: Turning Annotations into an Annotated Bibliography

The annotations you have written on your sources become the fodder for the descriptive, evaluative, or summative paragraphs you need to write after each citation in your annotated bibliography.

Let’s look at a few specific examples and explore the style and tone of each. The descriptive and evaluative (also called “annotated”) are probably the most common, so we will start here. This paragraph might provide some background information on the author, place the author’s argument in the context of the field or discipline, and evaluate the claims and evidence provided in the source.

Example 1.5: Here’s an annotated example with an MLA style citation from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign library guide .

The first sentence in italics and yellow highlight summarize s the argument . The bolded and blue highlighted phrases offer an evaluation , and the underlined and orange highlighted phrase identifies the larger conversation in that discipline.

Gilbert, Pam. “From Voice to Text: Reconsidering Writing and Reading in the English Classroom.” English Education , vol. 23, no. 4, 1991, pp. 195-211.

Gilbert provides some insight into the concept of “voice” in textual interpretation, and points to a need to move away from the search for voice in reading . Her reasons stem from a growing danger of “social and critical illiteracy,” which might be better dealt with through a move toward different textual understandings . Gilbert suggests that theories of language as a social practice can be more useful in teaching. Her ideas seem to disagree with those who believe in a dominant voice in writing , but she presents an interesting perspective .

Example 1.6: Here’s an example of an APA style (7th edition, 2019) citation and a slightly different evaluative paragraph from the Cornell Libraries .

The first sentence offers a little background information on the authors. The bulk of the paragraph is italicized and highlighted yellow to show where it summarizes the authors’ hypothesis and the results of their findings . The last line in this paragraph is underlined and highlighted orange to show where it makes a comparison to another study. This sentence shows that the writer is aware of the larger conversation happening in this discipline. Other paragraphs might focus more on the author’s credentials (degree, employment, experience), author’s reliability, and main points of the source.

Waite, L., Goldschneider, F., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review , 51, 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

Example 1.7: For comparison, here’s the same citation in MLA style, 8th edition.

Waite, Linda J., et al. “Nonfamily Living and the Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults.” American Sociological Review , vol. 51, no. 4, 1986, pp. 541-554.

Example 1.8: Finally, here’s an example of a paragraph that primarily summarizes and then indicates how the student plans to use the source in the final paper.

The first sentence is underlined and highlighted orange to show the conversation and what the author is arguing against . The middle sentences are italicized and highlighted yellow to show where the author summarizes the main points of the chapter , and the final sentence is bolded and highlighted blue to show how the student will use this source in the final paper.

Thorp, Thomas. “Thinking Wolves.” The Philosophy of the Midwest . Eds. Josh Hayes, Gerard Kuperus, and Brian Treanor. Routledge, 2020. pp. 71-89.

Thorp claims that philosophers and scientists, motivated by a desire to increase our care and respect for non-human animals, have begun to question all of the traditional distinctions between humans and other animals. Beginning with a political analysis of the attitudes of western ranchers toward the return of wolves to the Yellowstone region, Thorp argues that our human reasoning is importantly and essentially different from animal cognition, for example, what wolves do when they hunt. He concludes that only humans have the capacity to be truly responsible for our choices, including our choices about how to care for the natural world. This source offers a foundation on which I will build my argument about the cognitive differences between animals and humans.

Example 1.9: More Samples

Whatever your discipline or particular assignment, remember that the best annotated bibliographies build their own credibility by referring to the credibility of their sources.

Key Takeaways

  • Before you dive into the research, identify the parameters of your assignment and examine a model or example.
  • Use the lens of your interests or academic discipline to choose a relevant topic.
  • Create keywords and plug them into library databases or other search engines.
  • Sift through the results and allocate time to read (or skim) and annotate sources.
  • Use your annotations to write paragraphs that evaluate, describe, or summarize each source.
  • Choose a citation manager and identify an appropriate citation style.
  • Alphabetize and/or categorize citations and paragraphs.

Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition . Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition – Purdue OWL® – Purdue University. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2022, from

Dillard-Wright, J. (2021). A radical imagination for nursing: Generative insurrection, creative resistance.   Nursing Philosophy ,  23 , e12371.

Davis, B. W. (2021). Zen pathways : An introduction to the philosophy and practice of Zen Buddhism. Oxford University Press, Incorporated.

“Emma Goldman Lectures in Portland, Oregon, August 1, 1915.” Jewish Women’s Archive.

Fosslien, Liz. (2022). What We Think .

Mueller, S. (2005). “Documentation styles and discipline-specific values,” The Writing Lab Newsletter. Vol. 29, No. 6, pp. 6-9.

Patrick, S. C. “Annotated Bibliography of Primary Sources. Teaching Difficult Legal or Political Concepts: Using Online Primary Sources in Writing Assignments.” American Historical Association.

Wells, I. B.  Campaign card of anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1928. Credit: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf1-08621, Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Writing for Inquiry and Research Copyright © 2023 by Virginia Costello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Research Proposal and Annotated Bibliography

Most research essays involve two particular documents that help guide, manage, and report on the on-going research process. Those two documents are the research proposal and the annotated bibliography , detailed below.

Research Proposal

A research proposal is a brief document—only one typed page—that summarizes the preliminary ideas and current progress regarding your research essay. Your purpose is to formalize your plan for research and present it to your instructor for feedback. Your research proposal should be in complete sentences and paragraphs (and lists of information where appropriate), and should use MLA format.

A research proposal should address all of the following (the order of this information is allowed to change):

  • Briefly summarize the subject and its issues, controversies, or context.
  • Briefly explain of the significance or relevance of researching this subject.
  • State your main research question about the subject.
  • List any sub-questions related to your main research question (consider who, what, when, where, why, and how).
  • State your working thesis.
  • State the kinds of sources you plan to seek, or the types you have found, and/or your plan for finding sources.

Remember that your working thesis is not set in stone. You can and should change your working thesis throughout the research writing process if the information you find does not support your original thesis. Never try to force information into fitting your argument. For example, suppose your working thesis is this: “Mars cannot support life-forms.” Yet a week into researching your subject, suppose you find an article in the New York Times detailing new findings of bacteria under the Martian surface. Instead of trying to force that information into fitting your argument, such as arguing that bacteria are not life forms, you might instead alter your thesis to something like, “Mars cannot support complex life-forms.”

Below is an example of a research proposal from a student, which addresses all of the above:

Jorge Ramirez Prof. Habib Healthcare 101 March 25, 2015

In recent years, subjects related to diet, nutrition, and weight loss have been covered extensively in the mainstream media. Different experts recommend various, often conflicting strategies for maintaining a healthy weight. One highly recommended approach, which forms the basis of many popular diet plans, is to limit the consumption of carbohydrates. Yet experts disagree on the effectiveness and health benefits of this approach. What information should consumers consider when evaluating diet plans?

In my research, I will explore the claims made by proponents of the “low-carb lifestyle.” My primary research question is this: Are low-carbohydrate diets as effective for maintaining a healthy weight as they are portrayed to be?

My secondary research questions are these:

Who can benefit from following a low-carb diet?

What are the supposed advantages of following a low-carb diet?

When did low-carb diets become a hot topic in the media?

Where do average consumers get information about diet and nutrition?

Why has the low-carb approach received so much media attention?

How do low-carb diets work?

My working thesis is this: Low-carb diets are not as effective as the mass media attention suggests. In order to do this research, I will review mass media articles as well as scholarly articles that discuss the relationship between low-carb diets, weight loss, and long-term health. I will use general Google searches as well as Google Scholar, JSTOR, and other databases available through the campus library Website.

Write a research proposal. Make sure to address all of the following in complete sentences:

  • brief summary of the subject and its issues or context
  • brief explanation of the significance of researching this subject
  • your main research question about the subject
  • any sub-questions related to your main research question
  • your working thesis
  • the kinds of sources you plan to seek or have found, or your plan for finding sources

Annotated Bibliography

A bibliography is a list of all your sources and along with their citation information (in MLA format, the Works Cited page is a type of bibliography). An annotation is a note, description, and/or commentary on an item. So an annotated bibliography is a list of sources with notes, descriptions, and/or commentary on each source.

When engaging in a research writing project, creating and updating an annotated bibliography is extremely useful. It can function as your hub for collecting sources (so that you don’t lose or forget about them), as your reminder of what the source is about (so that you don’t have to re-read the whole piece), and as your aid in the writing process when selecting which sources are best to include where (so that you don’t have to memorize all of them while drafting and revising). An annotated bibliography can also help you avoid accidental plagiarism, which sometimes happens when students forget the sources of ideas or sentences they use in their essays.

Annotated bibliographies are thus a common assignment in courses that use research writing, even in alternate forms, such as the common high-school assignment of “note cards” (which are essentially annotated bibliographies on separate cards).

Whether or not you are assigned to create an annotated bibliography along with your research essay, you are wise to start one as soon as you read your first useful source. And you should keep adding to it and updating it as your research continues.

Take a look at an example entry for an annotated bibliography:

Pollan, Michael. “The New Science of Psychedelics.” The Wall Street Journal , May 3, 2018. Michael Pollan, .

This article is the author’s summary of his book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence . It was first published in a reliable source, then republished on the author’s website. It is about the newly legal studies by major medical research institutions of the beneficial medical effects of psychedelics. Results for treating addiction and depression have been particularly positive. Pollan is a professional writer, not a medical professional. The primary subject in his career has been the modern food system. This article’s purpose is to reveal what’s new and possible with psychedelics, and to encourage further study. It is written in a calm, neutral, rational style, but one that stays vivid and interesting. It seems to be for an educated audience, but a broad one (not specialists).

Here are more details on the parts of an annotated bibliography and how to create them (along with the example pieces from the above entry):

I. Cite the source. Create the full Works Cited entry in MLA format that you would use as the citation in your essay. For online sources, including the full URL here can save a lot of time when returning to the source during drafting, revising, and editing.

II. Start a short paragraph below the citation for the annotation, and address the following:

1. Describe the source and its publication. Also mention its context, such as what it is a part of or is connected to, or how recent or relevant it is.

2. Summarize what the source is about. Include a brief mention of a detail or two that might be useful to your research project.

3. Discuss relevant information about the author, such as credentials, experience, reputation, or other publications.

4. Discuss the source’s purpose, bias, style, and/or intended audience.

5. Adjust the information you discuss in this paragraph as needed for the source, the research project, and/or the annotated bibliography assignment. For instance, you might wish to include a note to yourself about how you plan to use this source in your essay. Or the source might lack a stated author, which requires you to discuss the institution that produced the source instead. Also note that the above information does not have to remain in this order strictly.

To format your entire annotated bibliography with all of your entries, use standard MLA page layout. This means to include the standard first-page identifying information in the upper left (name, professor, course, date), a title (typically the words Annotated Bibliography), and alphabetical order for the entries. One common exception to this format is to use single-spaced entries, and leaving double-spacing between them. Find out from your instructor whether either is spacing style is preferred, or whether both are acceptable.

Create an annotated bibliography entry for an article as assigned by your instructor. Make sure to include all of the following:

Part I: Citation entry

Part II: Annotation paragraph

  •  Describe the source and publication.
  • Summarize the source.
  • Discuss the author.
  • Discuss the purpose, bias, style, and/or audience.
  • Include any other relevant information.

Create an annotated bibliography for five sources that you might use for an upcoming research essay. Make sure use correct format and to include all of the following for each for the five entries:

  • Describe the source and publication.

The Writing Textbook Copyright © 2021 by Josh Woods, editor and contributor, as well as an unnamed author (by request from the original publisher), and other authors named separately is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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