Help Guides » Annotated Bibliographies

Annotated Bibliographies


  • An Annotated Bibliography (AB) is a way for students to show they can find, select, read, summarize, compare, cite, and critique scholarly sources.
  • It may stand alone, or come before a larger assignment like a paper or project in a course. 
  • Check your assignment description for citation style, annotation requirements, and source requirements.
  • Try to choose a combination of scholarly sources which together provide a mixture of back information, research evidence, arguments, and methods for studying the topic.

Why an Annotated Bibliography?

  • Proves students can read and understand scholarly sources and create citations.
  • (Before a paper) Provides a way for students to decide what sources to use for a topic.
  • (Before a research project) Provides information about the kind of scholarship or research available on a topic.
  • Identifies gaps or weaknesses, trends, or popular research methods for a topic.

What is an Annotated Bibliography? (2 min)

Play Video

What Types of Sources Should I Use?

Your instructor will likely specify how many, how old (5 years?), and what types of sources they require or allow for your assignment.

  • Usually scholarly books or journal articles

  • Sometimes videos, websites, or government sources

  • Credible, meaning they have a known author or creator, or are from a reputable organization or government office.
  • Graduate students: aim for  scholarly primary and secondary sources like edited book chapters, literature reviews and research studies (no textbooks or encyclopedias).

Where do I find Sources?

There's so many options. How do I choose?

More than likely, you’ll have plenty of choices for your sources. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are probably 100s of articles and book chapters on your topic, so how do you choose?

Do you need to narrow your topic? 

Your topic might be too big for the number of sources you need, depending on what’s available. Our Choosing Topics Guide has tips for narrowing your topic.

Consider the type/s of information each source provides:

  • Background information (the history of your topic)
  • Evidence (like research studies or literature reviews)
  • Arguments & Conclusions (what do most scholars think? Does anyone disagree?)
  • Methods ( best ways to study your topic)

For the best ABs, try to cover each of these types with at least one source. For example, it will be easier to evaluate your research study if you understand the history of the topic and what methods are used to study your topic.

Organizing Your Sources

Ways to keep your sources and notes organized:

  • Print out paper copies and keep them in a file folder
  • Download articles and scanned items into a folder on your computer
  • Upload digital copies to a folder in a cloud-based or Internet-based tool like Evernote, Google Drive, or One Drive in Outlook

However you choose to organize your resources, be sure to keep any information needed for citations. For example, if you use a book chapter be sure to keep track of the book information as well.

Tip: Use a uniform format for naming article files (for example): Smith and Jones 2017

Citation Managers

Citation managers are computer software help you keep track of sources and (bonus!) create citations.

How do I make citations?

Check out our Citation Resources Guide for help with APA, MLA, and Chicago style citations and citations tools you can use.

What should I Include in Each Annotation?

  • Aim for 100-200 words
  • Keep your language and writing style formal/academic.
  • Read your assignment carefully for specific requirements from your instructor.
  • Most assignments require a combination of summary and critique or evaluation.
    • For the summary

      • State the facts without opinions or commentary
      • Include the thesis/hypothesis, main arguments and evidence presented, and the conclusions provided
      • Include the methods used (if a research study)
      • list the author’s credentials or expertise
    • For the critique, answer these questions

      • How effective is the argument or evidence provided?
      • (For research studies) Are the  methods reliable and valid?
      • Do you agree with the author’s conclusions?
      • How does this item compare to your other sources, or trends in the field?
      • Will you use this article in your paper or project (if applicable)?      

Getting Help at the Library

Librarians can help students during any part of the process:

  • Planning or searching for sources
  • deciding what type of source an item is (document? website? report?)
  • setting up and using Zotero

Contact Librarians via Ask a Librarian, phone, at the circulation desk, or via live chat.

Have a big project? Request a research consultation via the email form: Ask a Librarian

Other Helpful Library Guides