How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a list of references such as articles, books, and documents that relate to research topics. Unlike the citations required at the end of research papers, reports, and essays, an annotated bibliography entails briefly describing these sources required for a certain research topic beyond the usual information. The citations are written in APA format, followed by a brief commentary about the resources such as their significance in the research subject and their credibility.

Significance of an Annotated Bibliography

There are numerous reasons why annotated bibliographies are done. The most apparent one is to validate the research done on a particular topic. Let's say you are researching a health topic regarding the rise in the cost of pharmaceuticals for the aging population. The importance of conducting detailed research on this topic cannot be underrated. However, most of the arguments you would use are those already listed by other researchers. By creating an annotated bibliography for each source used, you would be backing up your arguments and thus, proving that your research is indeed valid. This also makes it easier for those reading your bibliography to easily authenticate the information if and when the need arises.

Another reason why annotated bibliographies are done is that the information they provide for each source is specific to that source. For example, while researching on the topic mentioned above, the researcher would need to use multiple sources for credibility purposes. While the topic of discussion is the same, the content provided in each resource is different. Thus, an annotated bibliography allows the researcher to discuss the content of their resources as per their expertise and to explain their usefulness in answering particular research questions. It is like talking to people you share interests with about a topic they have no clue about. In such a situation, you would let them know what is interesting and what is not, about the topic. Your intention while writing an annotated bibliography should be to provide your readers with detailed information to enable them to understand the resources better, all while being brief.

Benefitsof a Good Annotated Bibliography 

·         Places your research in a continuing tone – gives room for advanced research.

·         Authenticates the research done thereby portraying your competency as a researcher.

·         Makes it easier for readers to evaluate their interest in the particular research area just by reading your work.

·         Verifies that you have read and comprehended your resources.

·         Enables readers to easily decide the usefulness of a resource to their personal research.

·         Boosts your critical thinking skills by helping you to interpret the content of the various resources, their importance in the field of study they belong in, and how they relate to your personal research and concepts.

Elements of an Annotated Bibliography

The following are the elements of an annotated bibliography in the order which they should appear:

1.      The reference in the required format (MLA, APA, CSE/CBE).

2.      Description of the particular resource. It entails the main point or the objective of the resource, usually identified as the thesis of the work used. The importance of this element is to show that you have read and understood the resource and its content.

3.      Critiquing the author and the arguments they make to exemplify their level of credibility.

4.      Commentary on the importance of the resource and its value to the research topic in question as well as your own project.

5.      The author's perspective with regard to the content of their research. As mentioned earlier, authors take different approaches to discuss similar concepts. The author's perspective can include their target audience, the different angles they use to explain the research topic, and their biases – if any.

6.      Comparisons between the particular resource and other related sources, including those listed in the annotated bibliography.

The first four elements are compulsory for all annotated bibliographies. The last two elements may be compulsory or not, depending on the type of annotated bibliography being done.

Types of Annotated Bibliographies

When writing annotated bibliographies, it is important to consider the type of annotation required. While the type is not often given by an instructor, the instructions can guide you in determining which type best fits the given guidelines. The different types of annotations include evaluative and summary annotations or a combination of all. 


This type of annotation summarizes the resource contents and describes the author’s perspective including the objective of their research, their credibility, biases if any, and lack of evidence. Evaluative annotations also describe the benefit of the content to your own research.


 This type of annotation:

·         summarizes the content of respective resources.

·         runs through the arguments of the resource, evidence used and conclusions made.

·         ceases from making any interpretations of the resources, unlike the evaluative annotations.

·         discusses the approaches used by the respective authors such as the theories discussed.

There are two types of summary annotations; indicative and informative. Indicative annotated bibliographies give an overview of the research questions addressed by the various resources. In some scenarios, chapter titles are included (Consulted from here). On the other hand, informative annotations entail summarizing the author’s credibility as well as their arguments.


Combination annotations include both evaluative and summary annotated bibliographies. The combined format is the most commonly used type of annotation, evidenced by the use of descriptive and evaluative elements in most annotated bibliographies.

Writing Style

Annotations can be written in two styles; paragraph and telescopic. A paragraph writing style includes a combination of the elements of an annotated bibliography listed above. Thus, if your instructions require you to write in paragraph form, then including an in-depth evaluation or description (or both) for each work is crucial. On the other hand, a telescopic writing style involves minimalist sentence structures and information while still maintaining clarity. While this style is less in-depth than the paragraph style, it can be more complex to use as minimalism does not guarantee clarity (.

Citation Formats

As mentioned earlier, citation format is important in annotated bibliographies. In fact, it is the number one requirement for annotations. Below is a guide to writing annotated bibliographies in accordance with the required citation formats (APA, MLA, CSE/CBE).  

APA (American Psychological Association)

APA is used in various disciplines including – but not limited to – psychology, nursing, social work, and sociology among others. APA citations in annotated bibliographies utilize a hanging indent. The work's title can be either "Annotated Bibliographies" or "References". The citation is then followed by the annotation where you discuss and evaluate the respective resources as per the required elements.


Frisella, E. (2017, May 5). Anthropomorphism. LitCharts. Retrieved from litcharts

The author uses their understanding of anthropomorphism to explain its use in literature. They begin by describing the term, then proceed to list its key elements, pronunciation, and examples. The analysis of this concept enables literature readers to interpret literary works more easily seeing how often it is used in narratives. Readers looking to understand the use of anthropomorphism in stories like The Little Red Riding Hood can benefit a lot from this source. The source is credible based on the author’s step-by-step instruction and the examples they use to break down the concept. Further, the author’s examples are not just made up; the author uses published literary works as evidence and provides links that readers can use to verify their claims of how anthropomorphism is used. This resource will be useful in interpreting the significance of the element of anthropomorphism in different literary works.

MLA (Modern Language Association)

The disciplines that commonly use the MLA citation format include literature, film, cultural studies, theology, and theoretical studies. The title of the work can be “Annotated List of Works Cited” or “Annotated Bibliography”. Like in APA, the MLA citation uses a hanging indent and is followed by a description of the annotation right below it.


Zipes, Jack. "Breaking the Disney spell." From mouse to mermaid: The politics of film, gender, and culture (1995): 343-344. Retrieved from google books

The source summarizes the politics surrounding film, gender, and culture and includes descriptions of various productions, such as Disney, and its influence upon viewers’ perspectives of fairytales. The author delves deep into the films produced by Walt Disney and proceeds to explain how he intended to have his animation designs override the prowess of narrators. Further, the author notes how Disney tries to narrate his life story from struggle to success through his characters. For instance, he adopts Charles Perrault’s Puss in Boots and then alters it such that it focuses more on the young man with a personality that resembles his, as opposed to the initial main character Puss. This source is credible as it provides a reader with the opportunity to easily understand the topic in question. Further, the use of evidence from Charles Perrault and Walt Disney’s works exemplifies his credibility. The source will be useful in discussing the alteration of fairytales that have occurred over time including its extent and its impacts upon viewers’ perspectives about reality.

CSE (Council of Science Editors)/CBE (Council of Biology Editors)

As the names suggest, these citation formats are commonly used when citing zoology, microbiology, plant sciences, and other medical sciences. The title of the work can be “Cited References”, “Literature Cited” and “References”. The references are placed in a hanging indent and the annotation begins in the next line below it. This citation is similar to APA or MLA in every way except for the manner in which the annotations are formatted, that is, the font of the annotations is smaller than the rest of the paper.


Kallas HJ, O’Rourke PP. Drowning and immersion injuries in children. Curr Opin Pediatr. 1993;5(3):295-302.

This paper examines the impacts of the mammalian diving reflex (MDR) and hypothermia on human survival of cold-water immersion accidents like drowning in the case of children. It further looks into the correlation between age and MDR as well as the role played by hypothermia to protect the victims from injury. The study suggests that MDR and hypothermia are both critical during prolonged hypoxia as they facilitate sufficient cerebral protection to an individual that is drowning. The source is useful as it helps readers to understand the physiological functions that happening during near-drowning or drowning accidents. It further shows how the impact of MDR and hypothermia can be an advantage in such situations by preventing morbidity and mortality in victims. The resource provides detailed information about hypothermia and the diving reflex and utilizes other sources to support the proposed arguments exemplifying its credibility. The source will be useful in developing an argument about the protective roles played by MDR and hypothermia to prevent fatal immersion injuries.

Consult unc for further assistance.


Conclusively, it is evident that annotated bibliographies are a list of resources written in an organized manner to show your understanding of various resources required to understand the relevant topic of discussion (See here for further clarification). It is made up of multiple resources that relate to the research topic in one way or another. Each resource is listed separately in the instructed citation format. Below it, an annotation is included in either paragraph or telescope format and can be summative or evaluative. Regardless of the type of annotated bibliography or writing style, the content below should show a solid understanding of the content of the resource, exemplify your competency, the author's credibility and be open to further conversation.