Writing Annotated Bibliographies

> See also Citation Guides

An annotated bibliography is an organized list of sources, each of which is followed by a brief note or "annotation." These annotations do one or more of the following:

  • Describe the content and focus of the work at hand (usually a book or article);
  • Suggest its usefulness to your research or writing;
  • Evaluate its sources, method, conclusions, and reliability;
  • Record your reactions to the book or article.

How do I format (style) the bibliographical citations? Check with your instructor to determine which citation style is required for your class: APA, APA for Business, MLA, or Turabian (also called "Chicago"). Then, remember that the bibliography is an organized list of sources. The annotation may immediately follow the bilbiographic information on the same line, or it may begin on a new line, two lines below the publication information. Since style manuals differ, check with your instructor about which one to use concerning form, spacing, and consistency. What goes into the content of the annotations? Here are some examples of the four most common forms of annotations:

  • Indicative: This form of annotation defines the scope of the source, lists the significant topics included, and tells what the sources is about. This type is different from the informative in that the informative entry gives actual information about its source. In the indicative entry there is no attempt to give actual data such as hypotheses, proofs, etc. Generally, only topics or chapter titles are included.

    Griffin, C. Williams, ed. (1982). Teaching writing in all disciplines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Ten essays on writing-across-the-curriculum programs, teaching writing in discplines other than English, and teaching techniques for using writing as learning. Essays include Toby Fulwiler, "Writing: An Act of Cognition"; Barbara King, "Using Writing in the Mathematics Class: Theory and Pratice"; Dean Drenk, "Teaching Finance Through Writing"; Elaine P. Mairnon, "Writing Across the Curriculum: Past, Present, and Future". (Source: Bizzell and Herzberg, 1991, p. 47)

  • Informative: Simply put, this form of annotation is a summary of the work. Begin writing it by re-stating the thesis; the develop it by condensing the argument or hypothesis, list the proofs, and state the conclusion.

    Voeltz, L.M. (1980). Children's attitudes toward handicapped peers. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 84, 455-464.
    As services for severely handicapped children become increasingly available within neighborhood public schools, children's attitudes toward handicapped peers in integrated settings warrant attention. Factor analysis of attitude survey responses of 2,392 children revealed four factors underlying attitudes toward handicapped peers: social-contact willingness, deviance consequation, and two actual contact dimensions. Upper elementary-age children, girls, and children in schools with most contact with severely handicapped peers expressed the most accepting attitudes. Results of this study suggest the modifiability of children's attitudes and the need to develop interventions to facilitate social acceptance of individual differences in integrated school settings. (Source: Sternlicht and Windholz, 1984, p. 79)

  • Evaluative: This form assess the work's strengths and weaknesses. Why is the work interesting or helpful --or not? List what kind or and how much information is given --in short, evaluate the work's usefulness.

    Gurko, Leo. (1968). Ernest Hemingway and the pursuit ofheroism. New York: Crowell.
    This book is part of a series called "Twentieth Century American Writers": a brief introduction to the man and his work. After fifty pages of straight biography, Gurko discussed Hemingway's writing, novel by novel. There's an index and a short bibliography, but no notes. The biographical part is clear and easy to read, but it sounds too much like a summary. (Source: Spatt, 1991, p. 322) Hingley, Ronald. (1950). Chekhov: A biographical and critical study. London: George Allen & Unwin. A very good biography. A unique feature of this book is the appendix, which has a chronological listing of all English translations of Chekhov's short stories. (Source: Spatt, 1991, p. 411)

  • Combination: Most annotated bibliographies are of this type. They contain one or two sentences summarizing or describing content and one or two sentences providing an evaluation.

    Morris, Joyce M. (1959). Reading in the primary school: An investigation into standards of reading and their association with primary school characteristics. London: Newnes, for National Foundation for Educational Research.
    Report of a large-scale investigation into English children's reading standards, and their relation to conditions such as size of classes, types of organisation and methods of teaching. Based on enquiries in sixty schools in Kent and covering 8,000 children learning to read English as their mother tongue. Notable for thoroughness of research techniques. (Source: Center for Information, 1968, p. 146)
Which writing style should I use in the annotations? The most important thing: annotations must be brief. Only directly significant details can be mentioned. Information apparent in the title can be omitted. Background materials and references to previous work by the same author usually are not included. Here are the three most common styles of annotations:

  • Telegraphic: Write the information quickly and concisely. Be clear, but grammatically complete sentences are unnecessary.

    Vowles, Richard B. (1962). Psychology and drama: A selected checklist. Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, 3,(1), 35-48.
    Divided by individual authors. Reviews the research between 1920 and 1961. (Source: Bell and Gallup, 1971, p. 68)

  • Complete sentences: The sentences must be grammatically complete, but their length can vary. Subjects and conjunctions must be present, but the tone must be terse. Avoid long and complex sentences.

    Kinter, W. R., and R L. Pfaltzgraff. (1972). Assessing the Moscow SALT agreements. Orbis, 16, 34l-360.
    The authors hold the conservative view that SALT can not halt the slipping nuclear advantage of the United States. They conclude that the United States needs a national reassessment of defense policy. They further conclude that the only utility of SALT is in developing a dialogue with the Soviets. This is a good conservative critique of SALT I. (Source: Strenski and Manfred, 1981, p. 165)

  • Paragraph: This forms requires a full, coherent paragraph. Sometimes the tone can be similar to the form and tone of a bibliographic essay. Obviously, this form requires complete sentences.

    Voeltz, L.M. (1980). Children's attitudes toward handicapped peers. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 84, 455-464.
    As services for severely handicapped children become increasingly available within neighborhood public schools, children's attitudes toward handicapped peers in integrated settings warrant attention. Factor analysis of attitude survey responses of 2,392 children revealed four factors underlying attitudes toward handicapped peers: social- contact willingness, deviance consequation, and two actual contact dimensions. Upper elementary-age children, girls, and children in schools with most contact with severely handicapped peers expressed the most accepting attitudes. Results of this study suggest the modifiability of children's attitudes and the need to develop interventions to facilitate social acceptance of individual differences in integrated school settings. (Source: Sternlicht and Windholz, 1984, p. 79)

How can I get additional information or more help? If you have additional questions, ask your instructor. If your instructor is not available, you can also ask a Reference Librarian (at the Reference Desk on Library Level A). Other questions? Ask a Librarian. See also the sources (below) for the citations in this document.


References for examples used

Bell, Inglis F., and Jennifer Gallup. (1971). A reference guide to English, American, and Canadian literature. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg. (1991). Bedford bibliography for teachers of writing. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press.

Center for Information on Language Teaching and The English Teaching Information Center of the British Council. (1968). A Language-teaching bibliography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spatt, Brenda. (1991). Writing from sources. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Sternlicht, Manny, and George Windholz. (1984). Social behavior of the mentally retarded. New York and London: Garland Press.

Strenski, Ellen, and Madge Manfred. (1981). The research paper workbook. 2nd ed. New York and London: Longman.