What is an annotated bibliography?

Before conducting a research project many students are first asked to compile an annotated bibliography of the sources that will be used. You may already know that a bibliography is the list of the works cited in your research paper that had been consulted to support the paper’s assertions and ideas. Most students use either MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychology Association) style to format both the bibliography and all the other pages in the paper. “Annotated” means that each source is evaluated and described in terms of the item’s usefulness to your research. By creating an annotated bibliography, you have a chance to see what issues and finer details are being argued on your topic and to fully develop a perspective that will set the tone of your own writing. 

Step 1: Compile sources

Where to start? Of course the first thing you need to do is compile your sources by searching the library’s catalog for books and databases for journal articles. You will find that a book’s catalog record and the journal article’s citation and abstract will be helpful to get an overall sense of what is discussed and are also indispensable when writing the bibliography entries. Also take a few notes on your first impressions of the sources as you search.

Step 2: Write a citation list (the bibliography)

Once you have all of your sources accumulated, type up all of your citations in the format specified by your instructor. Once the grunt work is over with, give yourself plenty of time to peruse each item. After reading, you may need some inspiration to try and write the annotations. Start with a brief summarization. Think about the topics being discussed and ask yourself, What is the author’s main point?

Step 3: Analyze each source

Next, the annotations require critical assessment. The goal here is to tell why each item is a relevant, accurate, and high-quality source. Think about how it is going to fit your thesis and why your final research paper will depend on its inclusion. Is it very similar to other sources? Is the author someone who is well-known authority or who has some sort of bias? Is s/he trying to reach a specific audience? Does the author draw conclusions? Are you able to draw conclusions based on this source?

Think about what makes you feel this source is worthy of your attention. This sort of reflection will give you some ideas about how it will help (or disprove) your argument. If it has changed the way you think about your topic, indicate which facts or insights were eye-openers for you.

Step 4: Ordering your annotated bibliography

Once you have finished all of your citations (the bibliography part) and evaluations (the annotated part), you may find that you want to put them in a more meaningful order than just an alphabetical listing. Of course consult your instructor’s guidelines before formatting, but if possible you will want to place items into groups that relate to each other, either by their similarities or their differences or some other distinction. Give a few quick sentences as to why each are grouped together under your headings so that reader understands what the focus of each section is.

Step 5: Write an introduction and a conclusion

Once you have your citations grouped into sections, the last thing to do is write an introduction and a conclusion. You will have more to say now that you are familiar with the material than if you wrote your introduction first. Indicate what purpose you are accomplishing in the introduction by putting forth the question, problem or concept of your thesis. In your conclusion explain how your sources collectively further understanding of that issue put forth in the introduction. Also indicate in the conclusion how your point of view fits in with these other ideas.


Hayes, Derek. Historical Atlas of the United States: With Original Maps. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. Print.


Hayes, D. (2007). Historical atlas of the United States: With original maps. Berkeley: University of California Press.

When discussing the history of the United States it would be remiss to not consider the geographical changes that our country has experienced. This excellent volume has images from archives from all over the world - most pages have more than one - accompanied by Hayes’s extensive essays. Reflecting the true nature of the book, the table of contents directs the reader to different events and eras in American history and is structured chronologically, not by region as most atlases are. The reader learns not only from the map’s information but also about what the world was like when cartographer who designed it had lived. Flipping through it, the reader can see the changes in cartography’s technology as well as the development of our country.