An annotated bibliography is a way of summarising and reviewing what has been written on a specific topic in a select number of sources.
What is it?
What is an annotated bibliography?
An annotated bibliography consists of an alphabetical list of sources (bibliography), each accompanied by a brief paragraph with descriptive and critical comments (annotation).
Each entry in an annotated bibliography looks something like this.
At an undergraduate level, you may only be required to annotate 3 to 10 sources as part of a stand-alone assignment. Postgraduate students are usually expected to cover a greater number of sources, as their annotated bibliography will contribute to their research paper.
You may be asked by your lecturer or supervisor to write an annotated bibliography in order to:
- refine your thinking on a particular topic
- demonstrate your understanding of key writings on that topic
- demonstrate the quality and depth of your research
- and to further develop your analytical skills.
Even if you have not been asked to create an annotated bibliography, it can be a really useful first step in preparing for and writing any assignment, because it allows you to focus your notes on brief critical summaries of key sources.
The sources selected for an annotated bibliography might include books, book chapters, journal articles or other appropriate material on the topic you are researching. The selected sources usually include key researchers in the field of study.
It is important to remember that an annotated bibliography is a list of sources with comments and it does not follow the usual introduction/body/conclusion format. As each annotation is very brief, the language used must be very concise and summarise the overall aim of the source in an introductory sentence or two. As each annotation is focused only on a single source, no in-text citations are included.
You should always consult instructions provided by your lecturer or supervisor, but in general the following elements can be included within each annotation (and remember that each annotation is usually only one paragraph):
- aims and methods
- key findings
- reflection on how this work connects to your research or current assignment.
Find appropriate sources
If you are required to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of a particular topic, you need to find out: Who the key authors are on this topic? What are the most commonly cited sources?
The first step is to review your unit readings or other readings recommended by your lecturer or supervisor.
Next search the library database to find reliable academic sources:
- Get to know your Library
- Ensure your sources are reliable
- Use the Resources guide to access databases and locate sources in your area of study.
Before you take notes, create a full bibliographic entry for each source in the appropriate referencing style. For example, a journal article in the Harvard referencing style would include: Author, Year, Title of article, Title of journal, Volume and number of journal, the page numbers of the article, and possibly a URL or DOI in this format:
Denmark, D, Ward, I & Bean, C 2012, 'Gender and leader effects in the 2010 Australian election', Australian Journal of Political Science, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 563–78, doi:10.1080/10361146.2012.731485
Start taking limited notes on your source. Remember that you are expected to both summarise and critically analyse (or evaluate) each source in your annotated bibliography, but that there is very limited space in a single paragraph, so you won’t have time to include many details. Consider including some of these elements when note taking:
- What are aims of this research? (description)
- What methods did they use in their research? (description)
- What were their key findings or conclusions? (description)
- Are there any limitations to this research? (critical analysis)
- How significant are their conclusions/findings? (critical analysis)
- How does this relate to your own research? (critical reflection)
Write your annotations
Use your notes to write your annotations for each source. Remember that:
- An annotation is very brief – usually a single paragraph. Stick to any word limit you have been set.
- The annotation is written in full sentences (not dot points) and generally uses present tense verbs.
- Refer to the author or the source itself: e.g. ‘The researchers outline…’ , ‘The article aims to…’
- Use a writing style that is formal, objective and tentative.
- No in-text citations are included as you are already providing the source details, and you do not discuss any other sources in your annotation.
Here are some questions to consider when writing you annotation, although keep in mind that you may not address all of these questions in a single annotation, and what you include will vary depending on your area of study and the requirements of your assessment task.
- What is the problem the researchers want to address? Did they address it?
- Is this original research and how significantly does it contribute to this field of study?
- How did they investigate the problem?
e.g. How did they collect information?
(Qualitative) Surveys, interviews
(Quantitative) Experiments, clinical trials, data
- What are their main conclusions or findings?
- What was the most interesting/important/useful finding from their research
- What recommendations do they give for future research?
- Were all the problems/issues identified in the introduction addressed?
- What were the limitations of their research?
e.g. Did they survey enough people? Did they get an adequate response?
Did they consider different cohorts of respondents?
- Did they use a logical method to gather data?
- Consider how useful will this source be in your own research or current assignment. How does it relate to themes in your work?
- How does it relate to your previous learning, previous topics in the course, or current practice/research more broadly?
Compile your annotated bibliography
- First check any instructions around formatting and structure provided in your unit site or by your supervisor.
- Each entry is composed the full reference of the source followed by the annotation.
- Ensure that you have followed the required referencing style.
- Order your annotations by the family name of the first author as listed in the reference.
- Don't forget to to proofread your final work.