Rhetoric and Composition/Annotated Bibliography

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What is an Annotated Bibliography?

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A bibliography is a list of books or resources that one creates and consults when preparing a research paper or project. An annotated bibliography includes both a Works Cited entry (also known as a Bibliography Entry) and a summary or critique of the source. The information given in the annotation will (1) summarize the information source and (2) Explain why this source is included in the bibliography.

Imagine you are writing a paper that is similar in subject to a paper you wrote a few years ago. You want to locate a specific article, but you can't remember which article from that paper is the one you are looking for. You have all the information to locate the article, but now you have to search through ten articles to find the correct one. By including an annotation in your bibliography, you won't have to locate every article again. Your annotation, which is a review, becomes a guide to help you locate the specific article or book you used before.

Also, you might be reading a paper and notice a quote that interests you, or that would help you in your own research. If the author of that paper has attached an Annotated Bibliography, you would be able to read information about the source, and to find out how this source could be of use to you in your own work.

What is Generally Included in the Annotation?

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Start your bibliography entry just like a normal works cited entry. At the end of the normal citation include:

  • Between 2 to 4 sentences that summarize the sources main idea.
  • Between 1 or 2 sentences that relate the article to your paper either indicating how that information is useful to your research or how the information will be used.

The information within your annotation may include:

  • A brief description of content.
  • The main purpose of the source.
  • The intended audience: Who the information seems to be targeting.
  • The relevance of the information provided to your paper's subject matter.
  • If the source includes anything special (Diagrams, Charts, Quotes, Good Pictures).
  • A warning. You may want to mention if the source you are looking at is weakly written, biased to a point of view, or if it is lacking in any way.

General Formatting of an Annotated Bibliography

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You may have a professor ask for an Annotated Bibliography paper. The rules on an Annotated Bibliography layout are not set in stone. So make sure to ask your professor if they have any specific preferences or refer to your academic disciplines rules pertaining to citation of research. For instance: You may be asked to include an introduction explaining your research. Also, you may begin your first annotation on a new page. This again is a teacher preference or even more broadly a preference of your academic discipline.

If you follow the layout below, you will be on your way. But make sure to ask your teacher or refer to your academic disciplines rules for citation prior to turning in your annotated bibliography.

Your Name
Instructors Name
Class Title/Section
Calendar Date

Title of Your Annotated Bibliography (This should be centered on the page)

Introduction (If required)

Beginning of Your First Bibliographic Entry

  • entries should be alphabetized by the first word in the entry
  • each citation should be completed in accordance to your academic discipline's rule for citation

Annotation Styles

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There are several styles of annotation, with two major styles being: MLA style and APA style; your professor may require you to use one of them or another one specific to your field of study. MLA stands for the Modern Language Association,and APA stands for the American Psychological Association. Both are used to emphasize different information. For instance, in the APA, psychology is the major interest so they emphasize dates since recent research tends to make older research obsolete. In contrast, MLA emphasizes page numbers because specific articles use the exact wordings of texts, which articles in psychology journals rarely do. No matter what style your teacher requires, be sure to follow the guidelines for documenting your research.

In terms of determining which annotation style to use in creating your annotated bibliography, you should refer to your instructor or even more broadly to your discipline of academic study. Different aspects of academia have different ways of citing sources for research, and it is important that you are aware of which form of citation your discipline uses prior to completing your annotated bibliography.


Besides providing a correct citation for the article intended for use in your research, each entry for an annotated bibliography, completed in MLA format, can contain up to three paragraphs, that each serve a specific purpose. The first paragraph works to summarize the material in the article being annotated. While the second paragraph will attempt to provide an evaluation of the annotated text. Sometimes the first and second paragraph discussed here can be combined into one paragraph, depending upon the conciseness of the annotation. The final paragraph in an annotation in MLA format describes how the article being annotated works specifically with your intended area of research.

This brief description only provides an example of how to set up a MLA annotated bibliography entry; it should be noted that the overall purpose of an annotation entry is to provide a concise overview of the article be annotated and how it relates to you specified area of research interest.


When creating an annotated entry for an annotated bibliography formatted in APA, each entry should contain two paragraphs. The first paragraph, much like an entry in MLA format, should assess and summarize the article intended for research. While the second paragraph should work to evaluate the strengths of the article's method, presentation, and data analysis.

What makes an annotated bibliography entry different in APA format than that of one in MLA format is that in an APA annotated entry the importance of the source to your desired area of interest is not stated. The purpose of an APA annotation entry is to evaluate the credibility of the article, as opposed to its personal significance to you as a researcher.

General Layout Checklist for an Annotated Bibliography

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Does your Annotated Bibliography follow these style cues?

  • Are all lines of your bibliography double spaced?
  • Have you included any extra line spacing? You shouldn't!
  • Is your class information at the beginning of the paper and aligned left?
  • Is your title centered?
  • Does the first line of of each works cited entry begin to the far left?
  • Are all following lines (the second, third, fourth...) indented 4 spaces?
  • Do you have page numbers? You should. They should be located at the top of the page in the right hand corner.
  • Is your name on every page? It should be located within a header located on the top of the page in the right hand corner.
  • Is your bibliography alphabetized?
  • Have you used the correct format (APA, MLA)?

It should be noted that this checklist is not all encompassing, and that if you have any questions about what you should include in your annotated bibliography you should refer to you instructor or academic discipline's rules for citation.

Further Reading

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Evaluation · Advanced Topics