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How to Write a Research Paper: Annotated Bibliography

Step by step description of how to write a research paper

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

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What is an annotated bibliography?

  • It is a list of citations for various books, articles, and other sources on a topic. 

  • An annotation is a short summary and/or critical evaluation of a source.

  • Annotated bibliographies answer the question: "What would be the most relevant, most useful, or most up-to-date sources for this topic?"

  •  Annotated bibliographies can be part of a larger research project, or can be a stand-alone report in itself. 

Annotation versus abstracts 

An abstract is a paragraph at the beginning of the paper that discusses the main point of the original work. They typically do not include evaluation comments. 

Annotations can either be descriptive or evaluative. The annotated bibliography looks like a works cited page but includes an annotation after each source cited. 

Types of Annotations: 

Descriptive Annotations: Focuses on description. Describes the source by answering the following questions. 

  • Who wrote the document?

  • What does the document discuss?

  • When and where was the document written? 

  • Why was the document produced?

  • How was it provided to the public?

Evaluative Annotations: Focuses on description and evaluation. Includes a summary and critically assess the work for accuracy, relevance, and quality. 

Evaluative annotations help you learn about your topic, develop a thesis statement, decide if a specific source will be useful for your assignment, and determine if there is enough valid information available to complete your project.

What does the annotation include?

Depending on your assignment and style guide, annotations may include some or all of the following information. 

  • Should be no more than 150 words or 4 to 6 sentences long. 
  • What is the main focus or purpose of the work?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • ​How useful or relevant was the article to your topic?
  • Was there any unique features that useful to you?
  • What is the background and credibility of the author?
  • What are any conclusions or observations that your reached about the article?

Which citation style to use?

There are many styles manuals with specific instructions on how to format your annotated bibliography. This largely depends on what your instructor prefers or your subject discipline. Check out our citation guides for more information. 

Additional Information

Why doesn't APA have an official APA-approved format for annotated bibliographies?

Always consult your instructor about the format of an annotated bibliography for your class assignments. These guides provide you with examples of various styles for annotated bibliographies and they may not be in the format required by your instructor. 

Citation Examples and Annotations

Book Citation with Descriptive Annotation

Liroff, R. A., & G. G. Davis. (1981). Protecting open space: Land use control in the Adirondack Park. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.

This book describes the implementation of regional planning and land use regulation in the Adirondack Park in upstate New York. The authors provide program evaluations of the Adirondack Park Agency’s regulatory and local planning assistance programs.

Journal Article Citation with Evaluative Annotation

Gottlieb, P. D. (1995). The “golden egg” as a natural resource: Toward a normative theory of growth management. Society and Natural Resources, 8, (5): 49-56.

This article explains the dilemma faced by North American suburbs, which demand both preservation of local amenities (to protect quality of life) and physical development (to expand the tax base). Growth management has been proposed as a policy solution to this dilemma. An analogy is made between this approach and resource economics. The author concludes that the growth management debate raises legitimate issues of sustainability and efficiency.

Examples were taken from

Book Citation

Lee, Seok-hoon, Yong-pil Kim, Nigel Hemmington, and Deok-kyun Yun. “Competitive Service Quality Improvement (CSQI): A Case Study in the Fast-Food Industry.” Food Service Technology 4 (2004): 75-84.

In this highly technical paper, three industrial engineering professors in Korea and one services management professor in the UK discuss the mathematical limitations of the popular SERVQUAL scales. Significantly, they also aim to measure service quality in the fast-food industry, a neglected area of study. Unfortunately, the paper’s sophisticated analytical methods make it inaccessible to all but the most expert of researchers.

Book Citation with Descriptive Annotation

Battle, Ken. “Child Poverty: The Evolution and Impact of Child Benefits.” A Question of Commitment: Children's Rights in Canada. Ed. Katherine Covell and R.Brian Howe. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 2007. 21-44.

            Ken Battle draws on a close study of government documents, as well as his own research as an extensively-published policy analyst, to explain Canadian child benefit programs.  He outlines some fundamental assumptions supporting the belief that all society members should contribute to the upbringing of children.  His comparison of child poverty rates in a number of countries is a useful wake-up to anyone assuming Canadian society is doing a good job of protecting children.  Battle pays particular attention to the National Child Benefit (NCB), arguing that it did not deserve to be criticized by politicians and journalists.  He outlines the NCB’s development, costs, and benefits, and laments that the Conservative government scaled it back in favour of the inferior Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB).  However, he relies too heavily on his own work; he is the sole or primary author of almost half the sources in his bibliography.  He could make this work stronger by drawing from others' perspectives and analyses.  However, Battle does offer a valuable source for this essay, because the chapter provides a concise overview of government-funded assistance currently available to parents.  This offers context for analyzing the scope and financial reality of child poverty in Canada.

Journal Article Example

  Kerr, Don and Roderic Beaujot. “Child Poverty and Family Structure in Canada, 1981-1997.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 34.3 (2003): 321-335.

            Sociology professors Kerr and Beaujot analyze the demographics of impoverished families.  Drawing on data from Canada’s annual Survey of Consumer Finances, the authors consider whether each family had one or two parents, the age of single parents, and the number of children in each household.  They analyze child poverty rates in light of both these demographic factors and larger economic issues.  Kerr and Beaujot use this data to argue that. 

Examples were taken from


Check out these resources for more information about Annotated Bibliographies.