What is an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and other documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph.

The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

Annotations vs. Abstracts

  • Abstracts are the purely descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes.
  • Annotations differ in that they are descriptive and critical; they discuss the author's point of view, clarity and appropriateness of expression, and authority. You act as the critic, evaluating the article for relevance to your topic.

The Process
Creating an annotated bibliography calls for a variety of intellectual skills: concise exposition, succinct analysis, and informed library research.

  • First, locate citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic.
  • Briefly examine and review the actual items. Then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.
  • Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style. (See below.)
  • Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. Include one or more sentences that: 
    • Evaluate the authority or background of the author
    • Comment on the intended audience,
    • Compare or contrast this work with another you have cited
    • Explain how this work illuminates your topic

Choosing the Correct Fomat for the Citations
Check with your instructor to find out which style is preferred for your class. Though there are many citation styles, the three most commonly used styles are:

  • APA (American Psychological Association) – Generally used for Psychology, Criminal Justice, Communication, Education, and the Behavioral Sciences.
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) – Generally used for English, Art, Music, and the Humanities.
  • Chicago/Turabian – Generally used for History and the Social Sciences.

Sample Annotated Bibliography for a Journal Article
Sections highlighted in red demonstrate evaluative content, which differs from purely descriptive content.

The following example uses the APA format for the journal citation.

Waite, L. J., Goldschneider, F. K., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review, 51(4), 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living. This article directly relates to my topic and the supposition that family relationships affect development of traditional gender roles.

The following example uses the MLA format for the journal citation.

Note: Standard MLA practice requires double spacing within citations.

Waite, Linda J., Frances Kobrin Goldscheider, and Christina Witsberger. "Nonfamily Living and the Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults." American Sociological Review 51.4 (1986): 541-554. Print.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living. This article directly relates to my topic and the supposition that family relationships affect development of traditional gender roles.


To learn more, visit our guide on Annotated Bibliographies.


Questions? Ask a Librarian! 

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Content adapted from:
Michael Engle, Amy Blumenthal, and Tony Cosgrave. Olin & Uris Libraries. Cornell University, 2010.
https://olinuris.library.cornell.edu/content/how-prepare-annotated-bibliography