An annotated bibliography is a way of summarizing and evaluating research on a particular topic. But how do you write one? The five key steps are:
Select the sources you are going to include in your bibliography.
Read your sources and take notes to identify the key points.
Write up the bibliography entries in the correct referencing style.
Add annotations for each entry based on your assignment.
Redraft and proofread your annotated bibliography until it is perfect.
We will take a look at each step in more detail below.
1. Select Your Sources
The first step in writing an annotated bibliography is picking the research you’ll write about. To do this, start by checking your assignment. It should specify what you need to write about or the kinds of sources you will need to review.
Once you have a sense of what you’re looking for, it’s time to make a shortlist. To do this, start with the set reading for your course or class. This should give you a sense of the type of research you need to focus on. And after that, you can:
Check the references in the set reading to find related works.
Search on Google Scholar to find relevant research (it can help to focus on sources that have been cited many times by other scholars, as this suggests they are influential or important in your field of study).
Look for recently published research on your chosen subject.
You can then evaluate each source for relevance. Based on your assignment, you can then pick the most relevant ones to add to your bibliography.
2. Read and Make Notes
The next step is to read your sources more carefully and make notes. What you note down will depend on your assignment, but it could include:
A summary of the main argument or themes of the work.
Where relevant, the methodology used by the research.
Any limitations the source has, such as a lack of credibility or accessibility.
How the research fits into the history of the subject area (e.g., whether it was influential on other research or even outside academia).
Background information about the author(s) and other work they’ve done.
Publication details so you can write up a full reference for each source.
Make sure to check your assignment instructions to find out what you need to take notes on, as you will need these notes when you write up your bibliography.
3. Write Up Your References
When you come to write up your bibliography, start with the references (we’ll move on to the annotations next). This means setting out full publication information for each source, making sure to:
Give enough detail for readers to find the exact version of the source you’ve used (e.g., as well as the author’s name and title, you will need to say where and when it was published, as well as the edition you’ve read).
Use a consistent referencing style for all sources in your bibliography.
How you do this, though, will depend on the referencing system you’re using (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago). If you’re not sure which style to use and it does not say in your assignment instructions, ask your professor or check your school’s style guide.
4. Add Annotations
For the “annotation” bit of an annotated bibliography, the basic idea is to follow each reference with a short summary and/or analysis of what the source says.
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This will usually involve summarizing the source’s main argument, methods, and conclusions. And if you have been asked to evaluate your sources, too, you might need to assess their relevance and quality as well (either in relation to the general topic of your bibliography or your own research project).
For example, an APA-style reference and annotation would look something like this:
Proofreader, A. (2021, April 5). How to write an annotated bibliography. Proofed’s Writing Tips. https://proofed.com/writing-tips/how-to-write-an-annotated-bibliography/
This blog post by Alan Proofreader covers the main points of how to write an annotated bibliography. It breaks the process down into five steps: 1) select sources; 2) review sources and take notes; 3) write up the references for each source; 4) add annotations for each source; 5) redraft and proofread as required. It also notes that the exact format of an annotated bibliography can vary depending on its purpose and the referencing style used. The lack of detail about specific referencing systems means it is limited in some respects, but it nevertheless offers a helpful and accessible introduction to the topic.
The exact content and length of your annotations will depend on your assignment, though, so make sure to check the instructions before you start.
5. Redraft and Proofread
Once you have annotated each entry in your bibliography, go back over it again and look for things you can improve. These might be small changes, like adding a detail you missed from a reference. Or it might involve bigger changes, like rewriting annotations. However, the aim of the redrafting process is always to make sure your essay is the best it can be so you can maximize your marks.
The final step in this process is to check that your bibliography is clear, concise, and error free. This includes looking for typos, but you’ll also want to review your references to make sure they are complete, correct, and consistent.
Luckily, Proofed has an experienced team of academic editors and referencing experts to help. Upload a 500-word trial document today to see what we can do.