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Learning the Library: Annotated Bibliography

Information Literacy and Library Instruction


An annotated bibliography is a list of books, articles, and other documents in bibliographic citation format with the addition of a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph.  The purpose of the annotation is to provide information to the reader, giving impressions about the accuracy, relevancy, and quality of the sources cited.        

Unless specifically  told otherwise by your instructor or publisher, use the format or style guide required by your class or field. For more details, see the websites for the style guide you are using. Examples: MLAAPA, Chicago.

An annotated bibliography is not the same as an abstract.  The information provided in an annotated bibliography is brief, critical, and descriptive, providing insight into the author’s point of view, method of expression, and authority.  It should give enough information for the reader to make a decision as to whether or not to read the complete work.  An abstract is a purely descriptive summary.

Annotated Bibliography Types

  1. Descriptive/Paraphrase – describes the content of the work without judging it
  2. Critical/Commentary – evaluates the usefulness of the work for a particular audience or situation

Steps to Preparing an Annotated Bibliography

  1. Research –  find citations to likely books, journal articles, and other documents and locate the material
  2. Read – examine and review the actual items and make final selections for inclusion
  3. Cite – choose the appropriate citation format (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc) for your citations
  4. Organize – decide how to present your bibliography (e.g., alphabetical, by subject, etc
  5. Annotate –  write a concise annotation summarizing the central premise and scope of the material.  Other points may include evaluation of the author’s authority, comparison to other works included in your bibliography, or explanation of how this work illuminated your bibliographic topic.


An Annotated Bibliography Should Include

  1. Complete bibliographic citation in an approved format (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc)
  2. Some or all of the following:
    1. Information about the authority of the author
    2. Scope, purpose, and perspective of the work cited
    3. Intended audience/level of difficulty
    4. Relationship to other works in the area of study
    5. Summary content
  3. About 150-300 words

Additional Resources

Harner, James L. On Compiling an Annotated Bibliography. 2nd ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2000.

Miller, R.H. Handbook of Literary Research. 2nd ed. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press, 1995.

Modern Language Association. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 8th ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2016

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 6th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2010.