What is an Annotated Bibliography and How Do I Write One?

One requirement for a number of courses is a thing called an annotated bibliography. So let’s go through what it is, how to write one, and a quick example entry. 


A bibliography is a list of sources (books, websites, journal articles etc.) with the key bibliographic information of the text (title, author, date etc.).


An annotation is a brief summary of the key elements of the text, and usually its relevance to your research. Depending on your assignment, the annotation can just be a summary of the text or it can include a bit of evaluation. This would include answering questions like is this source useful, reliable, and how does it contribute to my research. 


Writing an annotated bibliography is a very helpful process that can be considered the early stages of what can later become the literature review part of your thesis or research paper. 




Annotated bibliographies are often assigned as part of the pre-work to writing a research paper. They help to demonstrate to educators that the student has read and understood the relevant materials.


Often the annotated bibliography is customised to the research paper or assignment that the student is working on. This means that you need a research topic before you can write one. An example topic could be something like, “Ukrainian Canadian literature and Multiculturalism in Canada”.


Annotated bibliographies are also useful study guides. For instance, when our CEO was studying for her doctoral comprehensive exams (two 4-hour exams covering everything from Beowulf to Batman) in order to qualify as a PhD candidate in English, she created an annotated bibliographic entry for every book that she read and studied and taped them all over her room in the hopes that as she slept, the information would sink in!


Now that’s not really the way of studying we’d suggest, but it is a real-life example of how you might use an annotated bibliography as a study guide.


Another way of thinking about an annotated bibliography is to think about it as your “cheat sheet.” What are the key ideas from any given source that you would want to be able to have on hand in case you had to do a surprise exam on that source and were only able to bring in one, little “cheat sheet.”




Now, we don’t condone cheating, so in order to create an annotated bibliography, include these two elements:

  1. Make the appropriate bibliographic reference for the source. If you are using APA, MLA, Chicago Manual of Style, or any other formatting protocol, make sure to follow those rules and enter each book, article, or chapter appropriately, ordered alphabetically by author’s last name.
  2. Provide an annotation for the source. Usually, this is around 150 words and sums up the main point, thesis, or relevance of the material to the project at hand.

The key to making a successful annotated bibliography is to be able to distill the main ideas from the source (article, book, website) into a concise summary that also indicates the importance of the source to your overall topic.


For instance, a book might have very many interesting insights, but only some of those insights are crucial to the work that you will be doing, then those insights are the ones you want to be sure are included in your brief and concise annotation.



Here’s one based on our example research topic, Ukrainian Canadian literature and Multiculturalism in Canada”.


Annotated Bib Sample






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