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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography for a College Essay

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An annotated bibliography is an alphabetized list of resources that goes a step beyond a typical bibliography. While a standard bibliography offers a list of citations that follows APA, MLA, or another common style guide format, an annotated bibliography also offers additional information about the content of each of the sources itself.

Annotated bibliography lengths can vary. Most instructors ask for two or three sentences of information about the source. Longer annotated bibliographies can consist of a page or two of information. It’s important to clarify from the instructor what is expected.

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Annotated bibliographies are easier than they look. For one thing, it’s important to follow the required style guide (APA style, MLA style, etc.) and many students use research paper writing help because they find this confusing. For another, annotated bibliographies require students to read and comprehend scholarly works that can be difficult. There’s no shortcut; to write a good annotated bibliography, students have to read the whole article, not just skim it or read just the abstract. Finally, annotated bibliographies are difficult because students need to summarize an article succinctly, sometimes in less than 200 words. This requires a sophisticated level of reading comprehension and writing skills.

Instructors assign annotated bibliographies for several reasons. A writing instructor might assign this to students because it forces them to delve deeper into sources and practice reading comprehension skills. For longer projects where students are likely to use these sources again, instructors might assign an annotated bibliography because then the content of these sources will be readily available for future projects. Instructors might also assign annotated bibliographies so that students can share information about sources with each other.

Summative Annotated Bibliographies vs. Evaluative Annotated Bibliographies

There are two types of annotated bibliographies: summative and annotative. Be sure to clarify which type an instructor expects.

A summative annotated bibliography

It provides readers with a succinct summary of the content of the article, the main arguments, and the conclusions. These are similar to the abstracts that are often found at the beginning of scholarly articles, but they are a little more detailed. (Never copy an abstract word-for-word into a bibliography, because this is plagiarism and is very easy for the instructor to detect.)

Summative annotated bibliographies are a challenge because the student needs to sum up a complicated argument in a few sentences. One helpful tip is to outline the article ahead of time and then construct annotations using the top-level categories. Another helpful tip is to simply try describing the content of the article in everyday language without trying to sound too academic. Try answering the hypothetical question, “What is this article about?”

An evaluative annotated bibliography

 It offers a summary of the article (like a summative bibliography), but also includes the author’s opinion and criticism of the content of the article, including the main argument of the article and the research methods used by the author(s). Here are a few tips worked out by the essay writer service for writing a successful evaluative bibliography:

  • Make sure there’s a strong summary included.
  • Evaluate the main points of the article, as opposed to minor points (which come across as trivial or nitpicky).
  • Offer evidence to support claims that parts of the article are strong or weak. Statements like, “The author is wrong about how X affects Y,” or, “I disagree with the methodology chosen by the author,” are not enough. Explain why the author is wrong, or why this methodology isn’t the best choice.
  • If possible, offer comparisons to other articles, or explain where this article fits into a larger body of literature.

Annotated bibliographies may be one of the more difficult aspects of writing assignments students encounter, so take the time to clarify expectations to complete the assignment thoroughly. This is one assignment that really can’t be completed well at the last minute. Although annotated bibliographies are difficult, they are a useful way to practice reading comprehension and writing skills, and to develop an understanding of how research within a body of literature fits together.


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