Writing an annotated bibliography

An annotated bibliography provides a brief account of the available research on a given topic. Find out how to select resources, what to include, and which writing style to use.

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography reviews the research published on your problem of study. Unlike a literature review, articles are reviewed separately with a full citation, brief summary of their content and a statement on how or why they apply to your research. It is a list of citations, each followed by a short paragraph, of 150 – 200 words, reviewing each source. Depending on your assignment, in this paragraph you may reflect on, summarise, critique, evaluate or analyse the source.

An annotated bibliography may be a component of a larger assignment or it may be a standalone document.

Why write an annotated bibliography?

Depending on your specific assessment, you may be asked to create an annotated bibliography for the following reasons:

  • To familiarise yourself with the material available on a particular topic
  • To demonstrate the quality and depth of reading that you have done
  • To identify range of sources available on your topic
  • To highlight sources that may be of interest to other readers and researchers
  • To explore and organise sources for further research, e.g. as the first step toward a literature review

What kind of resources should be studied?

Review recent academic materials such as academic books and peer reviewed journals. Textbooks and web pages are generally not appropriate as the content may be either too broad or unreliable.

The sources you choose will depend on your topic. Choose sources which most closely answer a clearly defined question or problem from a balanced range of approaches, not only those which confirm your current beliefs. Also, include any references which are considered central to your topic.

How to create an annotated bibliography

  • Find appropriate academic sources

    These are good places to start:

    • Your lecture notes / references given in class
    • The Library Guide for your subject
    • The subject liaison librarian
  • Survey the literature

    First, read abstracts or academic book reviews to help you select studies most relevant to your problem, then select the most suitable from those to read in full.  Take notes on your selected texts as you read. Pay attention to:

    • the author’s theoretical approach.
    • which parts of the topic are covered in this paper.
    • main points or findings on the topic.
    • the author’s position or argument.
  • Evaluate and ask questions as you read

    Record evaluations in your notes; your bibliography should not merely be a catalogue but present your own informed position on the texts and the topic as a whole.

    • How well does this text address your topic?
    • Does it cover the topic thoroughly or only one aspect of it?
    • Do the research methods seem appropriate and does the argument stand up to scrutiny?
    • Does it agree with or contradict other studies?
  • Create a bibliography with annotations
    • List texts in alphabetical order using citation conventions for a reference list.
    • Create an annotation under each citation: a paragraph summarising each text and explaining how the text applies to your research question or problem. e.g. What aspect of your question/ problem does it address?  How fully? Does it provide background information/ theory / useful results? How strong is the evidence?  What are its limitations in answering your research question?
  • Write in the correct style

    Find out what citation style you need to use, such as APA, Vancouver, MLA. Department style guides or detailed assignment briefs often provide information on this. Details of how to cite are explained in re:cite.

    Write in complete sentences to create a cohesive ‘snapshot’ of the text and its contribution to your research. Be brief and selective; aim to outline the text in less than 200 words.

    An annotation may contain all or part of the following elements depending on the word limit and the content of the sources you are examining:

  • What's included in an annotated bibliography?

    You might include:

    • the background of the author(s)
    • the content or scope of the text
    • the main argument
    • the intended audience
    • the research methods (if applicable)
    • any conclusions made by the author/s
    • comments on the reliability of the text
    • any special features of the text that were helpful (charts, graphs etc.)
    • the relevance or usefulness of the text for your research
    • the strengths and limitations of the text

Below is a sample annotation (APA). The superscript numbers at the end of the sentence explain the features or elements covered.

Scoffer, J., Treet, M., Nibbell, A., Tayste, C., & Snacker, A. (2017). Visual priming for chocolate increases chocolate consumption–an attention bias modification study. Journal of Healthy Eating, 38(1), 176-183.1

The study examines the effect of attention priming on subsequent chocolate consumption within a University context2. 120 female subjects were primed with presentations of pictures either of shoes or chocolate, then participated in a chocolate search3. Findings indicated that the group primed with visual stimuli of chocolate showed significantly higher persistence in the chocolate searching task, consuming on average greater amounts of chocolate4. The authors contend that attention to food stimuli could increase risk of weight gain for many individuals5. By demonstrating the role of visual attention in subsequent food seeking behaviour and quantity consumed, this study provides evidence that such visual stimuli as web-based or billboard-based advertisements containing images of food may present a health risk to many individuals6. Limitations of the study include the lack of a true control since no non-primed condition was included. Another limitation is the use of a highly prized foodstuff, which limits the application of the findings to more everyday foods less closely related to reward7. However, the positive finding on the role of visual priming in food seeking and consumption provides useful support for the argument in my research that visual advertising contributes to weight problems, particularly in an obesogenic environment 8.

1 Full citation

2 Aim and scope of the research

3 Brief summary of methods (where appropriate)

4 Summary of findings

5 Author’s main contention/ argument

6 Usefulness for your research

7 Limitations for your study

8 Reflection on how this work informs your research and how it will be applied.

Final tip

As you research, keep in mind that annotated bibliographies are often preliminary research for a single, cohesive literature review about a situation or problem. Try to choose sources which together will present a comprehensive review of the issue under study.

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