Annotated Bibliographies

Annotations vs. Abstracts: The Differences

An annotated bibliography requires more than a summarization of your sources.  Be sure to provide evaluative "annotations" and not simply descriptive "abstracts."
  • Abstracts are descriptive summaries.  They are often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes (electronic databases).  Abstracts summarize the contents of an information resource.
  • Annotations are descriptive and critical.  They expose the author's point of view, discuss his/her clarity and appropriateness of expression and evaluate the author's authority.

Important:  If you use an electronic database to locate materials for your annotated bibliography, remember that copying and pasting or even rephrasing the abstracts provided by the database is plagiarism.  Electronic databases are covered under copyright law and therefore, using a database to create annotations without actually READING the article they refer you to is highly unethical.

The Process

Creating an annotated bibliography calls for the application of a variety of intellectual skills:  concise exposition, succinct analysis and informed library research.
  • First, locate and record citations to books, periodical articles and Internet sites that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic.
  • Briefly examine and review the actual items and then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.
  • Cite each book, article or document using APA documentation style.  (See additional instructions below.)
  • Write a concise annotation following each citation, summarizing the central theme and scope of the book, article or document and analyzing the work as it relates to your project.  (See evaluation criteria below.)

Evaluation Criteria

Each annotation should include several of the following criteria:
  • Explain how this work illuminates your research topic.

    How will you use this source in your project?  Is it basic background information, scholarly research or one person's opinion about your topic?  Do you agree or disagree with the author?

  • Compare or contrast this work with another you have cited.

    How does this source compare with the sources you have on this topic?  Is the information fact or opinion?  Can you verify similar viewpoints in other sources?  Does it present contrasting opinions?  Are they based on verifiable facts?  Is the author updating existing knowledge or presenting totally new findings?

  • Comment on the intended audience.

    Is this piece aimed at a general audience or one with specialized knowledge of the topic?  Is the language used by this author easy to understand or is it filled with technical jargon, acronyms and other terminology?

  • Evaluate the authority or background of the author.

    Who is this person? Can you determine his or her educational credentials or institutional affiliation (where s/he works)?  Is this source written in the author's area of expertise?

  • Comment on any bias or point of view shown in the work.

    Is the author objective or subjective?  Is the author trying to persuade you to think a certain way about an issue?  Is the author trying to sell you something?

Sample Annotated Bibliography Entry

Document your sources using APA documentation style.  You will find examples of APA documentation in your writer's guide or on this web site:

    * Research and Documentation Online

The following example uses the correct APA citation format for a periodical article:

        Waite, L. J., Goldscheider, F. K., & Witsberger, C.  (1986).  Nonfamily living
               and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults.
               American Sociological Review, 51(4), 541-554.

        The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that non-family living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles.  They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males.  Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency and changes in attitudes about families.  In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of non-family living.

Modified with permission from:  Paula Moskowitz, Assistant Coordinator of Library Instruction, Manhattanville College Library.