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Annotated Bibliographies

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

So you’ve been assigned an annotated bibliography . . . what does that mean?

An annotated bibliography is a descriptive list of resources (books, articles, films, sound recordings, Web sites, etc.) focusing on a common theme. Each entry in an annotated bibliography has a full citation and an annotation ranging from a few sentences to several paragraphs.

The citation provides information about the author, title, date, source, and publisher of the item. Citations should be formatted according to one of the style manuals: MLA, APA, CBE or Chicago/Turabian. See our guide on Citation Styles for more information.

The annotation is a concise and informative description that summarizes and evaluates the contents of a resource. It differs from an abstract, which just summarizes the original content. An annotation usually strikes a balance between summary and evaluation by addressing some of the following:

  • Describe briefly the content of a resource
  • Evaluate the usefulness of the item for the particular topic being studied
  • Explain the methodology that was used
  • Draw attention to any themes addressed
  • Highlight strengths and/or weaknesses
  • Discuss the reliability of the author or source
  • Critically evaluate the content for accuracy, bias and authority

Examples:

In MLA Format (but make sure to double-space):

Miller, Jonathan and Borin Van Loon. Darwin for Beginners. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982. 
     
     In this fresh approach to the history of Charles Darwin, the authors 
     present biographical, social and historical facts about Darwin’s life and theory in 
     the fashion of a graphic novel. Clearly written as an introduction to the topic, this 
     book does not give the depth or detail of more lengthy books on the subject. 
     However, with its creative presentation, this book is good for audiences just 
     beginning to learn about Charles Darwin.

In APA Format (but make sure to double-space):

Preston, W. (1981). Vanishing landscapes: land and life in the Tulare Lake Basin. Berkeley: 
     University of California Press.
     
     The author explores the impact of human dominated landscapes and cultural creations 
     upon the regional identity of the Tulare lake Valley Basin (just to the north of the Los 
     Angeles Basin). It is a microcosm of the much larger transformation that occurred 
     southward and an opportunity to understand the processes that affected Los Angeles. 
     From environmental alterations to the arrival of the railroad to the rise of agribusiness's 
     world farm and the waning regional identity of the area's inhabitants, the book offers 
     insight into the changing landscape of Southern California between 1770 and 1980.

Sample Annotations

These samples have different strengths and weaknesses. The highlighting demonstrates which part of the annotation is summary and which part is evaluation. A librarian's evaluation of each annotation is provided. 

Annotation 1: 

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011. Print. 

In this book of nonfiction based on the journalist's experiential research, Ehrenreich attempts to ascertain whether it is currently possible for an individual to live on minimum wage in America. Taking jobs as a waitress, a maid in a cleaning service, and a Wal-Mart sales employee, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow workers, and her financial struggles in each situation. An experienced journalist, Ehrenreich is aware of the limitations of her experiment and the ethical implications of her experiential research tactics and reflects on these issues in the text. The author is forthcoming about her methods and supplements her experiences with scholarly research on her places of employment, the economy, and the rising cost of living in America. Ehrenreich's project is timely, descriptive, and well-researched. 

Librarian's Score: A-

This annotations includes both summary and evaluation. The evaluation addresses authority and accuracy, but it could be a little stronger. For example, it could answer: What audience would benefit from reading this book? What I like about this annotation is the evaluation includes both the upside and downside to Ehrenreich's approach. It speaks to her position as the author (to wit: she's experienced, but she also backs up her work with research). The summary is also very good. I get a good sense of what this is about. 

Annotation 2: 

Waite, Linda J., Frances Kobrin Goldscheider, and Christina Witsberger. "Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults." American Sociological Review 51.4 (1986): 541-554. Print.

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 nonfamily 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 shoes no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living. 

Librarian's Score: C

This annotation is mostly summary. The summary is strong, but the evaluation is weak. I’m glad to learn that the authors work for reputable institutions, but more evaluation could be included.

Annotation 3: 

Kotrla, Kimberly. "Domestic minor sex trafficking in the United States." Social Work 55.2 (2010): 181-187. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Mar 2012. 

This article is about the sex trafficking of children and young adults. It is more commonly now being called "domestic minor sex trafficking." It is considered modern-day slavery. The author discusses: victims, the supply and demand of domestic minor sex traccking, how different countries tolerate it, help provided to survivors, and what this type of trafficking is. This evidence is credible because it comes from social workers who work for the government. The goals of this source is to explain to people what domestic minor sex trafficking is, who is at risk, and what social workers can do to stop this problem. It also brings up the human trafficking in the United States. The author, Kimberly Kotrla, is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She was a social worker for 10 years and does a lot of research about human trafficking. She gives most of her attention to the sexual exploitation of children in America. Kotrla is also on the human trafficking prevention task force committee. The audience of this article is most likely parents of young children and social workers. Published in 2010, it is fairly current. I felt that this source was an easy read, but written for a mature and educated audience.

Librarian's Score: A

This student did a great job of combining summary and evaluation for a highly successful annotation. She told me what the article is about, its content as well as its purpose ("The goals of this source is..."). She addresses the author's credentials, the audience for the piece, and currency, and also the accuracy of the information ("social workers who work for the government"). 

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