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ENGL 100/101: First-Year Composition

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
  • 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. Metropolitan Books, 2001. Accessed 27 November 2018.

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 annotation include both summary and evaluation. 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. The evaluation addresses authority and accuracy, but it could be a little stronger. For example, it could answer: How does this resource inform my research question?

Annotation 2: 

Thompson, Gabriel. “This Is What $15 an Hour Looks like.” The Nation, vol. 302, no. 4-5, 2016, pp. 18–21. EBSCOhost. Accessed 28 November 2018.

The author, Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University, focuses on United States minimum wage workers’ campaigns for an increase in hourly wage. Thompson describes the origins of campaigning for a $15-an-hour wage hike and discusses how a community in Emeryville, California implemented the rise in minimum wage, and its impacts for minimum wage employees. The author interviews recipients of the recent hike. A grocery store clerk interviewed said that she noticed a major change in her life when the minimum wage rose from $9 to $15 an hour. Because her weekly checks rose from $150-$500, she has the ability to pay her bills, help her family financially, and put money into savings- all of which she struggled to do when she was earning $9 an hour.

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 author works for a reputable institution, but more evaluation could be included.

Annotation 3: 

Haushofer, Johannes and Ernst Fehr. “On the Psychology of Poverty.” Science, vol. 344, no. 6186, pp. 862-867. DOI: 10.1126/science.1232491. Accessed 26 November 2018.

This peer-reviewed article discusses mechanisms through which poverty arises and perpetuates itself. The authors, a professor of economics at MIT and a professor of psychology at Princeton University, collaborate to investigate how poverty can have particular psychological consequences that can lead to habitual behaviors that can contribute to the perpetuation of poverty. The article’s evidence is credible because it comes from the Gallup World Poll, which is one of the most respected American research-based public opinion poll resources. The goals of this source are to explain to people how being in a state of poverty affects someone psychologically, and how those psychological factors, such as stress and an adversity to risk-taking, can make it harder for someone to escape a poverty cycle. The lead author, Johannes Haushofer, has a PHD in Neurobiology from Harvard and a PHD in Economics from Zurich. For the past 10 years, he as been researching whether poverty has particular psychological and neurobiological consequences, and whether these consequences, in turn, affect economic behavior. Published in 2014, this source is very current. I felt that it source was an easy read, but written for a mature and educated audience.

Librarian's Score: B

This student did a great job of combining summary and evaluation. They told me what the article is about, its content as well as its purpose ("The goals of this source is..."). They address the author's credentials, and currency, and also the accuracy of the information ("Gallup World Poll"). However, the student neglected to provide their own interpretation of the articles' strengths and/or weaknesses, and didn't tell me how this article would be useful for their own research question.

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