Annotated bibliography

Writing an annotated bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a list of information sources (e.g. journal articles or book chapters) on a particular topic with a reference accompanied by a brief commentary on each source, known as an annotation. There are two main ways to organise your information sources:

  1. alphabetically like a reference list; or
  2. in order of most importance in terms of ‘key texts’ or dominant perspectives in the chosen research field.

The specific elements that you need to incorporate, as well as the structures required, vary between units. This includes the number and type of sources, the referencing styles, as well as what you need to discuss in the annotation. In addition to a descriptive summary, the annotation requires critical reading, which means you analyse and evaluate the text:

  • to make an informed judgement about the usefulness of the source content to your topic,
  • to identify the contribution it makes and
  • to describe its strengths and limitations.

It is important that you carefully check the specific requirements of your task so that you understand exactly what is required.

This resource will outline some of the basic elements of an annotated bibliography, including the purpose of an annotated bibliography and how to structure one.

The purpose of an annotated bibliography

The purpose is to:

  • learn about a particular topic through critically reviewing the literature
  • provide an overview of the main issues, arguments and research within a particular area
  • identify potential variations in interpretations and theoretical perspectives on that topic and/or critiques of dominant perspectives
  • identify connections between the information sources
  • encourage deeper engagement with individual sources in order to develop your analytical and critical reading skills

An annotated bibliography is sometimes given as an assessment task at the beginning of a research project, or, as an assessment task in the lead up to an essay, to encourage you to survey and reflect on what has already been discovered about your topic. However, it might also be given as a stand-alone assignment to develop your research and critical thinking skills.

Structuring an annotated bibliography

An annotated bibliography is made up of two parts: a reference (in some faculties this is referred to as a citation), and an annotation.

It is important to note that what is included in the reference and annotation will vary between disciplines, so it is essential to check with your assignment instructions or lecturer as to what is expected.