How to Write an Annotated Bibliography - MLA Style


What is an annotation?

An annotation is more than just a brief summary of an article, book, web site or other type of publication. An annotation should give enough information to make a reader decide whether to read the complete work. In other words, if the reader were exploring the same topic as you, is this material useful and if so, why?

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How is an annotation different from an abstract?

While an abstract also summarizes an article, book, web site or other type of publication, it is purely descriptive. Although annotations can be descriptive, they also include distinctive features about an item. Annotations can be evaluative and critical and the two major types of annotations included here demonstrate the difference.

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What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is an organized list of sources (like a reference list). It differs from a straightforward bibliography in that each reference is followed by a paragraph length annotation, usually 100–200 words in length.

Depending on the assignment, an annotated bibliography might have different purposes:

  • Provide a literature review on a particular subject
  • Help to formulate a thesis on a subject
  • Demonstrate the research you have performed on a particular subject
  • Provide examples of major sources of information available on a topic
  • Describe items that other researchers may find of interest on a topic

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Types of annotated bibliographies

There are two major types of annotated bibliographies:

  1. Descriptive or informative
  2. Analytical or critical

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Descriptive or informative

A descriptive or informative annotated bibliography describes or summarizes a source as does an abstract; it describes why the source is useful for researching a particular topic or question and its distinctive features. In addition, it describes the author's main arguments and conclusions without evaluating what the author says or concludes.

For example:

Gabbin, Joanne V. "Maya Angelou--The Peoples' Poet Laureate: An Introduction." Langston Hughes Review, vol. 19, Spring 2005, pp. 3-6. LION: Literature Online, gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:lion&rft_id=xri:lion:ft:criticism:R04012678:0&rft.accountid=14580.

This scholarly article is a critical introduction to the works of Maya Angelou, and the criteria surrounding her success as a poet laureate.The author points out Angelou's literary influences, which include William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Douglas Johnson, Langston Hughes, among others. This article also points out that her poetry lacks cultural boundaries, yet her trademark lies in the secular chants, songs, and games of the black vernacular tradition. The author discusses dialect and vernacular rhythms in several of Angelou's poems, and compares several of her works to the racy dialect of Sterling Brown and Langston Hughes. Also discussed is her political cultural voice and her deep understanding of emotion. This article is distcintive in its discussion of the need for a poet laureate to add to an audience's collective memory.

Please pay attention to the last sentence. While it points out distinctive features about the item it does not analyze the author's conclusions.

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Analytical or critical

An analytical or critical annotation not only summarizes the material, it analyzes what is being said. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of what is presented as well as describing the applicability of the author's conclusions to the research being conducted.

Analytical or critical annotations will most likely be required when writing for a college-level course.

For example:

Gabbin, Joanne V. "Maya Angelou--The Peoples' Poet Laureate: An Introduction." Langston Hughes Review, vol. 19, Spring 2005, pp. 3-6. LION: Literature Online, gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:lion&rft_id=xri:lion:ft:criticism:R04012678:0&rft.accountid=14580.

This scholarly article is a critical introduction to the works of Maya Angelou, and the criteria surrounding her success as a poet laureate. The author points out Angelou's literary influences, that include William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Douglas Johnson, Langston Hughes, among others. This article also points out that her poetry lacks cultural boundaries, yet her trademark lies in the secular chants, songs, and games of the black vernacular tradition. The author discusses dialect and vernacular rhythms in several of Angelou's poems, and compares several of her works to the racy dialect of Sterling Brown and Langston Hughes. Also discussed is her political cultural voice and her deep understanding of emotion. This article is a good resource for those wanting to explore criteria related to the achievement of the award of poet laureate and how Angelou meets the criteria. This article begins to explore the poet's works and suggests her ability to add to an audience's collective memory. The author is a professor of English at James Madison University and has authored a book on Sterling Brown and numerous critical essays.

Please pay attention to the last three sentences. They give information about the author and critique the author's research.

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To get started

To write an annotated bibliography here are the steps:

  • Choose your sources - Before writing your annotated bibliography, you must choose your sources. This involves doing research much like for any other project. Locate records to materials that may apply to your topic.
  • Review the items - Then review the actual items and choose those that provide a wide variety of perspectives on your topic. Article abstracts are helpful in this process.
  • Write the citation and annotation - When writing your annotation, the complete citation should always come first and the annotation follows. Depending on the type of annotated bibliography you are writing, you will want to include some or all of the following:
    1. The purpose of the work
    2. A summary of its content
    3. Information about the author(s)
    4. For what type of audience the work is written
    5. Its relevance to the topic
    6. Any special or unique features about the material
    7. Research methodology
    8. The strengths, weaknesses or biases in the material

Annotated bibliographies are arranged alphabetically by the first author's last name.

Please see the MLA Examples Page for more information on citing in MLA style.

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