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Tips: How to Write a Successful Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography critically evaluates a list of sources and discusses the information contained in those sources that is relevant to a student’s paper. In many respects, the annotations - as the name implies - are notes about the sources to use in developing an essay. Many students have difficulty assembling an annotated bibliography, but with a few simple steps you’ll master it in no time.

Step One: Gather Your Research

This might seem like the most basic of steps, but it’s often where an annotated bibliography is made or broken. Before you ever start writing, be sure that you’ve gathered all of the sources you need to complete the paper. To do so, you’ll want to visit your school’s online library to look for appropriate academic sources that are relevant to your topic. If you have difficulty finding appropriate sources consult with your instructor or a librarian for assistance. Take the opportunity to create appropriate citations in your chosen style of documentation such as APA or MLA.

Step Two: Read the Sources

This might also seem like an obvious step, but many students never read the sources they cite and instead rely on the author’s abstract to provide a summary of the article. Your instructor will be able to tell if you did not go beyond the abstract in evaluating a source, so be sure to read at least the introduction and conclusion to evaluate whether the sources is right for your paper. Remember, the more you know about a source, the easier it is to write a knowledgeable annotation of it.

Step Three: Summarize Each Source

The first part of each annotation is the summary of the source. This is similar to the abstract that the author provides in an academic article, but it should be tailored to your particular paper and topic. That means that when you summarize the article, focus on the parts that are most relevant to you, even if they are not necessarily the most important in the entire article. Your goal here is twofold: to show the audience that you understand the main idea of the source and also to show how you have used that information to hone in on the parts that are relevant to your needs.

Step Four: Evaluate the Source

Summarizing is only part of an annotation. You also want to evaluate whether the source is appropriate and credible. To do so, you can discuss the author’s credentials and whether the piece was published in a peer-reviewed journal. You should then indicate whether the source made a logical and convincing case and supported it with appropriate research.

Step Five: Discuss Specific Information You Will Use

After you summarize the source, indicate what specific information you will use in your paper and how it will support your analysis. This means identifying the specific parts of the article that are most relevant and discussing how you plan to use specific information to support your thesis statement or to back up claims or sub-claims within your paper. The main purpose of this is to connect the annotation to the paper you are writing the bibliography to support. You want to show readers that you have thought about why a source is relevant, not just what it’s about.

Step Six: Format Your Entries

If you completed your reference list entries back in Step One, it’s easy to format the rest of your annotated bibliography. All you need to do is to take the material you wrote above and place it beneath each reference list entry, indented to align with the hanging indent of your reference list citations. Once you’ve formatted your annotations, you have completed the annotated bibliography!

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