Annotated bibliographies provide basic bibliographical information in a standard style of documentation, as in a regular bibliography or “works cited” page; the only difference is that each citation is “annotated” with a brief statement about the text. This statement can range in length from a sentence or two to a full paragraph, but it always contains a description or summary of the text, and it often includes an assessment of its use, value, and/or significance.
The standard documentation style—such as MLA, APA, or Chicago—is most often set by your field, so check with your department to find out which one you should use. The purpose of the annotations determines their length and focus. Some assignments specify what kind of information needs to be provided, as well as how long and detailed the statements should be. However, if you are not given explicit directions about purpose and detail, consider the following:
For whom is this text intended?
What could this information be used for?
Why is this text important? What does or could it add to discussions in your field?
Does this text offer a particularly intelligent and complex argument, an useful update to earlier editions, or an exceptionally clear, detailed, or comprehensive treatment of its subject? Why or why not?
Is this an original source, an accurate testimony, a well-researched and logical argument, etc.
Does this text use—or is it influenced by—a particular theory? What are its underlying assumptions? What methodology does it use?
You can’t, and probably shouldn’t, take all of these things into consideration for each statement, but the above list can give you a better idea of how the purpose of the annotated bibliography as a whole will structure each individual citation.
Possible titles for annotated bibliographies include: Annotated Bibliography, Annotated List of Works Cited or Works Consulted, Annotated List of Primary Sources or Secondary Sources, etc.
Sample Entries (Example 1)
For instance, if the annotated bibliography will be distributed to undergraduate teachers of various disciplines, use and audience become more important factors, since the teachers will want to know the texts’ applicability and level of difficulty. See the sample entries below (which use the MLA documentation style):
Current Issues and Enduring Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. Ed. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford, 1999. A general textbook with long, substantial segments on critical thinking (analyzing and interpreting documents) and argumentative writing, followed by some short essays, articles, literary works and court cases, with related questions for consideration and topics for papers. With more guidance through the reading and writing process, it’s perfect for introductory humanities courses.
The Presence of Others: Voices and Images That Call for Response. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford, 2000. A general reader with brief, superficial segments on reading and writing, followed by many varied essays and excerpts, with related questions and paper topics. With a greater emphasis on multiple readings concerning complex issues, it’s best suited for follow-up or second-semester humanities courses, in which students can develop and expand on critical reading and writing skills already learned.
Sample Entries (Example 2)
However, if you are making a personal list of books to later consult for a paper or dissertation, you will probably be more interested in describing texts’ significance, value, reliability, or theory. Such entries might look more like the entries below:
Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Berkeley: U of California P, 1957. Watt argues that the novel developed in England as a result of: a shift in philosophy from a focus on universal truths to one on individual perceptions; an increase in the size of the reading public; and the rise of the middle class, along with the spread of middle-class interests and values. Despite its age, Rise remains one of the most influential studies on the novel, particularly concerning the novel’s use of “formal realism.”
Davis, Lennard J. Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1996. Influenced by Foucault’s studies on modes of discourse, Davis attempts to describe the novel’s “threshold” (the point at which texts become what we now recognize as novels) by analyzing the “ensemble” of written texts surrounding and leading to the formation of the novel, including literature, newspapers, advertisements, laws, etc. While the conflation of fact and fiction in journalism, history and literature—and the contrary move towards separating the categories by law—may be interesting and insightful, the book as a whole lacks coherence and integrity in its claims.
For more information about, or examples of, annotated bibliographies, please see:
Gibaldi, Joseph, ed. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th ed. New York: MLA, 1999.
Harner, James L. On Compiling an Annotated Bibliography. Rev. ed. New York: MLA, 1991.
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington: APA, 2001.
Rampolla, Mary Lynn, ed. A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford, 1998.
Roth, Audrey, ed. The Research Paper: Process, Form, and Content. Belmont: Wadsworth, 1995.