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APA & Writing

A guide to APA style and writing. 7th Edition


What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 - 300 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

Annotations vs. Abstracts

Abstracts are the purely descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes. Annotations are descriptive and critical; they may describe the author's point of view, authority, or clarity and appropriateness of expression. They may also comment on the relevance of a source to your particular research. 

Types of annotations

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) breaks annotations into several categories:

  • Summarize: Some annotations merely summarize the source. What are the main arguments? What is the point of this book or article? What topics are covered? If someone asked what this article/book is about, what would you say? The length of your annotations will determine how detailed your summary is.
  • Assess: After summarizing a source, it may be helpful to evaluate it. Is it a useful source? How does it compare with other sources in your bibliography? Is the information reliable? Is this source biased or objective? What is the goal of this source?
  • Reflect: Once you've summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How does it help you shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?

Why write an annotated bibliography?

Writing an annotated bibliography is an excellent way to prepare for a research project. Writing a critical evaluation of each source requires you to read more carefully and thoroughly, and to collect resources more intentionally. Professional annotated bibliographies, which are often published, provide a comprehensive overview of important themes, issues, and arguments on a given topic. These can be useful for understanding the state of a particular field of study, and seeing where your research fits within it.

How to write an annotated bibliography

For each citation in your bibliography, write a short paragraph beneath it, and consider the following questions. The length of your annotation will depend on its purpose. A simple summary may be shorter than an annotation that contains analysis or evaluation:

  1. Content - What is the resource about? Is it relevant to your research?
  2. Purpose - What is it for? Why was this written?
  3. Methods used to collect data - Where did the information come from?
  4. Usefulness - What does it do for your research?
  5. Reliability- Is the information accurate?
  6. Authority - Is it written by an expert or knowledge keeper?
  7. Currency - Is it up-to-date for the topic?
  8. Scope/Limitations - What does it cover? What does the author state s/he will cover? What doesn't the resource provide that could be helpful?
  9. Ease of use - Can a non-specialist use this resource? What reading level is it?

Annotated bibliography examples in APA style:

Formatting an annotated bibliography is the same as formatting an APA reference list. You use the same author-date style and place the elements in the same order. Indent the annotation five spaces. You can find examples at the links below:


This 14:48 minute video walks through the steps of writing and formatting your annotated bibliography, including a discussion of the three types of annotation. You can use the timestamps below to navigate to the various sections.

00:00 Introduction

00:33 What is an annotated bibliography?

1:15 Formatting annotated bibliography

5:35 Researching pro tips

7:28 Three types of annotations


Content on this page adapted with permission from Olin Library Reference, Research & Learning Services Cornell University Library and Cornish College of the Arts Library; and Burkhardt J. M., MacDonald M. C. & Rathemacher A.J. (2010). Teaching information literacy : 50 standards-based exercises for college students (2nd ed.). American Library Association.