Skip to Main Content

Academic Skills Essentials: Annotated bibliographies

What is an annotated bibliography?

An Annotated Bibliography is simply a list of references where each bibliographic entry is followed by a short paragraph that describes and evaluates the source. Writing one is like slowing down to narrate the process you went through to select a group of texts to use in an assignment.  

At university, you may be asked to write an annotated bibliography: 

  • entry on one source,  
  • as a stand-alone assessment, or  
  • as a list of the sources you intend to use for a research paper. 

What are the benefits of writing one? 

This skills you gain from writing an annotated bibliography can save you time as a researcher, and make the process of integrating sources into your essays and reports much easier. 

How do I write an annotated bibliography? 

It is important to read your assessment task description carefully before you begin your Annotated Bibliography, because expectations of what each annotation should focus on vary in each discipline and according to the complexity of your project. Occasionally, you might be asked to write additional paragraphs in the assignment, such as an introduction and conclusion, or a personal reflection on your own research journey.  

Always defer to the specific guidelines given within a particular unit, but as a general guide you can follow these steps for each entry: 

  1. Reference
    List the full end-text reference.  
  2. Describe the source
    Follow each reference with a short description of the source (usually 100-300 words) that would help another researcher see its value.  
  3. Evaluate the source 
    This step may vary according to the assignment, but usually you will be asked to critically evaluate the source. In short, you are explaining how it can best be used as a reliable academic source. Sometimes you will be directed to explain how it could relate to a given topic or debate in your discipline. If no such focus is given, you can generally speak to the merit of the source by considering how it contributes knowledge to the field.  
  4. Order the entries 
    Format your Annotated Bibliography according to the referencing style you’ve been asked to follow. If you are instructed to use APA (the most common referencing style at ECU), order your list alphabetically according to the first letter of each entry, and use a hanging indentation on each entry. 


Step 1: Provide the full end text reference

Note there are specific guidelines for a journal article, a report you found on a website, a chapter of a book, a trustworthy website, etc. See the ECU Referencing Guide at Remember that the library also has support available. if you get stuck finding quality sources that match your topic.

Step 2: Describe the source

  • What is the primary purpose of the text, and what subjects are covered?
  • What is the methodology or conceptual framework?
  • Who wrote it, and are the authors reliable experts in their field?
  • Who is the intended audience? (the general public? specialists or stakeholders in a particular industry? other researchers?)
  • Is there an overall argument being made? (if so, articulate it or give a brief overview, but be succinct)

Step 3: Evaluate the source

  • How is the information useful to another writer/researcher?
  • Is the argument compelling, convincing, and/or important? (If it is information you could use in future research, briefly explain how or why.)
  • Do any special features make the source unique or valuable?
  • If it is a study, are the aims and research methods appropriate/useful in this area of research?
  • Are there any limitations to the information in the text? (eg in terms of the methodology, specificity of information, timeframe or geographic scope of the project, etc.)

Did you like this Guide? See also: