The Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library

Environmental History

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotation is a brief summary of a book, article, or other publication. Its purpose is to describe the work in such a way that the reader can decide whether or not to read the work itself. A bibliography is a list of works and is a standard appendage to a scholarly book or article. An annotated bibliography, in which each item is summarized, is valuable because it helps the reader understand the particular uses of each item.

The following five points provide guidance for writing an annotation:

  1. The authority and the qualifications of the author, unless extremely well known, should be clearly stated. Preferably this is to be done early in the annotation: "John Z. Schmidt, a Russian history professor at Interstate University, based his research on recently discovered documents."
  2. The scope and main purpose of the text must be explained. This is usually done in three short sentences. For example, "He reveals that a few Germans played a key role in the events leading up to the revolution. They provided money, arms, and leadership which helped the revolution get started." Unlike an abstract, which is an abridgement or synopsis, the writer cannot hope to summarize the total content of the work.
  3. The relation of other works, if any, in the field is usually worth noting: "Schmidt's conclusions are radically different from those in Mark Johnson's Why the Red Revolution?"
  4. The major bias or standpoint of the author in relation to his/her theme should be clarified: "However, Schmidt's case is somewhat weakened by an anti-German bias, which was mentioned by two reviewers."
  5. The audience and the level of reading difficulty should be indicated: ..."Schmidt addresses himself to the scholar, but the concluding chapters will be clear to any informed layperson." Such a comment will serve to warn you (and other college student readers) away from writings which are too elementary or too scholarly.

Another way to think about the steps of writing an annotation is: Summarize – Assess – Reflect

Resources for Creating an Annotated Bibliography

Here are some guides and examples to get you started as you work on your annotated bibliography.

Subject Librarian

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Nancy Frazier
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