An annotated bibliography is a list of sources (books, peer-reviewed articles, news articles, or audio files) pertaining to a particular topic, and includes a summary and/or evaluation of each source. The length of the summary will vary, but is typically a paragraph.

The purpose of the annotated bibliography is to provide you with an overview of each source to determine its main points and ultimately its suitability for your project or research paper. The benefit of the annotated bibliography is that in reading each article carefully to summarize and evaluate it, you will have a much easier time drafting and writing your paper. You will have a better product as a result.

Step 1 - Find relevant sources

After you have determined your topic, you will need to find relevant sources for your project or paper. Use scholarly sources, as academic research is based on books, peer-reviewed articles from journals you will find in your school's digital library, or news articles from established publications that use editorial controls.

Find more sources than you will need. The purpose of the annotated bibliography is to survey the sources in your field, and narrow them down based on their content. Peruse two or three times the number of sources than may be required, and choose the ones that you think will provide the best overall background to your study. Avoid choosing only books, or only articles, or only news sources. A diversity of sources lends credence to your research, especially when they confirm the main points you are making.

Step 2 - List your sources in the proper format

Depending on the required style for your paper, such as APA or MLA, format your references. You may decide to alphabetize them at this point or simply leave them in a format that makes the most sense to you, such as type of resource. However, if the annotated bibliography is something you will turn in for a grade, alphabetize it by the first letter of the reference.

Step 3 - Read the sources critically

You will want to know the essence of what each source is saying, thus it is important that you not just skim over the content of the book or article.  You need to read the relevant sections critically, understanding the main points and even contrasting points the author is making.  Ask yourself what the main idea is of the article. What are the key supporting points? How will this article fit in to your overall product?

It may be helpful to type brief notes as you read the source, as these notes can help you in writing your summary/evaluation. However, ensure that you are writing everything in your own words, as you do not want to copy the original text.

Step 4 - Summarize and Evaluate

Summarize. After you have finished reading a source, write a summary in your own words. What was the author's thesis? Did they confirm their main point? What were the author's supporting points?

Evaluate. Write a few sentences about how this source will work within your topic. Will it help you in substantiating your thesis? Did the author show any bias in their work? What perspective did they bring to the topic? Did their perspective change your perspective at all?

Each annotation should be in paragraph form and include the summary, evaluation, or both.

Step 5 - Finalize

If you are turning in your annotated bibliography, alphabetize it by the first letter of the first word in the reference. Use the proper layout, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago/Turabian. Ensure you have the appropriate margins and required headers on each page.

When using the annotated bibliography for your research paper or project, you can simply drop relevant sections of your summaries into your outline or paper (assuming everything has been written in your own words). Once you have dropped them in, add the in-text citation or footnote to the paper, and then return to your annotated bibliography and highlight or strike through that section. This ensures that you do not accidentally re-use the same content.