How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography or Works Cited List
What is an annotated Works Cited list? It is like a bibliography or Works Cited list that you would include at the end of a research paper, but each source has an annotation. An annotation includes both a description and an evaluation of your sources. The annotation should describe the source, telling the reader some or all of the following depending on the source:
• what the source covers,
• how the source will add to your paper,
• what the author’s credentials are,
• the currency of and theoretical basis for the author’s argument,
• the intended audience of the source,
• the significance of the source as a contribution to your paper topic and/or thesis statement,
• possible problems with the source (bias, shortcomings),
• your own brief impression of the source.
A good annotated Works Cited list requires systematic research after you’ve chosen your research paper topic. “Research” implies that you have done a careful and systematic search of available sources. “Systematic” implies that you keep an orderly record of your research. Haphazard research does nothing more than make more work for you. How will you use this source in writing your paper? Why did you choose this particular journal article? How will this chapter from an edited volume add to your thesis statement?
HINT: If any of the sources you locate are on databases (e.g., the library database, Westlaw, or Lexis), print them, email them to yourself, or save them to your hard-drive. Do not turn them in with this assignment, but you should make them readily available to yourself. Do not count on being able to locate or access an article at a later time. Also, plan ahead if you need to acquire any of your sources via inter-library loan.
What types of sources should be included in an annotated Works Cited list? Research paper sources can be primary, secondary, or a combination of the two. Primary sources include but aren’t limited to historical documents, statistical data, and works of art or literature. Think of them as sources no one (an author, editor, etc.) has interpreted. They are the original document, writing, artwork, etc. A good example is the U.S. Constitution. Compare this to a book about the Constitution such as “George W. Bush Versus the U.S. Constitution: The Downing Street Memos and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, Coverups in the Iraq War and Illegal Domestic Spying” by Conyers, et al. That interpretation is a secondary source. Secondary sources are examinations and interpretations of primary sources done by researchers. Academic papers generally include a combination of both primary and secondary sources.
In addition to all the good sources available, there are plenty of bad sources to avoid altogether, e.g., Wikipedia, World Book Encyclopedia, your roommate’s opinion, something you overheard when you were out with friends, etc. Therefore, whether looking at on-line sources, books, scholarly journal articles, or other sources, you must objectively evaluate the quality of the source. Sources are of varying reliability; some are outdated or biased.
Some of the most reliable sources are peer-reviewed journal articles (also known as refereed articles). Such articles go through rigorously review and scrutiny before publication. Examples of peer-reviewed journals include JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Journal of Accountancy, Journal of Animal Science, Rural Sociology, and American Journal of Physical Anthropology. If you are unsure whether a journal is peer-reviewed, ask one of the librarians at DuBois Library. The upper right-hand corner of the Library home page has an “Ask a Librarian” feature. Use it for quick library research questions.
What is the purpose of the annotated Works Cited list? This assignment serves several purposes. It gets you going on the research you need to write a first-rate college-level research paper. It also gives you an idea of what sources are available on your chosen paper topic. If there are no sources, it is best to find out earlier rather than later.
How is the annotated Works Cited list formatted? Annotations must be full sentences that are grammatically correct (not fragments). Your sources must be properly formatted (MLA style) and provide a 4- to 6-sentence annotation per source. Details on MLA formatting are available at several on-line sites such as, and in print resources such as The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers by Joseph Gibaldi.
Is the stand-alone annotated Works Cited list assignment the same Works Cited list you include with your final paper? Not necessarily. First of all, unlike this assignment, the Works Cited list you include with your final paper will not be annotated. Second, you will undoubtedly add or remove from your annotated Works Cited list. It is in your best interest, however, to make the sources you choose for the stand-alone assignment as close as possible to the list of sources you use in your final paper. That does not mean that you may not add or remove sources. As you begin to write your final paper, it is natural to find either that a source you initially thought would be useful is not or that you had failed to find a particularly outstanding source in your initial research.