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Annotated bibliography

Annotated bibliography: required word count for each source and format to follow

Jan 03, 2013 - Posted to  Writing in General

What is the annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is simply a list of sources written using a specific formatting style with an accompanied annotation for each source. This type of bibliography is sometimes requested by instructors to accompany a student's research or term paper; it varies considerably with regards to writing style and citation format. One of the key features of an annotated bibliography is that it is not an abstract and should therefore be more than just a descriptive summary of a source. In addition to summarizing the author's major points, the annotation also provides critical evaluations of the text being referenced.

Some functions of an annotated bibliography

Since the structure and requirements of annotated bibliographies vary from professor to professor or department to department, there may be a bit of confusion as to what exactly the purpose of an annotated bibliography is.

Annotated bibliographies serve to...

  1. demonstrate that you've studied and understand a topic (similar to a literature review)
  2. help jumpstart your research project
  3. be used as a referencing guide for other students and researchers
  4. put a particular title in context with other similar works that have been written or developed on the subject matter
Secondly, after understanding the purpose of an annotated bibliography its also important to note the types of sources that generally make up the list.

What sources make up annotated bibliographies?

The sources used in annotated bibliographies are not limited to books and encyclopedias. Just like any other type of reference or work cited page an annotated bibliography still serves its main purpose of supplying an organized list of resources used (or that may be used) in a research project. Therefore the sources can range from books, journal articles, and newspaper archives, to audio as well as manuscripts, artifacts and government documents. *Though when serving the role of a literature review for instance, its likely that most of the sources in the annotated bibliography will be books and journal articles.

Types of annotated bibliographies

As mentioned earlier there are a few common types of annotated bibliographies. Due to the many variations in how they are structured its very important to find out exactly what is expected of you when preparing your annotated bibliography.
The following list provides some different types of annotated bibliographies though instructors will generally request a combination of all of them rather than just one. Likewise, if you are able to browse through some examples of annotated bibliographies you may also find that those samples do not exactly fall under the four categories either. Usually you will find that the author will combine at least two or more types into one bibliography.


The descriptive annotation is simply done by describing a work with regards to its basic components, such as chapter headings, key features, or any notable sections such as glossaries or appendices. A descriptive annotation does not thoroughly summarize the work (as far as the author's argument) nor does it evaluate it.

Informative (also known as the summary)

This form is commonly associated with the annotation and serves the general function of a summarizing the title. It highlights the main points of the work while summarizing the author's main argument, objective, and points of discussion. This type of annotation is very important for those seeking to obtain a general idea of a topic and basic understanding of the main issues addressed.


This last type is often included in annotations as well as it provides a critical analysis of the work being referenced to (similar to a book critique in some respects). The major issue examined is the relevance of the work to the research project as well as where the particular title fits in as compared to other works of a similar type. *For instance, an article or book may be fully developed and well-written but if it doesn't fit the topic then it will likely be criticized for this.

Organization & Format

Your annotated bibliography can be organized a few different ways depending on your own personal preference or the format required by your instructor. Some common choices are alphabetical, chronological, or by subject (meaning the subcategories of your topic). Likewise, it's also helpful to think of your annotated bibliography as two basic parts to better organize your information.

Part 1: Bibliographic citation

The bibliographic citation will follow the format of whichever styling guide you chose to incorporate. The way in which your particular source is presented is based on how references or sources for that particular styling guide are presented
Common styling guides
MLA (Modern Language Association): When using the MLA format for your bibliographic citation in most cases you will find that the date of publication will be placed after most of the information such as title, author, and publisher. For example if you're citing a journal article using the MLA format your bibliographic citation would be similar to this;
Honest, Abe. "The Deconstruction of Society." The Social Science Journal 10 (2010): 3-6. Print.
APA (American Psychological Association): With APA formatting the date of the publication is generally written near the front of the citation with the author's first name not being spelled out. An example of an APA citation for a book is as follows;
Graham, S. (2010). Hardship and Happiness. Boston: Waltman Press.
*When formatting your bibliographic citation the first line of the citation is usually not indented while the second one is (by about 2/4 of an inch). The annotation itself usually appears in a 'blockquote' style format and is usually indented about five spaces to the right.

Part 2: The annotation

The annotation itself should be written using complete sentences whenever possible but may be constructed using phrases and word descriptions as well. Much of the specifics should be discussed with your professor or governing body to ensure that the formatting and style is up to par. The format for the actual annotation as discussed earlier may fall under the three categories; descriptive, informative, and critical.

A word about word counts

Lastly, the word count of each annotation in an annotated bibliography may range anywhere from about 50 words to 300 words-or in more concrete terms-a few lines to several paragraphs or a page in length. Again, much of this will depend on the type of annotations you are constructing and the end goal for your bibliography. If crafting an analytical annotation then its likely that your annotation will go for at least a page if double-spaced due to the amount of information and evaluative efforts that go into that sort of writing. Likewise, if merely writing a descriptive piece you may very well find your annotation on the lower end of the word count and only offer a few sentences or a small paragraph at best (which is not a problem).
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